Dernancourt, a village on the River Ancre in France, was the scene of desperate fighting during the German offensive of March and April 1918. The 12th and 13th Brigades fought to hold beside the village on March 27 and held back two attacks by the 50th (Prussian) Reserve Division the next day.
Two and a half Germans divisions were fought off by the two Australian brigades in a second attack on April 5. Described as the strongest attack met by Australian troops during the war, the Germans were pushed back by a counter-attack that inflicted 1600 casualties. Australian casualties were 1230.
Among the dead lay 22-year-old James Stafford of Maryborough.
Arthur D’Leyland, No. 2 Platoon, 47th Battalion. Dear Mrs Stafford – words cannot express my sympathy in the loss of your son James, killed in action on the 5th April last, when the Australians so nobly held up the advancing hordes; but sad to relate at the cost of many noble lives. I myself am suffering from a wound received on that date, my position being a few yards from Jim. He was doing good work under intense machine gun fire when I had to evacuate as my arm was absolutely useless and loss of blood was telling. My mother too is suffering from a very grievous loss, for on the 24th April my youngest brother was also killed in action. Such is the cruel conflict the causes of which words of sympathy can never heal. As platoon sergeant your son was highly esteemed and as an all round mate and friend there were none to surpass him – his cheery wit and humour and voice made him a great favourite. We can only rest our minds full knowing that he died a noble death in the fight for freedom – a freedom which, if not gained – well, it will be better to be dead.
PS: In saying I am expressing the sentiments of the platoon would be useless, as but two fit men remain. This gives you an idea of what we had to face on that awful morning of the 5th of April. Nevertheless I am certain, Mrs Stafford, that had more been spared in our platoon you would have been the recipient of many sympathetic letters.
– M.C., Maryborough WB&B Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.
The exhausted brigades had so many casualties that in May one battalion from each was disbanded in order to reinforce the other three.
Villers-Bretonneux :Hours before the second battle at Dernacourt, the Australia’s 3rd and 4th Brigades had held the Germans back to defend the village of Villers-Bretonneux and the town of Amiens. On the Somme, the New Zealand Divison valiantly helped stop the ‘Kaiserschlacht’, boosting morale along the front with evidence that the great German advance could be stopped.
Villers-Bretonneux swung into sharp focus again and the balance of forces teetered on April 24. Crack German troops captured the village in the morning and gained a strategic foothold for their intended assault on the target town of Amiens.
From the high ground near the village Amiens was in range of their artillery but the Germans would go no further. Yelling Australians with fixed bayonets counter-attacked that night in a ferocious display of bravery that took a heavy toll but from that point the Germans did not advance again in the area. For the rest of the war, they would be on the back foot.
The two Australian brigades – less than 4000 men – suffered heavy casualties as they encircled the village in the night. They were commanded by two leaders who were legends in the AIF. The 13th Brigade was commanded by Brigadier-General William Glasgow https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C177221 from the small town of Tiaro near Maryborough and the 15th by Brigadier-General Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott.
The Villers-Bretonneux battle was described by General Monash and others as the most brilliant feat that had been accomplished by soldiers from Australia or anywhere else. https://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/senate/pubs/occa_lect/transcripts/111002.pdf
Historian Peter Pedersen says that while Australians rightly commemorate the fighting at Gallipoli, the battles at Villers-Bretonneux should be better known as Australians fighting there played a role in turning the tide of the war on the Western Front.