Training fields

Bert and Rose’s love story ended on the horror fields of the Somme | Yesterday, today | Western lawyer

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PROBABLY because Bert Bettles’ training lasted longer in England, he would have had more time off than most Australians received before going to France. So he was able to marry an English girl. At one point, he met and married Rose Violet, last name unknown. Rose lived at 38 York Place, Pokesdown in Bournemouth in Dorset, England. There were army training camps near Pokesdown where Bert trained, however, where Bert met Rose will likely remain their secret. Bert said goodbye to Rose and sailed to a seaport in France before boarding troop trains for the reserve cantonment area behind the front lines to rejoin his 54th Battalion. The 54th Battalion was then brought in by train on July 2, 1916, and again quartered in local private cantonments. Training continued and more equipment distributed. On the 8th, the unit received its gas masks and training took place in the morning. The men are moved in the area to various cantonments, but the training continued. On the 11th, the men moved to an advanced section of trenches with the Germans about 50 feet away. On the 14th, they were moved from the trenches and brought back to cantonments, being relieved by the Thropshire Light Infantry. On the 17th, the battalion was sent back to the forward trenches “with a view to developing an attack” during which an officer was killed and several soldiers wounded, to be relived the next day by the 53rd battalion. At 2 p.m. the next day, July 19, 1916, Bert and his companions were ordered to go up to the front line with them to attack the German trenches at around 6 p.m. For about half of these Australian infantrymen, this was their first major battle on the Western Front which took place at Fromelles. The Germans threw everything they had on the Australians and in about an hour and a half the diggers were pulled out and sent back to the reserve lines. It had been a disaster. Three officers and 70 men were killed, 11 officers and 277 other ranks were wounded and there were still four officers and 169 other ranks still missing – they were missing, and few were found. It turned out that around 65 percent of the fighting units were gone in about 90 minutes. Despite these losses and the deplorable conditions Bert and what remained of his unit continued to hold the front lines in the Fromelles sector for another two months. Bert was injured some time in July 1917 when he was sent to a field hospital. He sent two medical postcards to his home in Newnes not knowing that his father John now ran a general store in Burraga. In July 1918 Lance Corporal Bert Bettles was still in the front line. The conditions were drying up a bit because it was summer in Europe. The area was absolutely desolate, flattened by artillery barrages on both sides. On July 11, 1918, the Germans fired their artillery intermittently until daylight. Lance Corporal Bettles had come out with his ration transport section carrying “dry rations” after pulling the “short straw”. The war diary of the 54th Battalion records: “5 men killed and 5 men wounded around 3 am. Almost all of them belong to the A Company ration groups who returned to Company HQ after completing their duties. Bert was one of the killed. Lance Corporal Herbert William “Bert” Bettles was buried in the communal cemetery in what is known as the extension of the local cemetery at Franviller, in the Somme in France. Bert’s family were notified by telegram in Australia, as was his wife Rose in England. Alan McRae is a member of the Bathurst District Historical Society.

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