Writing about Louverval


Recently I’ve been writing about the battalion during the early months of 1917.  Most of the events seem fairly mundane, but interesting nonetheless.  They started the year on the Somme, slowly pushing forward through the mud, then the frost and snow towards Bapaume.  Then during March they were pursuing the Germans as they retreated back to the Hindenburg Line.  As April rolled around, the battalion became involved in their first set-piece, full battalion attack on the small hamlet of Louverval.

Well, I’ve found researching and writing about ‘my first battle’ very interesting, and also very challenging.  I was able to find quite a good amount of information to work with, however I think I made it harder for myself because I approached it from the wrong end, so to speak.

I first started by going through the primary source records such as brigade and battalion war diaries, plus maps.  But it didn’t take long before I became very frustrated and felt that I just couldn’t put it together in any sensible way.  I realised that I just didn’t understand the battle because of the fragmentary nature of information in the war diaries, and the assumed knowledge the diarist allows for.  I just couldn’t understand what was where and who did what when.  Very frustrating.

Anyhow, I decided to approach it from the other end instead.  I went back and read the few pages in Bean’s Official History, then the account provided by Ellis’s Story of the Fifth Division.  I read these through and took lots of notes and tried to map out the operation both spatially (using a wartime map showing the actual grid references), and chronologically, i.e. how the battle progressed from hour to hour over the two days.

I found this worked a treat.  I now felt I knew the event much better and had a much clearer idea of who went where and when.  Then I returned to the brigade and battalion war diaries and found I could understand them just fine.  Writing was much easier then. 

So perhaps the lesson is to move from the general to the specific and map out spatially and chronologically what took place. 

So now the trick is to add some more flavour and content to Bean and Ellis’s accounts from the war diaries, hopefully from some personal accounts, and last but not least, if I get a chance to walk the ground around Louverval later this year (fingers crossed).  It’s quite amazing to see how accurate Bean’s account is actually.  The war diary also notes that Lt Col Scott was interviewed by Bean a few days after the action, so that will be another valuable source to cross-check, i.e. Bean’s own diaries and notebooks.

I’ll also read the 55th Battalion war diary to check their account as they went into action right beside the 56th.  I was also lucky to find an account by one of the German regiments (96th IR) defending Louverval.  Translating this may also prove valuable.

The map is from Ellis’s The story of the Fifth Australian Division, p 190.


8 Responses to “Writing about Louverval”

  1. Ross St.Claire Says:

    As a non-academic author I took exactly the same approach towards writing about battles as you described. Ellis, and especially Bean, were the framework I constructed my chapters around. The battalion and brigade diaries revealed more detail. Other sources which I found invaluable were the POW statements [specifically Fromelles], Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files, Recommendation for awards and various service records. All of these revealed new information regarding the position of various men and officers, and their companies during battle. Personnal diaries and letters generously lent by family members were the icing on the cake.
    Ross St.Claire

  2. Andrew Ferguson Says:

    My Grandfather won his Military Medal at Louverval with 11th Bn, AIF on 15 Apr 1917. See Ian Gill, Fremantle to France – 11th Battalion AIF 1914-1919, Advanced Press, 2003.

    Editor: Thanks Andrew, this was during the German counterattack on Lagnicourt, that took place between the two attacks at Bullecourt. Lieutenant Charles Pope of 11th Battalion won the VC during this same action.

  3. nev parker Says:

    Craig, have just seen some correspondence that you had with my brother, Howard Parker — I’ve seen Dad’s records but was unable to determine exactly where he obtained his head wound, you have enlightened me on that with the information about Louverval.

    To answer a question you posed my brother, No, Dad didn’t have any hangups after the war and he later enlisted in WW2, but because of his age he went no further than Darwin. I used to cut his hair [something I learned in my Naval NS] and asked him about the wound, he said ‘We were in the trenches and the Officer gave the order to advance– I scrambled up the side of the trench under heavy fire, ran forward and then dropped to the ground, I then I noticed that the Officer and I were the only two that had jumped out of the trenches, the Officer stood up and yelled back at the men to advance — I stood up and thought ” I’m not going to be the only silly Bugger going forward” [his words] he then turned to see if the other men were advancing — it was at that moment he was shot, he said that had he not turned then, the bullet would have gone straight through his head.

