20 September marks the anniversary of the first major battle involving Australians in Flanders during World War One – The Battle of Menin Road. Here, historian Mat McLachlan and founder of Australia’s leading battlefield tour company, Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours, shares some of the stories of the Anzacs involved in this significant action.
The Battle of Menin Road (20 to 25 September 1917) was the third of seven major British attacks during the Third Battle of Ypres (Battle of Passchendaele), which took place from 31 July – 10 November 1917. This battle involved the 1st and 2nd Divisions of the Australian Imperial Force.
“This was an offensive operation which aimed to take sections of the curving ridge, east of Ypres, which the Menin Road crossed. The advancing troops had to overcome formidable entrenched Germand defensive positions, and the intensity of the battle was fierce. The result of the battle was a strategic success, but came with a high cost, with the two AIF divisions sustaining over 5000 casualties in the action,” said Mat McLachlan.
Historian Mat McLachlan shares some Anzac stories from the Battle of Menin Road:
Frederick Birks, a labourer who worked in Tasmania, South Australia, and Victoria, was age 23 during the Battle of Menin Road and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.
Frederick was born in North Wales in 1894 and migrated to Australia in 1913 where he worked as a transient labourer until he enlisted in August 1914. Posted to the medical corps, he served as a stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli, and was wounded in June 1915. After recovery, he served on the Western Front. On 20 September, during the battle of Menin Road, Birks and a corporal attacked a German pillbox which was holding up the advance; the corporal was wounded but Birks went on, killing those in the pillbox and capturing a machine-gun. Later he led a small party against another strongpoint, capturing 16 men and killing or wounding nine others. The next day, while trying to rescue some of his men who had been buried by an explosion, the brave officer was killed by a shell. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Roy Inwood a miner from Broken Hill, NSW, was 27 during the Battle of Menin Road who captured machine-guns and prisoners during this action.
Like many fellow miners from Broken Hill, Roy enlisted in South Australia. He served at Gallipoli before being sent to France. During the battle of Menin Road, Inwood attacked enemy strongpoints, capturing machine-guns and prisoners. Already a skilful scout, during the night he also went out with a patrol and gathered useful information. In 1918 Inwood returned to Australia to help with recruiting. He survived WWI, although his brother who served in the same battalion was killed at Pozieres. Roy served again in the Second World War.
Arthur Hull, a farmer from Moama NSW, famously climbed to the top of 'Anzac House' signalling its capture by planted an Australian flag.
On the first day of the Battle of Menin Road, the 18th Battalion – which included Arthur Hull – set out to capture some German pillboxes on the north-east of the Australian line. One of the blockhouses was a two-storey known as 'Anzac House'. The second storey was being used by the enemy as an artillery observation post. The British bombardment badly shook the garrison of 'Anzac House' and 15 Germans, with two machine guns, surrendered. Arthur Hull climbed to the top of the blockhouse and planted an Australian flag. Sadly, Arthur and 11 of his mates who took part in the action died on the Western Front less than three weeks later.
The Battle of Menin Road took place near Ypres in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium, bordering the northernmost part of France. During WWI, Australian battalions served on the frontlines throughout Flanders and this region was the site of the bloodiest battle in our nation’s history – the Battle of Passchendaele. Today, Flanders is a rich, vibrant place to visit inviting guests to explore battlefield history, the region’s medieval beginnings, culture, nature, culinary experiences and more. www.visitflanders.com
Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours is a partner of VISITFLANDERS, collaborating with this significant Australian battlefield region to highlight what travellers can see and do today when visiting Flanders.
Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours offers regularly tours to the Western Front, including 4-day Western Front Explorer tours which depart weekly between April and November from Paris, Anzac Day on the Western Front Commemorative tours, as well as special tours such as the Mat McLachlan Signature Tour of the Western Front which will take place in October 2024. For more information, to view detailed tour itineraries visit www.battlefields.com.au.
Jess Stebnicki, firstname.lastname@example.org