POZIERES

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Gibraltar Bunker, Pozieres

August 1916 (courtesy Wikipedia)

POZIERES*
The Australians stormed the trenches in the town of Pozieres.
They wrested it from the Germans, who had claimed the ground as theirs.
But the enemy knew the lay of the land, and where each trench was set,
So they poured in high explosive shells, from the village of Courcelette.
For four days and as many nights they bombarded the town.
Shrieking, screaming shells of death were falling all around.
The grinding, crushing, pounding, gradually blew the town away.
Just clouds of coloured smoke were to be seen, by the light of day.
Every Australian in the trenches was buried at some time.
A shell dropped every three seconds on our soldiers in the line.
And they knew that just one shell-burst, could blow them limb from limb.
Like the grotesque twisted bodies they had seen as they came in.
The never-ending shelling would send some men insane.
They never ever would be, quite the same again.
Some were quivering, some just sobbed, some just screamed aloud.
Their nerves were totally shattered by the barrage from the clouds.
The noise was just horrendous, the ground would rock and sway,
And the shells just kept on coming – they’d never go away.
Some men ran towards the Germans, they simply had gone mad.
They could not stand this living hell, and the end for them was sad.
And when the shelling ended, the soldiers were relieved.
Their grim and haunted faces, had to be seen to be believed.
They walked like zombies from the field, their glassy eyes transfixed.
Shuffling like invalids through the dust of shattered bricks.
No soldiers had ever suffered, a bombardment of this kind.
And no words could aptly describe the state, in which it left their minds.
But the legacy they left this world for soldiers yet to come.
Was that ‘shell-shock’ could cause injury, just like the bullets from a gun.

*Pozieres was the heaviest concentrated shelling bombardment
of a narrow piece of real estate the world had ever seen, in this
horrific demonstration of modern artillery warfare.
Bill Charlton c 2014

A TRILOGY IN CONFLICT – 3 POEMS ON FSBs CORAL & BALMORAL

 

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FIRE SUPPORT BASE ‘ CORAL’

From late May 1968 , the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Royal  Australian Regiment,

with 102 Field Battery and 161 Field Battery RNZA fought a series of battles from

the Fire Support Bases of ‘Coral’ and ‘Balmoral’ against a formidable force of

North Vietnamese soldiers. Some of the actions fought here were the largest

encountered by the Australians during the Vietnam War. These bases were our little

pieces of Australia deliberately set in place in the path of the enemy to deter them from

using these direct supply routes to and from Saigon.

A TRILOGY IN CONFLICT

FIRE SUPPORT BASE ‘CORAL’

 

1. THE INITIAL ATTACK

Darkness screened the swelling tide

Which amplified in force

Then rose as waves upon the sea

To rush their headlong course.

Across a stretch of No Mans Land

Through killing fields they swept

A screaming horde of faceless men

Who ran, or walked and crept.

Then bursts of fire broke their drive

And they milled – uncertain there

But some pursued there reckless surge

Through austere light of flare

And as the small arms crackled

Machineguns joined the fray

And rockets burst across the sky

To turn night into day.

From every pit and shell-scrape

Our gunners took control

As battles raged on every side

And the conflict took its toll.

Bright green tracer crossed the sky

But soon switched off again

As fire from the miniguns

Spat down like crimson rain.

The gunships pounced on everything

That moved within their sights.

Their flaring rockets crashing home

As red tracer filled the night.

And every 105 in range

Was firing in support

With 3RAR Mortars joining in

To play this deadly sport.

But 102 was not done yet

Its guns were still in play.

They fired now from open sights

And the splintex whooshed away.

So the night rolled like a movie

Filled with characters – gaunt and stark

And a handful of vigilant diggers

Played their roles out in the dark.

Then as dawn broke – the fighting ebbed

And the enemy trickled away

Into the trees to the north and the east

Escaping the light of day.

The clearing patrols that swept the front

Baulked about where they should tread.

For the scene of the battle, resembled a beach

With its shoreline littered with dead.

And the sun raised its head over ‘Coral’

On the carnage sustained in the fight.

On the backs of the gunners – bent over the mud,

Digging in for another long night.

FIRE SUPPORT BASE ‘CORAL’

THE SECOND ATTACK

Like pigeons to a loft they came

As silent as the falling rain

Forming up along the ditch

Impatient for that final pitch.

Across the rolling stretch of grass

Diggers wish the night would pass

As tell-tale signals in the sky

Illuminate – then fade and die.

Then mortars fall around the base

A moderate/heavy attack takes place

Rockets fly amongst the trees

As machineguns seek adversaries.

And then they come in groups of three

The same AKs and RPGs

Behind them lining up so brave

The first assault – and second wave

Flares and tracer light the sky

As troops on both sides fight and die

And salvos from the fire missions

Seek and deal their retribution.

Machineguns steadily chip away

Through surging mass of NVA

And one by one  they topple down

To pile as leaves upon the ground.

Then Spooky and the gunships came

Rockets and miniguns gushing flame

And bright red tracer falls as rain

As back and forth they sweep again.

Two HMGs have been detected

But both it seems are well-protected.

A jet is called to lend assistance

Its napalm ending all resistance.

And then two other jets fly by

Dropping napalm on the wire

Then turning strafe the NVA

Who stand no chance to win the day.

Inside the base the APCs

Make furtive runs for casualties.

Taking ammo on their rounds

To pass around the battleground.

Our gunners have to work non-stop

The barrels of their guns run hot.

