So I learned the other day that my paternal great grandfather was a WWI war hero. A proper hero. He won a Military Cross in 1918.
After finding this out I floated on wings of pride to an ANZAC Day dawn service and relished that it held a whole new meaning for me. I told a good friend about this family treasure that day and he told me to post about it, as stories about heroes were few and far between.
My great grandpappy was a ‘Magnificent Bastard’; a combat engineer who well and truly put his balls on the line and single-handedly gathered a range of intelligence under heavy German fire (bombs, gas, bullets) that enabled the allied forces to destroy several key German command centres and supply roads. We won the war shortly after that. Yeah, I’m claiming it.
For your inspiration, here is an excerpt from a book written by my beloved uncle that tells my great grandfather’s story.
THOMAS ANDREW LAWRIE
Lieutenant Thomas Andrew Lawrie was in demand. He was part of the
‘February 1917 Reinforcements’, and reinforcements were continually
needed in the grim squalor of the European battlefields. Even though
Australia was in a different hemisphere to the main theatre of war, its
men enrolled in droves. 61,000 men in the fledgling nation were killed,
a larger proportion than almost any other nation. 75% died in France and
Belgium – which was where Thomas was heading.
Thomas was a ‘Magnificent Bastard’ – a nickname given to those
who served in the 7th Field Company Engineers. He was a combat engineer
whose job was to provide support for the Allied infantry and tanks
chasing the Germans out of France. Unfortunately, the Germans were
proving hard to dislodge. They had built themselves a well-designed
series of defensive trenches, concrete machine gun emplacements and
artillery positions along what was called the Hindenburg Line.
The habit of herding infantry against well-positioned German machine
guns had been modified after the senseless carnage of previous battles
such as the Somme where British Expeditionary Force suffered 58,000
casualties on the first day alone. The use of tanks to support the
infantry had been shown to work well by Sir John Monash, the Australian
commander who orchestrated the first full breach of the Hindenburg line
in late September, 1918.
In the days following this initial success, things got difficult.
Further penetration through the Hindenburg Line was frustrated by a lack
of certainty where the Americans were positioned. This closed down
artillery support for fear of hitting the American troops. Progress was
also halted by stout German resistance from their final line of defences
- the Beaurevoir Line.
After heroic action, the British 46th and 32nd Divisions, together with
the Australian 2nd Division and their ’Magnificent Bastards’,
finally overran the Beaurevoir Line. The action involved the use of
artillery and tanks to support the face-to-face fighting undertaken by
Lewis guns and grenades. The victory heralded the beginning of the end
of the First World War. Armistice Day was declared a month later on the
11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It was in these final
battles that Thomas won the Military Cross.
The citation talks of conspicuous gallantry during an attack near
Beaurevoir on the 3rd of October, 1918. The Engineer had followed the
attack, and despite heavy machine gun fire, high explosive shells and
gas, had crawled forward to reconnoitre the newly captured ground. As a
77 mm enemy battery pounded the area, Thomas crept forward and made a
‘recce’ along an 880 metre stretch. He secured valuable
information about road positions and the enemy massing for a counter
attack. Under what was described as ‘a perfect hail of bullets’
Thomas made his way back to his own lines and advised the artillery of
the situation who then took measures to neutralise the threat.
I have my Grandfather’s Military Cross. It was an award created for
commissioned officers of Captain or below, and for Warrant Officers. It
was awarded for acts of exemplary gallantry against the enemy, while
fighting on land. I now know why he won it.