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Webmatters : Second Bullecourt 1917, 7th Division
Rough Map of Area

Bullecourt May 1917

7th May 1917

7th Division

Having withdrawn a badly mauled 22nd Brigade the 7th Division now put the 20th Brigade into the firing line with another attempt to take Bullecourt village. This was the same Brigade that had been badly cut up in front of Mametz village in July 1916.

Now the 2nd Gordon Highlanders and 9th Devonshire found themselves once again attacking a well held village from the south east.

Situation: 7th May 1917

Situation: 7th May 1917

General Gough, commanding the Fifth Army had instructed that this time the objective was to be limited. 20th Brigade were to secure the left flank of the Australians by seizing the German front line and the south-eastern corner of the village.

To assist in this the Australians moved their 4th and 2nd Battalions into the front line in relief of the 1st and 3rd. The 9th Bn (who were a fresh unit) was instructed to carry out an attack down both trenches towards Bullecourt in order to join with the British.

At 0345 hours the Gordons led the way with the Devons consolidating and mopping up behind them. Their success was considerable and in the teeth of a German counter bombardment pushed on throughout the morning to the point where they had taken most of the village and joined up with the Australians.

Once again the Germans counter-attacked and throughout the night and following morning possession of the ruined village swung from one side to the other.

By 10th May the 20th Brigade had suffered almost 800 casualties in maintaining it’s tenuous hold on the south-eastern corner of Bullecourt.

 

91st Brigade

As they were relieved by 91st Brigade plans were already being made for further assaults on the ruined village.

At 0345 hours on 12th May two battalions (2nd Queen’s and 1st South Staffordshire) launched their attack and in a familiar pattern of events made some ground whilst coming under heavy machine gun fire. The German defenders were showing no signs of weakening their resolve to fight for and retake lost ground.

The Australians had brought in their 5th Division to replace the 2nd. Amongst them were veterans of Fromelles including Simon Fraser now a Lieutenant in the 58th Battalion.

The 58th Bn had three major strong points to deal with, in and near the Diagonal Road. One of these positions was a machine gun position which was causing havoc between the two German lines.

Lt Moon carried out his daring move in the fields

Lt Moon carried out his daring move in the fields
opposite to where the Cross Memorial stands today

One man’s efforts stood out enough to earn him the Victoria Cross.

Lieutenant Rupert Moon’s own immediate objective was a position in advance of the hostile trench, and thence against the hostile trench itself, after the capture of which it was intended that his men should co-operate in a further assault on a strong point further in the rear.

Although wounded in the initial advance, he reached the first objective. Leading his men against the trench itself, he was again badly wounded and incapacitated for the moment. He nevertheless inspired and encouraged his men and captured the trench.

Lieutenant Moon continued to lead his much diminished command in the general attack with the utmost valour, being again wounded, and the attack was successfully pressed home. During the consolidation of the position, this officer was again badly wounded, and it was only after this fourth and severe wound through the face that he consented to retire from the fight.

His bravery was magnificent and was largely instrumental in the successful issue against superior numbers, the safeguarding of the flank of the attack, and the capture of many prisoners and machine guns.

The many prisoners amounted to 188. All in all a good day’s work for somebody whose superiors did not think he was up to the task of leading soldiers. Further assaults were made and finally the Australians managed to join with the British in the village.

The 91st Brigade had succeeded in gaining all of the village with the exception of the south-west corner where the combatants were so intermingled that possession of the trench passed from one side to the other as you moved along it. The Australians on the left of the Central Road were now replaced by British soldiers of the 58th (London) Division who began taking over the battle front.

 

In memory of Simon Fraser

One of the Australian casualties whose body was never identified was Simon Fraser the farmer from Victoria; the man who had brought in the Cobber at Fromelles.

Fraser is commemorated on the Australian Memorial at Villers Bretonneux.