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The Great War – 4 – 10 January, 1918

Thursday 4 January, 2018

What is in a name? 

If you were in South Australia during the Great War, quite a lot.  In fact, even if you were Australian by birth, your family name could have been your downfall.

The anti-German feeling ran high in South Australia during the war. On Friday, 4 January 1918, The Advertiser published a list of new ‘patriotic’ place names replacing those with German origins.  Of the 69 changes, some were translated into English, others were given an Aboriginal name and some commemorated a battle or Allied military leader.

In addition to changing the names of places, the German newspaper, German schools and clubs were closed.  Many South Australians of German descent were interned on Torrens Island.  Others lost their jobs, leaving their families in financial difficulty.  Not even the State’s Attorney-General, Herman Robert Homburg was spared.  The fact that he was born in Norwood and his family settled in South Australia in the 1850’s made no difference. Soldiers with fixed bayonets, raided his government office in Adelaide.  Herman resigned to avoid causing any embarrassment to the government.

Following the war, as anti-German sentiment subsided, some towns reverted back to their original names.  Most prominently, Hahndorf, Lobethal and Klemzig in 1935 and then others in the 1970’s and 1980’s in recognition of the German settlers who contributed so much to South Australia and the nation.


At the beginning of 1918 winter had well and truly set in on the Western Front. Parts of Europe and the Middle East had endured through three and a half years of war.  The Allied forces had suffered heavy casualties in 1917 for only modest gains. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of American troops not only brought a renewed sense of optimism but also an increase in armament supplies.

In the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, Charles Bean noted:

“…throughout the winter of 1917-18, the back areas at Messines were extremely quiet…Instead of themselves training for an offensive, all corps were to prepare for a German offensive in the spring.  This was to be effected principally by two means-first, the construction of a formidable defensive system, and, second, the conservation of the troops and the training of them for a defensive battle…Shortly after the policy changed to a defensive one, an order arrived that raids should not be undertaken unless there existed special reasons for doing so. The artillery also was to avoid unnecessarily stirring up retaliation which might hamper the parties working on the defences. On the other hand patrolling, to ascertain the dispositions and intentions of the enemy, was to be energetically carried on.”

Between January 4th and 11th, 10 South Australians died from fighting and wounds sustained in earlier battles.  A pilot with 8 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, Second Lieutenant Percy (Tenerg) Lawson, originally a Boilermaker from Largs Bay, crashed his plane while flying from Baizieux to Auchel (France) on 6 January 1918.

Three of those killed served with the 27th Battalion. Returning from a liaison patrol with another battalion on 8 January, Corporal Charles Harry from Norwood, Private Victor Allen from St Peters and Private Benjamin Francis from Murray Bridge were killed by a single shell blast.

27th Battalion prior to embarkation, 1917

A War Diary Entry from the 27th Battalion for 8 January reads:

‘The situation was normal throughout the day. Our heavies directed 100 rounds of 9.2” shells into a target in Doulmont with apparently good results. None of our planes were seen in our immediate front. The day was cold with several heavy falls of snow which have made observation impossible while they lasted. While the heavies were firing in the afternoon the snow stopped falling and observation was good.

A patrol of 1 Sgt. and 5 men (scouts) went out with a Lewis Gun from No. 5 post and discovered an enemy M.G. position. Rifle grenades were obtained and a number dropped around the gun; the enemy sent up flares which were repeated in rear and almost at once the enemy artillery opened on our Support Line and just in rear of our Outpost Line. No casualties occurred and the patrol returned in safety to our lines. The enemy’s artillery was more active than usual during the night, and appeared to be restive after the bombing incident by the Scout patrol. Minnenwerfers were active throughout the night and a liaison patrol returning from a visit from the Battalion on our right were all killed, 3 in number, apparently from one shell.

The usual relief on the left front took place ‘A’ Coy going into the front line and ‘D’ Coy coming back into Support. Casualties:3 killed – Cpl. Harry, Pte Allen, Pte Francis when on a liaison patrol with the Battalion on our right…’

All three men were laid to rest in Prowse Point Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Middle East

In January 1918, following the capture and defence of Jerusalem in December 1917, the campaign in the Middle East was impacted by the onset of the winter weather, with heavy rains muddying transport lines. The majority of the Australian Mounted Division was withdrawn to its former camping ground in the sand hills of Deir el Belah, approximately 8 miles south-west of Gaza.  This withdrawal relieved the pressure on the transport lines by reducing the need to supply fodder for the horses.

President Wilson’s 14 Point Plan

When the United States entered World War One in April 1917 the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson declared the United States’ objective was to deliver a ‘just and secure peace’ rather than a ‘new balance of power’.  On 8 January 1918 President Wilson outlined his plan for peace, known as the ’14 Points’.

The President’s speech was translated, copies dropped behind enemy lines with the aim of encouraging the Central Powers to surrender with some optimism that a just settlement would be prosecuted by the Allied victors.

Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes Resigns

Billy Hughes being carried down George Street, Sydney, after returning from the Paris Peace Conference

The political scene at home was in turmoil.  The second defeat of the conscription referendum prompted the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes to resign on 8 January 1918, upholding a campaign pledge he had made in 1917 that his government would not continue if it was again denied the powers to conscript.

After consulting both the Labor Opposition and the governing Nationalist Party, the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson decided to recommission Hughes as Prime Minister as no viable alternative emerged.

Australian Light Horse The Campaign in the Middle East, 1916-1918
Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, Volume V, p.35-37 – Bean quote

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