    After that Dad did have a bad AWL record, my brother was devestated about this when he found out because he has Grandchildren and wondered if he should pursue it further, I told him to tell them that their Grandfather did one of the bravest things a soldier can do — he punched his commanding officer on the nose. Actually my Father was a very loving and gentle man, he only ever hit me once [and I deserved it for backchatting my Mother] so I’m surprised at this part of his record. He spoke very kindly about a Belgian family that he stayed with, I think he was recuperating with them — being a kid you never ask questions. Anyhow have prattled enough.

    Nev Parker

    Editor’s response: Many thanks Nev for your insights into your father’s wartime experiences. Your brother Howard also indicated he can send me a photo of him, so I’m looking forward to that.


  4. Deslie Northcote Says:

    Sitting here (with the flu) watching the 2011 Anzac March, I started “googling” my Great Uncle, Lionel Dilworth who died “due to wounds”on 2nd April 1917, along with John Bradney. They were with the 56th Battalion.

    I was lucky enough to come across your site and have now “googled on” to other sites and have now found the area where Uncle Lionel died – something that none of us in the family ever knew.

    So, on this Anzac Day, on behalf of my family, I thank you for adding another piece of the puzzle which is Uncle Lionel’s short life.

  5. Vicki Bennett Says:

    Can you tell me how I can read your article about Louverval. I am researching Gunner William McCauley, 5th Australian Division Artillery. (my gandfather) he was wounded in France on 7/4/17. I want to find out if it was in Louvervel. Can you help?

    • Craig Tibbitts Says:

      Hi Vicki,

      What I’ve written about Louverval is not an article, rather it’s a chapter in the book on the 56th Battalion which is not yet released. I recommend you read CEW Bean’s Vol IV, Chapter 7, The taking of the outpost villages. It’s available online here.

      If Gunner William McCauley was with his unit at the time of the battle, he would have no doubt been involved in the battle. 5th Division artillery were in support, before and after Louverval and Doignies were taken. As you’ll see in Bean’s account, for the sake of surprise the actual attack took place without artillery support.


  6. Albrecht Rothacher Says:

    Actually my great uncle, Wilhelm Hansen, then aged 19, was killed on Easter day, April 8th 1917 on a patrol between Louverval and Boursies. He was with the 1. Kompanie, 95 IR. I just read the regimental history, published in 1935. Curiously the Australians captured by them claimed to be Canadians. Even almost 20 years after the war and after weeklong rearguard battles and after having made more than 40 POWs the surviving officers seemed to be convinced that they had been facing Brits and Canadians on the other side!

  7. Warren Bishop Says:

    My Great, Great Uncle was in the 3rd reinforcements of 56Bn, enlisting on 17 October 1916 at Cootamundra NSW with the service number of 1871. His name was Stanley Charles Bishop, but enlisted with the name Baker as he was refused enlistment in Tasmania. He used the name Baker as, according to a letter from his sister in his National Archives File, his mates referred to him as baker, so he used that name.

    Stanley participated in the Second Battle of Bullecourt and was Wounded In Action with a Gun Shot Wound to the right leg on 12 May 1917 whilst taking part in relieving action immediately after the 2nd battle of Bullecourt and was withdrawn by the 14th Field Ambulance to the 9th Casualty Clearing Station.

    Stanley’s service records indicate that he was Killed In Action on 26 September 1917 at Polygon Wood. Unfortunately, probably as a result of his name confusion, he does not have a file with the Red Cross Missing and Wounded Bureau and has no known grave, that I am aware of. Stanley is listed on the walls at the Menin Gate. I would welcome any advice on how the book on the 56th Bn is going, or where I could obtain a copy.

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