But every gun is kept in play

As round on round is fired away.

Then D Company takes the final thrust

A battalion-charge through smoke and dust.

But still the Company ranks stand fast

To fight determined – to the last.

Now dawn is creeping on the scene

And everything becomes serene

The enemy now drift away

As night returns to light of day.

And weary diggers move around

As they survey the battleground

The smell of death is in the air

And flies are buzzing everywhere.

The battle for ‘Coral’ has been won

The enemy are on the run.

But this could be a small respite.

Perhaps they’ll come again tonight!

FIRE SUPPORT BASE ‘BALMORAL

3. THE NIGHT ATTACKS

The diggers were edgy, expecting a fight

As tracer and small arms dissected the night

The primaries sounded at half after three

And mortars began landing in each Company.

The bugles then sounded an attack to begin

And rockets and rifles were fired within

A lone Bangalore punched a hole in the wire

And the battle commenced as our claymores were fired.

But this probing was weak, and virtually ceased

As the main thrust was mounted from north and northeast

Where machineguns and mortars fired into the base

And the action increased at an incredible pace.

As the last flares were dying, the enemy advanced.

Platoons fanning out as they made good their chance.

But the ‘arty’ was zeroed in right on the wire

And the attackers were caught in this terrible fire.

The gunships above also entered the fray

Their machineguns and rockets now hammered away,

Adding their weight to the Infantry force

Which vented its fury with relentless resource.

Centurion tanks also stood in the path

And their huge 20 pounders soon warmed to the task.

While Spooky sought targets around the northeast.

Where the enemy mortars had first been released.

But a lull then occurred to let Dustoff fly in

And the NVA ordered withdrawal to begin.

By first light the diggers were clearing the ground

But only found silence and death all around.

A second attack – two day later began

But nothing at all had been changed in the plan.

Down the same corridor as they had in the first

And the same wire breached – as the bangalores burst.

But our tanks soon responded with canister shell

And the enemy ranks just crumbled and fell.

While the mortars and rockets and small arms poured in

And our own fire missions compounded the din.

There were tracer and flashes, as flares burst on high

Where a Spooky and gunships fired down from the sky.

The noise from the action confounded the brain

With the passage of shells passing by like a train.

But the enemy regrouped and were facing the fire

As wave after wave poured down on the wire.

The main thrust were racing across open ground.

And these were the targets the gunners took down.

Many sought refuge in any craters they found.

Escape from the tempest that flew all around.

These little groups were the hardest to budge.

A hand grenade often would settle the grudge.

The RPG rockets were still coming fast

While the arty and mortars continued to blast

Then a red flare was fired as a sign of withdrawal

And the enemy moved back at a slow even crawl.

As first light approached, the wire was sprung

And two heavy tanks went through at the run.

Clearing the open space up to the trees

Returning with prisoners – eager to please.

So a chapter had closed on this phase of the war

And the actions they fought were forgotten once more.

But still there are some who took part on that day

Hear the sounds of a battle that will not go away!

Bill Charlton  c 2000

MEMORIES OF LONG TAN

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TWO POEMS  IN MEMORY OF PAUL LARGE

 

This photo reminds me of the terrible cost,

When a young digger’s life is suddenly lost.

Captured in time drinking from his canteen.

As moving a photograph as I’ve ever seen.

For young Paul was killed at the Battle of Long Tan.

Facing the enemy as he made his last stand.

There was no finer digger that fought in the line.

His memory must endure the harsh test of time.

He was not meant to be there, but he volunteered.

The service he gave must be greatly revered.

For he gave up his life doing what he thought right.

A selfless sacrifice, during that terrible fight.

Paul Large upheld our finest Anzac traditions,

Serving his country in such trying conditions.

The bravery he showed must be conserved for all time,

As a shining example of our men in the line!

Look back at the photo and see what I mean.

It’s a classic life moment as ever I’ve seen,

Of a handsome young digger photographed in a war,

Taking a drink before giving his all!

Bill Charlton c 2015

STANDING TALL

“You don’t have to go, you’re already exempt!”

Mum pleaded with Paul in one final attempt.

“I’ve got to go Mum all my mates are off too!”

But with the physical done, only he would get through.

They sent her young son across the seas,

Far from his friends and family.

It just took a marble to be put on a plane,

But sadly real war is no schoolboy game.

War is a thing without reason or rule,

With no clear distinction between normal and cruel.

This is the stage where boy becomes man,

And a lifetime can end at the wave of a hand.

Straining the eyes with a thousand yard stare,

They sweep through the rubber to see who’s there.

“Contact front!” “Go to ground!”

The boy in the man can feel his heart pound.

Aim at the enemy, fire at will.

Wave after wave and they’re coming in still.

Then down falls the rain and a mist sets in.

And the artillery’s screaming an horrendous din.

After three hours the battle subsides,

Our APCs have pushed back the tide.

It’s time to take stock, so they turn to young Paul

In the heat of the battle they had not seen him fall.

A funeral was held in his old home town,

And as the gun carriage came around,

Mum saw that her doors were opened wide,

So his spirit could find its way inside.

And they planted a tree for every man.

For the eighteen diggers who died at Long Tan.

Mum watered Paul’s till the day she died.

“It’s the tallest tree there!” she whispered with pride.

“We were proud of our brother!” his five sisters recall.

“He died for his country – he gave them his all.

Those soldiers were heroes – each and every man

Who fought in the rubber trees at Long Tan!”

Bill Charlton c 2010

*Dedicated to the Memory of Private Paul Large