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Angus Campbell: an army is made of its people

Posted By on July 6, 2018 @ 10:58

In his last week as chief of the Australian Army, Angus Campbell delivered a speech hosted by ASPI at the Australian War Memorial [1] in which he described General John Monash’s planning for the Battle of Hamel as a textbook study of how to plan an attack.

Campbell, then a lieutenant general, today becomes a full general and chief of the Australian Defence Force. In his Hamel oration marking the centenary of the 1918 Western Front battle, he described how the Australian success at Hamel was due to the leadership Monash exercised through meticulous planning, attention to detail, professionalism, thorough training and preparation, and a clear focus on the objective.

‘Every component part of the attacking force knew their role and performed it to the best of their ability’, Campbell said.

On the anniversary, much has been made of the fact that American troops fought for the first time under an Australian general, beginning a close relationship that continues to the present. And that tanks were successfully used in close coordination with artillery and aircraft, dramatically reducing the infantry’s casualties.

But Campbell’s strong message was that Hamel reinforced the truism that an army is made of its people.

‘Hamel is ultimately a great story of our people and their service, as individuals and as an extraordinary team, melded by an extraordinary leader’, he said.

‘Monash as corps commander was the “right man at the right time”. His intellect, drive and, dare I say it, ambition, combined with decades of professional development and four years’ wartime command experience, delivered a smart victory.’

Yet Monash alone could achieve nothing. He was reliant upon the other 150,000 troops in the Australian Corps to achieve the goal. ‘It’s about Australians accepting responsibility: quietly and humbly going about their duty but determined to excel in that duty.’

Campbell went on to tell the stories of otherwise ‘ordinary’ Australians who did extraordinary things in incredibly difficult circumstances.

The 13th Battalion was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Marks DSO, MC, MID, sometimes referred to as ‘the Boy Colonel’, who’d been promoted to command the battalion in November 1917. Marks was 22 and already a veteran combat leader of Australian infantry from the Gallipoli campaign, including the landing, and many battles on the Western Front.

The 15th Battalion’s Henry Dalziel was awarded the 1,000th Victoria Cross for his valour during the assault on German trenches. As the second member of a Lewis gun team, Private Dalziel silenced the heavy fire from a machine-gun post. When his unit was held up by another machine-gun post, he dashed forward with his revolver and killed or captured the crew and secured the gun, allowing the advance to continue.

The tip of his trigger finger was shot away and he was ordered to the rear. Instead, he continued to serve his Lewis gun in the final storming of Pear Trench. After again being ordered back to the aid post, he began taking ammunition up the front line, until he was shot in the head and severely wounded.

Nearby, Lance Corporal Thomas (Jack) Axford saw that an adjoining platoon’s advance was delayed by barbed wire and machine-gun fire.

With his company commander out of action, Axford charged and threw bombs among the enemy gun crews. He then jumped into the trench and charging with his bayonet, killed 10 of the enemy and took six prisoners. He threw the machine guns over the parapet and the delayed platoon was able to advance. Axford rejoined his own platoon and fought with it during the remainder of the operations.

He, too, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

Campbell said Monash, Marks, Dalziel and Axford personified the Australian Imperial Force’s character, and its rapid professionalisation and growth in capability, over four years of combat operations.

He also noted that the first US Army Medal of Honor in World War I was awarded to Corporal Thomas Pope of the US 131st Infantry Regiment (Illinois National Guard), for his actions during the Hamel battle.

Campbell said Monash continued his distinguished career in the service of the nation after the war and his statue at the memorial, unveiled and dedicated at the War Memorial this week, was the latest of many deserved acknowledgements of his contribution to Australia.

Dalziel recovered from his severe head injury in England, returning home to Queensland in January 1919. Travelling home by train he received a hero’s welcome at every station on the way to Atherton. He became a farmer, a factory worker, and a soldier in the Citizen’s Military Forces. Later he developed an interest in songwriting. Dalziel died of a stroke in 1965 in the Repatriation Hospital in Brisbane, aged 72.

Axford came home to Australia in December 1918 on furlough and was discharged in February 1919. He recommenced work as a labourer and later became a clerk. In November 1926 he married Lily Foster, a shop assistant, in Perth. They lived at Mount Hawthorn and had five children.

On 25 June 1941, Axford was mobilised in the militia, rising to sergeant. He was discharged on 14 April 1947. In his leisure time he regularly attended the races. He was returning from a reunion of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association when he died, on an aircraft between Dubai and Hong Kong, in October 1983.

Marks returned to Australia in February 1919. He was accepted as a law student at the University of Sydney but deferred for a year to study Latin and took a managerial job with a paper-bag manufacturer. His biographer describes how Marks visited Palm Beach on 25 January 1920. He was not a strong swimmer, but, seeing a stranger in trouble in the heavy surf, he went into the water and drowned in an unsuccessful rescue attempt. His body was never recovered. He was just 24.

Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray VC, who had served and fought with Marks in the 13th Battalion, said at the time, ‘We loved Douglas Marks for his high indomitable spirit, his dash and daring … no truer comrade ever lived.’

Campbell observed this week: ‘A democratic nation’s army is as good as the support of its citizens, its government and its coalition partners. In this respect Australia was, and is, the lucky country.

‘Lest we forget.’

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[1] speech hosted by ASPI at the Australian War Memorial: https://www.aspi.org.au/report/hamel-oration-ltgen-angus-campbell-4th-july-2018

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