On Monday I managed to hand in the third essay for my MA in Britain and the First World War.The essay was based on the technological cutting edge of artillery during the war. It was extremely hard going, and at times I found it extremely difficult. It is not a understatement when I say that it was the hardest thing I have done since I was 16 years old. I have found it extremely difficult this year and at times extremely frightening. I think it is the fear of failure and embarrassing yourself, especially when you know that you are pitting your wits against the best academic minds in the United Kingdom. I must admit that it hasn’t been easy and it has been a reality check, in my own abilities and my knowledge. If you want this Masters degree you certainly have to earn it, and it has taken its toll on me. I have spent the past 10 months in the back room of my house, books on the table, trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle with multiple solutions. I have almost acquired the status of a hermit.
But this journey is still only half way and it is only going to get harder. I must admit the entry into academia has been extremely difficult. It is no illusion when I say that at times this year it has tested me to the absolute limit, there have been times where I have cried in despair, moments of joy and disbelief. This was a journey where I have had to rediscover what I am capable of, to delve deeper and deeper into my mental capability. When I was at my lowest in January I was lucky that there were others around me who picked me up very quickly, having lost my Uncle Kevin suddenly in November and his cremation the week before Christmas, the preparation for my first essay was not as good as I hoped and as a result my first essay probably didn’t get the attention that it deserved at that moment. As consequence I just failed the first assignment. Although I passed the resit it left a particularly bitter taste. It still bothers me.
The second assignment was based on the campaign in the Middle East, and it I have to say a welcome relief. I felt I had a chance to redeem myself, having learned the lessons from the first assignment. It was a subject that I really enjoyed, tackling the Legend of Allenby entering Jerusalem in November 1917 and the capitulation of General Townshend’s army at Kut-El-Amara. I prepared properly and I must admit that the lockdown also played its part. I studied and read and wrote, learning all the time, suffering with my eyes and worked late into the night. even on evenings at the height of the pandemic. But it was a particularly satisfying moment when I passed this assignment. I had finally delivered, and I have to thank Field Marshal Allenby of Megiddo for his inspiration.
Yes, I have been tested to the fullest, it is by far the hardest thing I have set myself on. Sometimes there have been moments when I have considered throwing in the towel. There were moments especially on the train home where i felt sheer despair. But with reverses come success and having a good circle of people in the same boat as you, you realise very quickly that you are not alone in this struggle. One of the greatest things of being a human being is that you have a choice, a choice to endure, to stand and keep faith in your own abilities. The second choice is to stand back, evaluate the situation and decide to quit, thankfully yet that moment has not yet arrived and I am prepared to endure a little bit more. I see this enterprise as the fulfilment of a destiny i inherited as a 10 year old at Holy Rood, it is Half Time and I still have the second half, with extra time and penalties if need be.
Today is the 104th anniversary of the seizure of Pozieres by the Australians during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Pozieres is a very special place and is enshrined in the spirit of the people of Australia. 23,000 Australians were killed or wounded in the attempt to take the small village which lies on the Albert-Bapaume road. The Australians who fought at Pozieres never forgot it. Many of the Australian soldiers who arrived on the Somme had fought at Gallipoli and had combat experience. But fighting in Turkey and fighting in France were two totally different beasts. The Australians found out that the German Army was just as hard a nut to crack that the Turkish troops at Lone Pine or at the Nek. The Aussies paid for the seizure of Pozieres in their blood. South of the Albert-Bapaume road, hundreds of men were killed in their attempt to seize the fields south of the village, many were wounded. When Pozieres was finally seized, the agony continued for the Australians as they attempted to seize Mouquet (Mucky) Farm to the north west of the village.
Mouquet Farm, (On the road between Pozieres and Thiepval) before the Battle of the Somme had been originally a headquarters safe behind the front line positions, but as the British and Commonwealth soldiers attempted to break through along the Albert-Bapaume road. The situation from a German perspective became very serious and as a result, Mouquet Farm became a underground fortress, complete with underground tunnels and a interlocking defensive system. It was at Mouquet Farm where the German Army began to refine the technique of ‘Defence in Depth’, where they learned to counteract British attacking units. Many Australian soldiers learned the true nature of the Western Front as the German troops used the sloping ground to their full advantage, creating machine gun nests in the shell craters that the British heavy guns had created before an attack. Killing and wounding many Australians as they inched towards the now completely destroyed farm complex. As a result of continual heavy losses, the Australians were moved out of the lines and the Canadians moved in.
After a month of heavy and continuous fighting Mouquet farm was taken on 16th September 1916 by the Canadians only to be lost by a heavy German counterattack. It wasn’t until the 26th that the farm was finally seized by the 11th (Northern) Division during the Battle of Thiepval Ridge on the 26th September 1916. This once innocent farm had now become a notorious killing ground, and many soldiers that were killed in the constant artillery battle were never found, many of them, their names etched on the Thiepval Memorial that is visible in the distance. Australia remembers Pozieres and Mouquet Farm and will continue to do so for many years to come. The legacy lives on.