Gallipoli veteran Herbert Phillips was wounded in action during the Battle of Pozieres, where Australia lost as many men in less than eight weeks as it had during the entire eight-month disaster in the Dardanelles.
Some 6800 Diggers of three Australian divisions lost their lives in almost seven weeks of fighting at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm in France in mid-1916. The total number of casualties, estimated at 23,000, included Private Herbert Phillips, who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg.
Born at Dungog in New South Wales, Herbert was a labourer, 25 years old, when he enlisted in Brisbane on May 22, 1915. He left Brisbane on August 17 on the HMAT Shropshire, bound for the Middle East, with the 2nd reinforcements of the 26th Battalion.
On October 12, 1915, Herbert landed at Gallipoli, joining the men of the 26th Battalion who had arrived in September. The last allied offensive had been launched in August and, by the time Herbert arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula two months later, his battalion’s main role was defending its positions.
Just nine days after arriving at Anzac Cove, Herbert was struck down with measles. He was treated at the 7th Field Ambulance for 11 days before rejoining his unit.
The 26th Battalion was evacuated from Gallipoli on December 12 and on January 9, 1916, Herbert arrived at Alexandria having returned to Egypt via Mudros.
On March 15, as part of the British Expeditionary Force, Herbert left Alexandria for France, arriving at Marseilles on March 31. The battalion was part of the first trench raid by Australian troops on the Western Front on June 6.
However, the 26th Battalion’s first major battle was a baptism of fire at Pozieres, during two weeks of fierce fighting from July 28 to August 7.
Wounded in action on August 5, Herbert suffered a gunshot wound to the leg.
He was put aboard the hospital ship Mahena on August 9 and the following day admitted to the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol.
Herbert rejoined his unit in France on November 28, as the region was entering its worst winter in decades. The men of the 26th Battalion were among thousands of Australian troops who endured freezing conditions in mud-filled trenches into early 1917.
As the Germans made a strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, the 26th Battalion was part of the pursuit, engaging the enemy at Warlencourt from March 1 to 2.
Herbert was in hospital with influenza from March 23 to April 1, when the 26th Battalion attacked the Germans, taking Lagnicourt on March 26. While in hospital, he missed a visit to his battalion on March 28 by Lieutenant General Birdwood, who presented ribbons to the men who had earned awards for their actions at Malt Trench at Warlencourt earlier in the month.
Herbert was made temporary Corporal on March 10 after Corporal Athol Salmond was wounded in action on March 6. The promotion became permanent on March 21 when Corporal Harold Smith was made Lance Sergeant.
It was only a month later, on April 21, that Herbert was wounded in action for the second time. With a shrapnel wound to the right elbow, he was evacuated to England four days later and admitted to hospital in London.
Herbert had two weeks’ furlough from July 2 to 16 and then proceeded to the number 1 Command Depot at Perham Downs.
Seven months after he was wounded, Herbert returned to the front, leaving Southampton on November 28 and rejoining his battalion in Belgium on December 4, at the beginning of another bleak winter in the trenches.
For two weeks in March, 1918, Herbert was detached to the Divisional Bomb School, rejoining his battalion on March 23 at the beginning of the German Spring Offensive.
The German Army’s last desperate attempt to win the war on the Western Front had aimed to destroy the British forces before the arrival of more men and material from the United States.
For Australia alone, repelling the German onslaught involved the fledgling Australian Flying Corps, artillery, and infantrymen of 55 battalions, including the 26th, with the fighting continuing throughout March, April and May.
On July 10, Herbert was detached to join the 5th Training Battalion in England and arrived at Fovant four days later. From August 1 to 16 he attended the 19th Lewis Gun Course at the Australian School of Musketry, Tidworth, qualifying in his exam and range practice with first class results.
Herbert returned to the 5th Training Battalion at Fovant where he was made acting Sergeant on October 13.
The war had been over for more than two months when Herbert next embarked for France, leaving on January 22, 1919 and returning to England on February 1.
After arriving at the Overseas training Brigade at Longbridge Deverill, Herbert was admitted to hospital with influenza on February 2. It was April 7 before he was discharged to the convalescent depot at Weymouth.
Twelve days later, and classed as an invalid, Herbert embarked on the Marathon, leaving England on April 19.
The ship docked in Sydney on June 10 and Herbert was discharged from the AIF on August 3, 1919, having served his country for more than four years.