The Chipilly Six
Unsung heroes of the Great War
Randwick, NSW: New South Books, 2023
Paperback 346pp RRP: $34.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, July 2023
The Allied attack commenced on 8th August 1918, but the British III Corps failed after 30 hours to seize their objective of Chipilly Spur overlooking the River Somme because of entrenched German machine gunners who also fired into the flank and rear of the Australian Corp’s advance. At midday on the 9th, Company Quartermaster Sergeant Jack Hayes and Sergeant Harold Andrews were absent without leave from C Company 1st Battalion AIF on the lookout for souvenirs near Chipilly Village and could see the reason the British advance had stalled. They returned to their lines but were denied permission to take a patrol over to Chipilly. By 1800 hours they were told to take a ‘strong patrol’ (minimum of platoon with a Lewis gun), but Jack and Harold took only four colleagues with them!
Outflanking the German line of machine guns, the six acting as ‘scouts’ for D Coy 2/10th London Battalion, captured 47 prisoners and 27 machine guns. The Brits capitalised on the gains of the ‘Six’ and the Spur was captured, enabling the Allied advance to continue. The entire action encompasses a mere thirteen pages (including two maps)! The exploits of the ‘Six’ were never included in either Australian or British Official War Histories. The two sergeants were each awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, three of the private soldiers were awarded the Military Medal and one a Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Lucas Jordan has broken his work into six distinct parts. The reader learns of the family background and enlistment history of the six, before the brief account of the action at Chipilly Spur. The six went into battle again on 23rd August in the Froissy Valley – this time Jack Hayes, Private Jerry Fuller and Private Bill Kane were all wounded and were evacuated to England. The fourth part deals with the differing experiences they had in returning to a changed Australia at the height of the Spanish Flu epidemic.
Many Australians would not be aware of the schism between the Soldiers’ Clubs and the emerging Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League (RSSILA which became today’s RSL). Jack Hayes was extremely active in the Marrickville Anzac Memorial Club, helping the families of soldiers who were on hard times. It was a chance encounter involving Jack Hayes that led to the very first Dawn Service at 0430 hours on 25th April 1928.These memorial clubs continued their good work through the Depression of the 30s and into the post-Second World War period. Jordan’s final part looks at Jerry Fuller and Bill Kane enlisting to fight in the Second World War along with the some of the sons of the Six.
This is a story of heroism that needed to be told. It has been embedded in a noteworthy commentary on Australian society in the post-1918 years.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.