On the 31st of August at about 5 pm we arrived at the cross roads above Clery – or rather its ruins – after marching umpteen miles under a searching shell fire. Everything shewed only too well the signs of the hard fighting found necessary by the 2nd Div, before they were able to wrest it from the hands of the Hun's picked regiments: and making their approach to Peronne and its watch tower – Mont St Quentin – possible. The query – 'What are we here for?' naturally rose in each mind but all had decided that at last we had bought the fight we had been seeking
for ever since the Canadian Command had refused us the staging rights at Lihons.
On turning into our route, in a steeply sloping road, my mate and I both remarked that the light shells could not reach us but that the heavy howitzers would come, lower down. (We were not in the Intelligence Section for nothing!) Sure enough we did get them and only by keeping on at the same rate without any rushing did we do it safely. As the whole battalion had to come through the heavy fire laid on the spot and all were rather worn from the march and the earlier fire, the total casualties of three were very light.
Of course we were pleased on turning off into a good re-entrant almost immediately afterwards where, on instructions being given, we settled down for a long rest. It promised to be a good spot, with a high bank towards Fritz and, in places, with a rough protection against the backwash.
We were there for barely an hour before we knew differently. One of the other battalions was marching up the road to its assembly point when Fritz opened up on them and we got the dregs: the shells were only 4.2" but as usual they did things not to be expeted of them. They just slid over the top of that bank and lobbed between it and our other line of defence.
However no one was hit and we thought perhaps it was the last of that kind of thing. And we were wrong again. Just before dusk a man was seen on top of a high hill in front of us and in full view of Fritz seemingly signalling. Our Sig. Sgt could make nothing of it so decided to investigate and went up to do so, and found it to be the official photographer taking some good snaps.
Whether Fritz, knowing the gully to be there, took him for an artillery officer taking observations or not I do not know but he made a good guess, for the artillery officers were there, but in the bottom of the hollow and as the Hun began his good work, the guns began coming in.
Within a few minutes the place was full of smoke and flashes, as shells big and little rained in by the score. After our former experience we all sought shelter and I was one of the lucky ones who got into the entrance of the HQ dugout. During occasional lulls the guns could be heard still coming into position and of course the stream of wounded, and list of men and officers killed amongst them was not small.
We soon gave up hope of getting any rations up that night but the noise had barely died down before we got word that the limbers were on the road. With spoken gratitude for the transport personnel, all rushed them in order to get the tucker off before the Hun opened up again and our lot were lucky enough to get the meal finished before the shelling began again, but one of the companies were in the midst of having it served out when they got a salvo into the centre of the crowd and from then on our own casualties were steadily pouring in. As the dugout also contained the R.A.P. we had to shift and seek shelter where we could. However a few of us stayed being able to help in getting the stretchers up and down the steps.
At about 2 am the C.O returned from a conference at Bde HQ and then I found that my surmises as to the job to be done were more or less correct.
At about 4.30 we moved off to go to the assembly point in the hop off line. After the long weary march and the continuous shell fire of the night the men were all about done, and results achieved shew only too well the qualities of the Aussie – the best soldier in the War.
Headquarters went into a maze of old trenches between the swamp and a deep narrow ravine known as the "Lost Ravine". At 5.30 the artillery began and the sound of the heavies going over in plenty was at first cheering