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Compassion at Hamel

By JOL Admin | 24 June 2015

Compassion may have come in all different guises to soldiers on the battlefields of the First World War.  As one of the many Australian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Hamel in 1918. Private William Edward Devine from the 25th Infantry Battalion may have thought his time was up when lying wounded on the battlefield one dark night.

In a letter to his uncle that was later published in the the Rochester Express (dated 30 November 1918), William Devine describes the scene on this terrible night saying, “At 9.45pm we attacked the Germans, starting at a walk till we reached the First German line …We increased our pace and opened rapid fire while their machine guns from further back were playing on us.”

Newspaper clipping, Rochester Express, 30 November 1918

Rochester Express, 30 November 1918

The letter goes on to describe his confrontation with the enemy or ‘Fritz’ (as the Germans were called), detailing in graphic detail the moment of attack, "Thinking they were our men we walked up to them when they cried ’Halt’. The officer gave the password and the next second, hand grenades exploded all around us".

Unable to walk and suffering from severe injuries, Private Devine tried to crawl toward safety when he found himself surrounded by three German soldiers. Devine says, “They got out of their trench, and two of them picked me up and carried me gently in the direction of the post from which we had set out, but bearing to the German side.  I never said a word, and they never spoke to me…all of a sudden, they dropped me and ran off in the different direction and were soon out of sight. You can image how glad I was.”

Private Devine survived the war and returned to Australian on the Marathon in April 1919. He carried the scars of this battle with him the rest of this life. He was the recipient of the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Thank you to his great grand-daughter Lara Suddards for drawing our attention to William Devine’s story.

Private William Edward Devine

Private William Edward Devine, 25th Infantry Battalion, 1916


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