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The Liberation of Assevillers - August 1918

Here is the story of a few days preceding the critical battle of Mont Saint-quentin and which permitted the liberation of Assevillers village :

┬ź All began in 26th August 1918. The 32nd battalion of Australian infantry left from Aubigny (close to Villers Bretonneux) in order to back up the 4th battalion on the front line. This backing, effectively occured during the night of 26th to 27th August around 1:00pm and the front line spread then, in the sector situated between Chuignes and Fontaine les-Cappy in the north and till the entrance of Foucaucourt in the south, by about 1300 m. In their left, more in the north side was the 24th battalion, more in the south the 30th battalion. So, the target was to hold the front and to pursue the enemy if it revealed signs of retreat.

In 27th August 1918 in the morning, the 32nd battalion explored the trenches situated on this front line but did not find any trace of the enemy. At midday, order was given to sink deep in the trenches situated in the south of Fontaine-l├Ęs-Cappy. It's there the 32nd battalion met the enemy. Issuing a fast confrontation, 10 people were killed in the german side, 8 german soldiers were captured one officer was wounded. So, the enemy took refuge behind, in the wood TOUFFU, already beginning popular in 1916 while the Australian infantry took position in the wood of Cuisines. So, each held its positions and an important bombing from the enemy occured in the afternoon of 27th August 1918. Therefore, the Australian staff headquarter ordered then, the 32nd battalion to take back the bois TOUFFU and to keep hunting the german occupant, the day after.

When holding back this wood around 7 am of this sunny 28th August 1918, a howitzer was taken from the enemy. Consequently, no more resistances were met. FAY was free at 9 am in the morning, a train with twenty wagons surrendered by the enemy was captured. The 32nd battalion kept going ahead and in contact with the enemy which did not show any great resistance, except from those machine guns. Following that, the enemy retreated back in a wood situated in the east of Assevillers and the south of the airport, it held by means of piece of artillery. Around this wood, stood a huge labyrinth of trenches which had been in the bygone days, occupied. All the battalions being passed by this place, depicted a devastated landscape where no more piece of grass grew and where only a few rare trees, relics of a pacified remote past, survived, cut into pieces, a landscape deeply bruised, where the long and sinuous trenches like as many scars designed a countryside in bygone days, so flourishing. It's in those "old" trenches as the soldiers of the 32nd battalion described in those trenches themselves surrendered that the soldiers of the 32nd battalion might operate. But the german soldiers stepped back once again from this wood and the australian soldiers, in accordance with orders, went on pursuing the enemy. It's here near Assevillers that 18 german soldiers were captured. Assevillers was free around 9 pm. But it was already too late, the village has greatly suffered from intense battles of 1916. The village has lost its church, its mill, its school, its cemetery and only a few housings remained, the front line was then settled at 400 m in the east of Assevillers. Since the morning, 5 klms of ground have been regained from the enemy, and this, on damaged, tortured, devastated battlefield by the fightings of 1916. Men of the 32nd battalion were certainly satisfied of their progression but extremely exhausted by the circumstances of those fightings. Today, we know that if the german soldiers stepped back before the australian pression, in fact, it was in order to better prepare their resistance during the battle of Mont Saint-Quentin, each belligerent holding a bank of the Somme, the worse was still about to occur.┬╗

By Bertrand FARENEAU,
Oct.2013