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By Barbara Wilson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
The Illinois National Guard and Consul General of Australia Chris Elstoft commemorated the first time U.S. forces fought side-by-side with the Australians as part of the series of events celebrating the Illinois National Guard’s 300th birthday in Springfield on May 6.
Those U.S. military forces that fought side-by-side with the Australians in the July 4, 1918, Battle of Hamel were from the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Division. The Battle of Hamel was just the beginning of a strong and close relationship, Elstoft said.
“Our shared history is still vital in today’s friendship.”
Rain tampered the planned outdoor events and forced the ceremony to take cover inside Union Station, near the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library.
Illinois National Guard Command Historian Adriana Schroeder shared the history of the Illinois National Guard and Australian forces during the Battle of Hamel, July 4, 1918.
“In late June 1918, the 33rd Division was attached to the British Fourth Army for training in the rear sector,” Schroeder said. “During this time, Companies C & E, 131st Infantry and Companies A and G, 132nd Infantry were selected and attached to the Australian Corps with the mission of capturing the town of Hamel. Precisely at midnight on July 3, the attacking troops climbed out of the trenches and opened their Independence Day by crawling to the starting point. There they waited for the zero hour. At 3:10 a.m. on July 4, after eight minutes of artillery preparation, 1,000 American troops marched with three Australian brigades and attacked from behind a rolling barrage of artillery fire.”
Side by side, the Australians and Americans working together silenced the Germans guns and crews as they encountered them.
Schroeder said the troops overcame German resistance by 4 a.m., halting for 10 minutes to reorganize behind a heavy smoke screen and reached the final objective at 5 a.m.
“At dusk the enemy launched a counterattack, capturing five Australians and two Americans and about 80 yards of the frontline trench,” she said. “Company G, 132nd Infantry participated in repulsing the counterattack. Right before the enemy withdrew, the first platoon of Company E flanked the right, while a platoon of the Australians flanked the left. They not only recaptured the five Australian Soldiers and two American Soldiers but made gains in capturing 57 German Soldiers and secured their machine guns.”
The conduct of the Americans elicited high praise from the Australian commanders, but even more valued was the verdict of the Australian Soldiers, she told those gathered at the ceremony.
“The history of the 131st reads, ‘The men of the 131st will forever hold as their slogan the comment of the comrades in arms in that Fourth of July battle: ‘You’ll do us, Yanks, but you’re a bit rough,’” she said.
On July 5, Lt. Gen. John Monash, commander of the Australian Army, penned a letter to Maj. Gen. George Bell, commander of the 33rd Division. In part it read, “that Soldiers of the United States and of Australia should have thus been associated for the first time in such close cooperation of the battlefield, is an historic event of such significance that it will live forever in the annals of our respective nations.”
Maj. Gen. Rodney Boyd, Assistant Adjutant General – Army and Commander of the Illinois Army National Guard, said the Australian and United States military forces have a deep and long-standing partnership.
“As you heard today, this partnership started with the Illinois National Guard and the Australians in the Battle of Hamel,” he said. “Since the Battle of Hamel, Australians and Americans have fought together in every major international conflict. We are the strongest of allies.”
Boyd quoted Shakespeare in King Henry “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”
“The Australians have shed their blood with us many times and they are our brothers – and sisters,” he said. “The U.S. and Australia face greater security issues as the result of an increasingly assertive China. But we face those challenges together.”
The U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently said that "The United States and Australia share a vision of a region where countries can determine their own futures, and they should be able to seek security and prosperity free from coercion and intimidation."
“For decades, our two nations have stood side by side, defending our shared values and fighting for the freedoms we hold dear. We have faced numerous challenges together, from the jungles of Vietnam to the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq and, of course, to the many battlefields of World War I and World War II,” Boyd said. “It all started with a textbook victory in 1918 over the Germans in a little village called Le Hamel in northern France. Our military partnership is built on a foundation of trust, respect, shared goals, and shared sacrifices. We recognize that the security of our two nations is closely intertwined, and we work tirelessly to ensure that our militaries are prepared to respond to any threat, anywhere in the world. We are proud that the Illinois National Guard was there at the very beginning of this strong relationship between two militaries and two great nations.”
Illinois Army National Guard Col. Michael Eastridge, former commander of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which holds the lineage of many of the units which fought side by side with the Australians at the Battle of Hamel, said the Soldiers were together less than a month before the Battle of Hamel.
“The American Soldiers were green, but anxious to fight,” he said. “The Australian Soldiers were battle-hardened after years of warfare.”
He said the only disagreements between the Australians and the Americans were when one of our Illinois farm boys occasionally confused an Australian for a Brit.
“The Diggers hated to be confused for a Tommie – in their view they were tougher and better fighters than the British,” he said. “But they respected the Americans’ courage under fire.”
Eastridge said the Australians and the Illinois National Guard Soldiers worked closely and interchangeably.
“During the battle, Americans were paired with Australian runners and medics to assist in the U.S. Soldiers’ seasoning. The value of this pairing of experience with inexperience proved valuable,” he said. “The Diggers and Doughboys were a great match. They still are. One thing that hasn’t changed is the swagger of both American and Australian Soldiers. The confidence that they can overcome any obstacle and defeat any enemy is shared by both our American Soldiers and our Australian allies. And we are still great friends.”
Elstoft, the Consul General, said that Australia also values its shared history with the Illinois National Guard dating back to the Battle of Hamel. “We fought side by side, but I believe you were under our command,” he said, smiling.
That, he said, “has not happened very much since,” as the U.S. has become among the world’s strongest military powers. Much like the name Lincoln is posted all around Illinois, the name of the Australian Commander of both Australian and U.S. forces during the Battle of Hamel, Gen. John Monash, is posted all around Australia as one of their nation’s most prominent national heroes.
Eastridge said the Australians got along great with the Americans from “the get-go.”
“Both shared a tough frontier swagger. They also shared a democratic outlook on military rules and regulations and, honestly, they both shared a dislike of the haughtiness and attitude of British officers toward the Soldiers of its former colonies.”
He said that the Americans and Australians still get along great, and both get along better with the British now too.