The Commemoration Mass for the Battle of Passchendaele was held in Saint Peter’s Church on Sunday 8th October, where we welcomed members of the RSL Sub-branch and other guests. Father David was involved in leading further services at the Maitland Cenotaph on Thursday 12th October at 5.30 am, commemorating the start of the Battle of Passchendaele, and on Saturday 14th October when the formal commemorative service was held in the presence of local dignitaries and representatives of a number of the families of local soldiers who were killed in the battle.
The 34th Battalion was formed in January 1916 at a camp established at the Maitland showground. It was planned that the bulk of the battalion’s recruits would be drawn from the Maitland area and thus it was known as “Maitland’s Own”. The first recruits for the 34th however, hailed from the far north-west of the state and arrived at Maitland after joining a recruiting march that began at Walgett. These men were known as the “Wallabies”.
The 34th became part of the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division. It left Sydney, bound for the United Kingdom in May 1916. Arriving there in late June, the battalion spent the next five months training. It crossed to France on 22nd November, and moved into the trenches of the Western Front for the first time on 27th November, just in time for the onset of the terrible winter of 1916-17. After several stints in the trenches, and a period of rest and training, the battalion entered battle again one hundred years ago last month, on 12th October around Passchendaele.
The battlefield had been deluged with rain, and thick mud tugged at the advancing troops and fouled their weapons. The battle ended in a disastrous defeat. 60,000 Australian troops did not return from the First World War. In the four battles of the Western Front 7,000 Australian lost their lives in just six weeks, and over 31,000 were injured.
Lest we forget.