Privates Ivan Guthrie  & Thomas Casey 

16th Battalion, Australian Infantry, Australian Imperial Force

Combatants at Méricourt in the Battle of Amiens, France, 8th August 1918


Ivan Guthrie, Private 6125, 16th Battalion, Australian Infantry, Australian Imperial Force, born in Wedderburn, Victoria, Australia. He enlisted in the 16th Battalion AIF on 15 March 1916 at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia. Private Ivan Guthrie was at Mericourt on the 8th August 1918. By this date, even though he had just turned eighteen, he was already a seasoned veteran having served with the 16th Battalion on the Western Front since December 1916. Before his seventeenth birthday he was wounded at Bullecourt, a battle where the ferocity and brutality of trench warfare was unsurpassed in the Great War. He missed the Third Battle of Ypres while recovering from his wounds but took part in his battalion’s remaining operations through to the end of the war. However, it was not the savagery of Bullecourt that affected him the most; it was his experience at Mericourt that proved to be his most traumatic. For nearly a decade after the war he was haunted by the same recurring nightmare of the time his overcrowded tank was hit by a shell killing the man sitting on his shoulders.

Thomas Casey, Private 6939, 'D' Company, 16th Battalion, Australian Infantry, Australian Imperial Force, born 1878 in Tubber, Co.Clare, Ireland, died 8th or 9th August 1918 in France
. Private Thomas Casey was at Mericourt on the 8th August 1918. At the Blackboy Hill tent in Perth on 26 March 1917 Thomas Casey applied to enlist in the Australian Army. On 29 June 1917 he was medically examined, took the Oath, was approved and appointed, and was assigned as Private 6939 to the 16th Bn., Australian Infantry, Australian Imperial Force (AIF). On 29 June 1917 he embarked on the "Borda" at Fremantle and on 25 August 1917 he disembarked at Plymouth, UK. He spent time at camps in Rollestone and Fovant in the UK and then, on 23 January 1918 he embarked at Southampton for Le Havre in France to join his unit, 'D' company, in the field.  He died on Thursday, 8th August or Friday 9th August 1918 aged 41. Australian War Memorial (AWM) records reveal that he died in the Battle of Amiens, a description of which can be found on the AWM website (http://www.awm.gov.au/1918/battles/amiens.htm) He was initially buried at map reference 62d Q12 C9.5 (his records give the map reference as 62a Q12 C9.5 but this is almost certainly an error since that location is a very long way from the place he was killed whereas 62d Q12 C9.5 is very close by). This aerial photo of the site of his initial burial was taken from the McMaster University Libraries archives of World War I military maps & aerial photography .  Thomas Casey was subsequently exhumed and buried in the Heath Cemetery in Harbonnieres very close to the place where he was killed (see the Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes on the Heath Cemetery and the location of his grave, marked in red, on the Heath Cemetery gravesite plan and the photo of Heath Cemetery )  A memorial scroll and a memorial plaque were sent to his father, Michael Casey "...in England." One can only hope that they reached him (his father lived in Ireland). Thomas Casey's military records, kindly supplied in profusion by the archives of the Australian Department of Defence, contain the following account of his death:
Thomas Casey - report of death in action

Thus it is not clear from the records whether Thomas Casey died on the 8th or the 9th of August. His military records contain both versions.

Even though Thomas Casey and Ivan Guthrie were from different Companies of the 16th Battalion it is still quite possible that the two men knew or knew of each other as they were both members of Lewis gun teams and would most likely have trained together.  They may have even been aboard the same tank on that fateful day in August 1918.

Ian Jackson and Patrick (Paddy) Casey (the author of this web page) are related to Ivan Guthrie and Thomas Casey respectively.
Paddy Casey originally set up this web page to document the military service and death of his great-uncle Thomas Casey. Then Ian Jackson, whose grandfather fought in the same engagement on the 8th of August 1918, found the site and we made contact. Ian has had a long interest in Australian military history of the First World War. In April 2013 Ian, his wife Helen and his son Brendan met up with Paddy in the Somme region to retrace the path Captain Lynas’ tank advance guard took on the 8th August 1918. Using copies of the original tactical maps, modern-day maps, aerial photos and satellite images, and the tank commander's log of the action with its listing of coordinates, Ian took us to the exact waypoints where Ivan Guthrie's and Thomas Casey's tanks (or tank; it is possible that they were in the same tank) advanced, turned, reversed when faced with obstacles, came into sight of the enemy guns, and eventually were immobilised. Ian's profession is geolocation so he knows what's where down to the nearest inch. He was able to superimpose the original tactical maps on the modern-day maps and imagery so, for example, when we read in the tank commander's log that they had come to a berm which they could not surmount with their under-engined tanks there we were, standing directly in front of that berm at the waypoint that the tank commander had noted. The poignancy of such moments may need to be experienced to be imagined.
 

