Irishman Michael Sheedy was twice wounded in action while serving as an Australian artilleryman on the Western Front.
Born at Scarriff in County Clare, Michael was one of many immigrant workers of the Canungra district to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force during the Great War and, with John Lawton, served in the 45th Battery of the 12th Field Artillery Brigade.
Michael was 34 years old and had been working as a labourer when he enlisted in Brisbane on January 5, 1916.
Along with John Lawton, Michael left Sydney with the 1st reinforcements of the 9th Field Artillery Brigade on the Argyllshire on May 11, 1916. They arrived at Devonport in England on July 10, but it was almost six months before they finally embarked for the Western Front.
Michael left for France on December 29 via Southampton and was taken on strength of the 3rd Division Artillery Details on January 6, 1917. A month later, he was transferred and taken on strength of the 45th Battery of the 12th Field Artillery Brigade.
Initially, each Australian artillery brigade comprised three batteries of four field guns, firing 18-pound shells with a range of about 6500 yards (almost six kilometres). In March 1916, a fourth battery of four 18-pounder guns was added to each artillery brigade with a Howitzer brigade – each with 12 Howitzers – raised for each division.
By the time Michael Sheedy arrived on the Western Front, in early 1917, each battery had been given even more firepower, having been expanded to incorporate six field guns.
Artillery dominated the battlefield in the Great War and was responsible for most of the casualties and the destruction to the landscape during the fighting on the Western Front. It saw the advent of a new term, ‘shell shock’, acknowledging the very real psychological injuries, as well as the physical wounds, suffered by the troops, both enemy and allied.
While artillery batteries could inflict massive numbers of casualties, they were also prime targets for an enemy determined to neutralise gun positions and destroy ammunition.
War diaries of the 12th Field Artillery Brigade for 1917 tell how, on the night of November 10-11, the men of the 45th Battery, in which Michael was serving, came under enemy shellfire in Belgium and countered by firing 285 rounds of 18-pound shrapnel and high explosive shells as well as 25 rounds of smoke on the area around Gheluvelt.
The next day, November 12, Michael was wounded in action, suffering a shrapnel wound to the back. He was hospitalised in France and then rejoined his battery in Belgium on December 4.
In March 1918, the 4th Division was rushed to the Somme to help repel the massive German Spring Offensive.
The 12th Field Artillery Brigade’s war diary records that on March 21 the men were warned to be prepared to move to the St Quentin area and that their wagon lines were again shelled heavily. It barely describes the horror that day, when the brigade’s 112th Battery lost five men killed and five wounded, and the 47th battery lost 70 horses which were either killed outright or had to be destroyed because they were so badly wounded.
In coming months the artillerymen continued to support the infantry, including American troops, as they helped to push the German Army further towards defeat, breaching the Hindenburg Line in late September, which spelt the end for the German Army.
Michael was promoted from Gunner to Bombardier on October 1 but was wounded in action a few weeks later – less than a month before the end of the war.
The brigade war diary for October 1918, records that, on October 16, its batteries moved into position near Escaufourt in France and the next day provided support to an attack by the 30th American Division in the Battle of the Selle.
Early on October 17, the 45th Battery suffered five casualties to men and three to horses. The Germans continued to keep the battery’s position under “constant searching fire” throughout the afternoon and it was later “subjected to a heavy concentrated shelling”, suffering another five casualties.
Among the battery’s 10 casualties that day was Bombardier Michael Sheedy. Wounded in the right buttock, he was evacuated to England and admitted to the 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham on October 24.
Michael’s war was already over, but it was not until January 2, 1919, classed as an invalid that he left England on the Karmala.
After arriving in Melbourne on February 15, Michael travelled by boat to Brisbane where he was discharged from the AIF on April 5.