Friday, July 25, 2008
image Imperial War Museum E2478
Australian 9th Division troops under fire from enemy mortar attack atop Ruin Ridge, Alamein sector, Egypt. These troops shelter in a standard slit trench dug waist deep and reinforced with sand bags, rocks and anything capable of forming a barrier between shrapnel and flesh. Tin hats are the order of the day while in typical Australian fashion shirts are not. The Sergeant (with the shirt) is holding a pair of binoculars searching for any sign of where the mortars are being fired at them from.
image 151150 Australian War Memorial
A patrol of 9th Division troops goes outside the wire of Tobruk's defenses into no mans land. Patrols like this constantly harassed the enemy at Tobruk. It was commonly felt amongst Australian troops that they "owned no-man's land". Major-General Leslie Morshead, commander of the Tobruk garrison implemented a series of relentless patrolling around the besieged troops in a constant source of concern for both Germans and Italians alike.
image 009394 Australian War Memorial.
Members of the 2/17th Infantry Battalion man a captured Italian 75mm gun.
Australian War Memorial #020286. Photo by W.O. Thomas Fisher.
I first came across this photo under the heading "Tobruk's Bush Artillery" published on p.54 of "Active Service with Australia in the Middle East". "Active Service" was the first of a series of yearbook type campaign journals that were published yearly by the Australian War Memorial. The caption that accompanied that above photo in "Active Service" is reproduced below;
"The troops and the gun represent one of the features of Tobruk that gives the boys something to talk about and "Gerry" something to think about."
"They are the bush artillery - captured Italian guns manned by soldiers who are otherwise employed in cook-houses, messes and the like, who's job it is to reissue enemy shells to the enemy. They do it, fast and efficiently, but the enemy does not appreciate the service."
I found this caption rather interesting considering the fact that one of the men in the photo is my Grandfather NX17811 Pvt. L.J. McCarthy of the 2/17th Infantry Battalion. The men in this photo were all members of D Company, 2/17th Infantry Battalion and not cooks like the official record stated.
In fact when this photo was taken by Warrant Officer (later Lt.) Thomas Fisher, official photographer of the 9th Division Military History and Information Section the gun in question was only 4000 yards from the German front line. Further photos in the series show the same men firing the gun at the Germans. Kind of cool to have a photo of your Grandfather firing heavy artillery at the Germans during the Siege of Tobruk. What is even cooler is that I have a photo in my personal collection of the same 5 men standing in the same order taken at Anzac Day in the early to mid 1990's with all their medals. The two images are quite powerful when shown side by side.
The soldier in the middle is NX65985 Pvt. C.E. Lemaire. My granddad's best mate and a later recipient of the Military Medal for bravery in the field for action against the Japanese at Borneo in 1945. Second from the left is NX60436 Pvt. H.E. Zouch. The other two men on either end are at this stage unknown however research is ongoing in an attempt to name all five members of Tobruk's Bush Artillery.
The soldier who took this photo was Warrant Officer Thomas Fisher of the Military History and Information Section. Sadly W.O. Fisher (later Lt. Fisher) was the only photographer of the Military History and Information Section to be killed in action during WW2. Lt. Fisher died in action against the Japanese at Papua on 16th November 1942. He has no known grave. More from Lt. Fisher's work in later posts. Lt. Fisher is memorialised on the Roll of Honour at http://www.awm.gov.au/roh/person.asp?p=147-7633