The Battle of Amiens, which began on 8 August 1918, was the opening phase of the Allied offensive later known as the Hundred Days Offensive that ultimately led to the end of World War I.

The battle started with an enormous push which was accomplished in one day – the day Thomas Casey was hit and fatally wounded.

An overview of the battle site in France and of the lines of advance is shown in the following map:

Battle of Amiens overview

Although the battle moved very rapidly over the terrain and involved large numbers of men and amounts of materiel, and although substantial casualties resulted, the officers of the AIF, any one of whom could have been killed at any second, amazingly found time to document the events in meticulous detail. Enormous quantities of the resulting documents have been put on line by the Australian War Memorial, even down to copies of the chits carried back and forth through the battle by messengers. I find it amazing that these bits of paper, some of which bore important tactical information ("Dense fog. Visibility 5 yards. We have lost sight of C Company. Are moving forward.....") and some of which were more in the housekeeping category ("Please send 10 rolls of white tape and pencils....") subsequently found their way into the archives rather than being simply scattered around the battlefield.

The Australian War Memorial archives include at two detailed summary documents, the First World War Diaries of the 16th Infantry Battalion, to which Thomas Casey and Ivan Guthrie belonged, and the First World War Official Histories. Excerpts from these documents are given below.

A good overall understanding of the battle is provided in the chapter Der schwarze Tag in the First World War Official Histories. The History of the AIF in France, referring to the battle on 8-Aug-1918 (see PDF pages 39 & 67 of “Der schwarze Tag” in http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/first_world_war/volume.asp?levelID=67892 ) states “By far the hardest task of the day on the Australian front fell to the 16th Battalion, which had to take the final objective in the northernmost sector beside the Somme".

Reference to the following map, taken from the Appendix to the 16th Infantry Battalion Diaries, is essential for a clear understanding of the advance from Morcourt to Mericourt in which Ivan Guthrie  and Thomas Casey fought and in which Thomas Casey was fatally wounded. The map shows three curved crayoned lines running roughly north-south: these are the objectives set for the Battalion on August 8, referred to in the narratives as the GREEN line, the RED line and the BLUE line, the latter being the ultimate objective for the day. These objectives were, in fact, accomplished. The blue crayon lines running roughly east-west show the movement of the 16th Battalion in a northeast direction towards Mericourt, i.e. parallel to the southern bank of the Somme river. 'D' Company, to which Thomas Casey belonged, is on the left flank of the advance. Note the town of Chipilly just opposite on the north bank of the Somme, i.e. northwest of Mericourt: German guns on the Chipilly spur, a steep wooded ridge, commanded a wide field of fire to the south of the Somme and were able to fire on the 16th Battalion's infantry and tanks at close range as they moved northeast towards Mericourt. It was probably a shell from one of those guns which hit Thomas Casey's tank, and the shell which subsequently fatally wounded him probably also came from there. The Germans' flanking fire held up the Australian Corps until late on the 9 August, when a small Australian party slipped across the river, and captured the village of Chipilly itself.

Morcourt-to-Mericourt battle map

The accounts of the events of August 8th and of the preparations for the battle are highly evocative. Zero hour for the attack was fixed at 4.20am on the morning of the 8th. As the brigades and their vehicles and enormous amounts of materiel were moved up to the jumping-off points in the preceding days and nights meticulous precautions were taken to ensure that the Germans had little or no warning of the coming blow. Troops were told to move in small seemingly random groups by roundabout ways. Aeroplanes were flown over the area so that their noise would drown out the sounds of the tanks and lorries moving into position.  Diversionary attacks were carried out to confuse the enemy.

On the night of 4th/5th August 1918 the 16th battalion was moved into bivouacs on the banks of the river near Vaire-sur-Corbie (sic). Here it remained until the night of 7th/8th August when it was moved immediately after dark to the first forming-up place between Vaire-sur-Corbie and Hamel. (Taken from the Diary of the 16th Battalion).

During the night before zero hour orders were whispered rather than barked. Accoutrements and anything other items which clinked or rattled were muffled. Horses were calmed to prevent them from neighing. Talk was kept to a minimum to avoid information being picked up by German listening posts. The troops sat quietly smoking their Woodbines and preparing for the great event. According to the contemporary accounts morale was excellent.

