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Think Piece: Mateship Across the Generations

Thursday 17 March, 2016

20160202raaf8194170_0018.JPGMarch 2016 will see the arrival of a Platoon of soldiers from the British Army’s 4th Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment (4 YORKS), to participate in Exercise Morlancourt. Exercise Morlancourt is an annual international engagement activity between the British Army and the Australian Army. This year the 10th/27th Battalion, The Royal South Australia Regiment (10/27 RSAR) will host the exercise.

The Battles for Morlancourt are replete with evidence of heroism, determination, courage and professional mastery in both the offensive and defensive phases of war. Like most Australian units both the 27th and 10th Battalions fought a string of determined defensive battles during the German spring offensive of 1918.

They then attacked during the third battle of Morlancourt on the evening of 10 June 1918 against the southern portion of the Morlancourt spur, which overlooked the village of Sailly-Laurette on the Somme. The attack was launched  with a degree of surprise at dusk. Under the cover of an advancing and accurate artillery barrage, the operation was a complete success and resulted in the taking of 325 German prisoners at a total cost of 400 Australian casualties. Corporal Tom Playford fought in this offensive with the 27th Battalion. In his post war career Tom Playford would go on to become South Australia’s longest serving State Premier.

When I took the opportunity earlier this month to look into the history of Morlancourt and the involvement of my own ancestors I was amazed to learn that Corporal Playford had only returned to the unit nine months previously following a traumatic chest and gunshot wound from a German machine gun in Flers. His life was saved, in part, by the Regimental Medical Officer, CAPT Renfrey Burnard, one of my direct relatives. Tom Playford had also previously been a member of my Great Grandfather John Burnard’s platoon in the 27th Battalion during pre-deployment training and during their service in Gallipoli.

The World War I battle honours of the Yorkshire Regiment make for impressive reading. The Battle of Hill 60, Pozieres and the Gallipoli Campaign, are well known by most Australians. Indeed such was their persistent and ongoing involvement in the fight against the Germans on the Western Front it is well within the realms of possibility that members of the Yorkshire Regiment would have interacted with Australian soldiers at various times throughout the Great War.

“…the role of the infantry was not to expend itself upon heroic physical effort, not to wither away under merciless machine gun fire, not to impale itself on hostile bayonets, but on the contrary, to advance under the maximum array of mechanical resources in the form of guns, machine guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes.

General Monash following the Battles of Morlancourt and Hamel 1918.

It is this shared history between both our regiments that makes the visit of 4 YORKS special on so many levels. Recently they have faced many of the same challenges that 10/27 RSAR has, including a significant restructure of their Regiment, modernisation and recruiting challenges. In discussing these challenges with their staff it is clear that they continue to manage them positively and with a determination typical of most reserve units with resource constraints.

4 YORKS is heavily focussed on operations and international engagement activities including training deployments to Uganda. These require significant numbers of troops and high levels of availability, preparedness and readiness. These mirror 10/27 RSARs own obligations, commitments and challenges.

Like 10/27 RSAR, 4 YORKS also acknowledges that their primary challenge is that of recruiting. They have been fortunate to have seen a real growth of 20% over the past year. This has largely been due to the efforts of the recruiters in mentoring and nurturing their potential recruits. Similarly 10/27 RSAR has prioritised recruiting as second only to supporting operations. This has seen a restructuring of recruiting within the unit, including dedicated and resourced permanent staff in conjunction with a more targeted and responsive recruitment plan and the implementation of the “Every Soldier a Recruiter” campaign.

The history of both Battalions is long and distinguished, but I note that both are steadfastly committed to modernising, growing and improving the training of their current force in order to deliver force elements in accordance with their respective Government’s stated aims. It is an honour to host the Officers and Soldiers of the 4th Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment. Like our own history, theirs is proud and extensive, and we look forward to writing another chapter together over the coming month.

Lieutenant Colonel Trent Burnard is the Commanding Officer of the 10th/27th Battalion, The Royal South Australia Regiment. His family connections to the 27th Battalion go back to World War One – his great grandfather John “Jack” Woolcock Burnard served with the 27th at Gallipoli and another relative served in the Battalion alongside Sir Thomas Playford on the Western Front. Lt Col Burnard has himself served in Rwanda and East Timor.


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