As part of the 3rd Division AIF, many Inverell district men took part in the Battle of Messines in Belgium which commenced on June, 7, 1917.
Commanded by Major General John Monash, it was the first time the 3rd Division participated in a major battle.
With other Australian Divisions they joined British, Canadian and New Zealand Forces in the attack planned by General Plummer.
On this day, 19 underground mines were simultaneously detonated under German lines.
Months of careful and meticulous planning for this battle included large scale replica models of the battlefield so soldiers could familiarise themselves with the landscape and their objective, the ridge south east of Ypres held by the Germans since 1914.
Despite a severe gas attack by the Germans, which caused the loss of hundreds of men, the 3rd Division reached their objective on the first day.
As published in the Inverell Times newspaper on September 25,1917, Inverell’s Gunner Francis Palmer wrote about the battle, code named ‘Magnum Opus’.
“The explosion was terrific. Fitz got the shock of his life. Then the guns started and away we went. The Boches [Germans] were running in all directions and our chaps chasing them.
“The mines were ‘boskers’ two of them blew up alongside of us … the ground was all on fire. One of the holes blown out was 200 yards across and from 60 to 70 deep … we were 96 hours without rest.”
Private Reuben Mepham wrote to his mother saying, “I was buried no less than four times by high explosive shell fire during June’s big battle on the remains of a ridge, but each time, with the aid of my mates I bobbed up again out the debris, winded, half blinded and choked with dirt
“Alan Mather was killed instantly just near me during this battle.”
The explosion, popularised in the movie Beneath Hill 60, made the earth shake for miles and was heard as far away as Dublin and in London. Trees were torn to shreds and the noise was deafening.
In total there were some 26,000 allied casualties of which 3379 were from the 3rd Division.
Despite the heavy losses it was considered that the Battle of Messines was the most complete success of any major Western Front attack by the Allies during the war. It was an important step in the lead up to the third Battle of Ypres.
During this offensive, two Inverell men received awards - Private William Finney won a Military Medal for ‘courage and devotion to duty’ and Corporal Thomas Arkinstall, received a Military Medal for ‘valuable work’.
However the local losses and injuries were huge.
A month after the battle, newspapers dated Thursday, July 5, 1917 carried news of the local casualties with the headline “Inverell’s Black Thursday”.
The story read “An all pervading gloom spread like a pall over the town and everywhere little knots of people discussed, in subdued tones, the fateful news which had flashed across the wires throughout the day, and plunged so many in our community into the darkness of unspeakable grief. Everywhere flags were run down to half mast.”
The editorial in The Inverell Argus Friday 6 July 1917 read “That we are grimly at war, in deadly grips with a death dealing enemy has been brought home with tragedy to Inverell.
“Our part in the successive casualties has been distressingly large. No period of the war has brought forth so great a harvest of sorrow for our own little outpost of Empire than the last few days…
“Most of the soldiers concerned were members of what might well be regarded as Inverell’s supreme recruiting effort – The ‘Kurrajongs’.
Many of the Inverell Kurrajong men were wounded and the following were killed: William Henry Bacon, Reginald Bartley, Wilfred John Bucknell, William Charles Buxton, Percy Cant, George Albert Cawkwell, Arthur Raymond Ellis, John Edward Hobbs, James Archibald Lennard, Alan J Mather, Henry Thomas O’Neill, Harry Squires and John Robert Worgan.
Other district men known to have died in this battle were: Richard Thomas Bourne, Leslie Ernest Church, Sydney Harold Colley, Albert Henry Cooper, Francis Norman Smith, Samuel Taylor Robertson and Walter John Morris.
Several of these men have no known grave and their names are inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres, Belgium.
Among the thousands of men who were wounded and or gassed during this battle were the following known Inverell district soldiers: Thomas Addison, Edgar William Baker, Edwin JH Brown, William Burling, George Cartwright, Harold James Cole, Charles Dyer, James Elliott, William John Finney, Edward Lawrence Foley, Leslie Hobbins, Henry Kitching, Frank Mansfield, Thomas Charles Mason, Thomas McArdle, James McGee, Frederick David McKenzie, Colin Alfred Morris, Henry Pasterfield, Valentine Piggott, Thomas Henry Pitkin, John Eugene Ramsay, Ernest Smith, George Frank Watson, Henry Troy Weick, Roland White, Arthur James John Wiegold and Andrew James Williams.
Despite this heavy loss, and another 50 deaths on the Western Front before the end of 1917, Inverell district men still continued to volunteer for war service. We remember their supreme sacrifice.