Privates Ivan Guthrie & Thomas
16th Battalion, Australian Infantry, Australian
Combatants at Méricourt in the Battle of Amiens, France, 8th August 1918
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
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
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
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:
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
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,
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.
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 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
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
) 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.
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
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
?) 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
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):
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