At Zero Hour a thick fog lay over the area and as the battalions moved forward from their jumping off points, heralded by a massive bombardment of the German positions, they had the greatest of difficulty keeping in touch, maintaining the required positions relative to each other and making out the German positions ahead of them which they were to attack. As usual in an assault of this kind the Allied artillery, which was trying to "walk" its shells forward just ahead of the advancing troops to soften up the German positions (see the lines of trenches on the above map), was having difficulty ascertaining the positions of the Allied troops in the fog. Conversely, of course, the fog gave the infantry excellent cover as they advanced, in many cases surprising German units as the Australians overran (or stumbled into ?) their positions. One account in the Diaries mentions that a group of German officers was surprised at breakfast !

The fog cleared later in the morning but was to hamper the attack considerably in the first few hours. Nevertheless, the advances made by 10am that morning were prodigious. A contributory factor was surely the limited resistance of the German troops. The Diaries of August 8th and the succeeding days are full of accounts of German troops surrendering in large numbers to be marched back to the prisoner-of-war facilities in the rear with smiles and other expressions of relief on their faces. The Australian troops reported that the fire from German artillery, machine guns and other heavy weapons was intense but the resistance melted as soon as the fighting at close quarters began. One gets a feeling from these accounts that the majority of the German troops were quite simply exhausted by 4 years of war.

Infantry Company D, of which Thomas Casey and Ivan Gurthrie were members, was assigned to the third phase of the attack (between the RED and the BLUE objective lines on the above map). They attacked on foot and in infantry-carrying Mark V* tanks. These tanks were not battle tanks as we know them nowadays but rather armoured personnel carriers.

Mark V tank

Mark V tank

The abovementioned  http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/first_world_war/volume.asp?levelID=67892 when referring to the tanks says in a footnote on p.68 “Like those allotted to other brigades eight of these tanks carried as passengers 8 officers and 112 other ranks of the AIF with 10 Vickers and 16 Lewis guns, an average of 15 passengers each beside the normal crew of eight". There was a ninth tank in reserve. They were by all accounts underpowered, unreliable, cramped, hot, noisy and fume-filled even before they were shot at. The Diaries describe how Company D moved forward to their assigned part of the assault in the fog and under artillery fire, with the officers in the tanks peering out of little slits and trying to find the way and "steering" the drivers  by tapping on their shoulders. Time and again they would find themselves moving up a hill or over terrain which the tank, with its underpowered and overheating engine, could not manage and they would have to turn back and try another way. For much of the advance the infantry preferred to walk beside their tanks and risk the enemy fire rather than endure the discomfort inside. If I have read/interpreted the Diaries correctly, many of Company D's tanks had quit by the time the unit reached the third phase of the attack to which they had been assigned.

For the assault phase between the RED and the BLUE lines the Battalion had only 4 tanks left and another tank, a Mark V, was picked up to accompany them. Up to the RED line the casualties had been few but between the RED and BLUE lines, the segment to which Thomas Casey's and Ivan Guthrie's 'D' Company had been assigned, they mounted under the withering fire from the German positions on the hill on the opposite banks of the Somme.  Four tanks were put out of action by the German guns before reaching the BLUE line, one when crossing the RED line, two in Q.18.c, and  the fourth in Q.17.b (these map coordinates can be found on this map).  The fifth got as far as the BLUE line near Mericourt but was there put out of action and most of the crew were killed. This latter tank was probably the one which carried Thomas Casey and which he abandoned to advance with his Lewis gun.

The casualties between the RED and BLUE lines amounted to 40% of the Battalion strength and included Thomas Casey.

Captain W.J.Lynas, D.S.O., M.C., O/C of 'D' Company, wrote the following account of the advance of his tanks which contained Thomas Casey and Ivan Guthrie (they may have been in the same tank but we cannot be certain of this):

Lynas account p1Lynas account p2



To allow a better understanding of this account of the assault I have transferred the map references to the following map of 'D' Company's movements on the morning of the 8th of August.

Tantalisingly, it is not clear exactly which tanks Thomas Casey and Ivan Guthrie were in (they may have been in the same one). Note the statement that "......all ranks on coming out of the machines were incapable of any movement for varying periods up to 3 and 4 hours...". Possibly the occupants of the tanks were poisoned with carbon monoxide in addition to all the other vicissitudes they had to endure.

Another summary of the battle has been published by Philip Eagles.