LEST WE FORGET
By Jill Lowe
“Listed as still missing, he is in this field.”
Private Charles Emil Noblet 21st February 1896 -11th April 1917 Killed in Action
Turning right onto the sunken road just before Bullecourt, the 13th Battalion of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) was to assist the 16th Battalion in capturing Riencourt, France at the Hindenburg Line. The time was approximately 4:45 am on the morning of April 11th, 1917. It was snowing that morning. Marching the 2 miles from
Noreuil, having assembled there soon after midnight, they had bivouacked the previous 2 nights some 6 miles away in Favreuil. This sunken road meant they were hidden and if one peeks over the embankment of it (as I did in 2017, almost 100 years to the day after this Battle of Bullecourt), one can just make out the targeted town of Riencourt-les- Cagnicourt at the Hindenburg line, some 1/2 mile away.
The Sunken Road
Both photos depict Riencourt in distance from the Sunken road
(It is thought that the Bullecourt/Riencourt operation was a distractive operation to have the Germans focus on them INSTEAD of the main thrust in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, it being part of the Battle of Arras, with the Canadians further north. That battle had commenced on April 9th and was won on April 12, 1917. The Canadians held Vimy Ridge, with a loss of 3,598 Canadian lives)
Charles Emil Noblet, my grandmother’s younger and only brother, had joined the AIF, sailed from Australia on 3rd May 1916, age 20, to the Western Front, 4 months before my father was born.
From my earliest days, I knew about Uncle Charles Noblet who was killed in the war. Just as a child recites a saying, one recited “Oh yes” perfunctorily “killed in the war and missing”… absolutely NO interest to an 8-year-old whatsoever. Nothing to do with me.
Fast forward ……one does get SOME little wisdom! With my father’s visit to the area in France in 1987 and especially to the Australian War Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux, and his report of the emotional impact on him, my husband and I decided to visit.
Our superb guide John gave us emotional days in this area in 2017, using his research, his knowledge, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Atlas. The Atlas represents in 960 cemeteries and memorials across France and Belgium, the 1,700,000 men and women of Commonwealth forces who died in WW1.
Standing with John, peeking over the embankment of the sunken road looking towards Riencourt, he consulted the notes of the Lieutenant Colonel: the Commanding officer of the 13th Battalion and read that the plan on April 11th, 1917, was that four platoons, one per company were to assist the tanks in mopping up Riencourt. But tanks to assist either broke down or were captured and as soon as the troops from the 13th had left the shelter of the cutting, there were immediate losses from enemy shell fire. (Despite enemy fire from Riencourt however, approximately 900 yards of the Hindenburg line was held for some 4 hours.)
John read to us that around 9 am, it seems Charles was still alive. While we were still in the sunken road John read the 13th Battalion Captain Adjutant certificate reporting that Charles Emil Noblet was killed by machine-gun soon after, in the field.
As John pointed out. “as he is still missing, he is in this field.”
Heavy machine-gun fire for the next hours forced the Battalion to retreat and by noon the position was entirely evacuated.
Missing in this battle are 367soldiers from the Battalion who are presumably still in this field.
I did not meet Charles Emil Noblet but the utterly bereft feeling even after 100 years, to leave him in the field, was very strong. My father did not get to this specific area and I am so sorry I was not able to tell him where I went and to convey just how emotional and moving this all was.
The 10,719 Australian casualties with no known grave and who lie under the battlefields in France are listed on the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux, in France.
The special relationship with the town of Villers Bretonneux and Australia was further cemented after battles in 1918 when Australian troops saved the town. Thus the Australian flag still flies over Villers- Bretonneux. Above the blackboards in a school building are the words “N’oublions jamais l’Australie” or “Never forget Australia.” The street names are from Australian towns.
Charles Emil Noblet is listed on the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux in France.
Charles’ name is also projected in rotation on the façade of the Hall of Memory (the dome) of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia. Each evening between sunset and sunrise, names from the Roll of Honour which lists the 102,000 men and women from Australia’s defense forces who have died in the service of Australia are projected. The projections can be viewed from the grounds of the Memorial. Charles Emil Noblet’s next projection is Monday 06 December 2021 at 1:57 am
Of note is that Charles’ father John Charles Noblet had emigrated to Australia from Nantes in France around 1880 and had married my great grandmother in 1884.
Further, my father’s sister was named Nance (after Nantes). Bullecourt is some 300 miles from Nantes where Charles Emil Noblet’s father was born.
As we near Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, on November 11th, commemorating the Armistice of 1918, signaling the end of WW1, the eleventh hour of the eleventh month is honored. The red poppy came to symbolize bloodshed during battle following the wartime poem “In Flanders Fields”, written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae while serving on the front lines in 1915. Wearing a poppy depends on where one lives. Typically poppies are not worn in the USA on November 11th: instead Memorial Day: last Monday in May, or Anzac Day: April 25th in Australia and New Zealand, see the poppy used.
The USA entered World War 1 on April 6th, 1917, declaring war on Germany.
This shift from neutrality, declared in August 1914, at the start of WW1, was principally caused by the Sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 with 128 Americans among the nearly 2,000 dead.
Although Germany backed off submarine attacks after that, in the face of strong US reaction, the reintroduction of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare in January 1917, resulted in sending more merchant and passenger ships to the ocean floor with an increase in loss of American lives. This was followed by the US severing diplomatic ties with Berlin.
Then the “Zimmerman Telegram” in January 1917 was decided to reveal the proposing of a secret alliance between Germany and Mexico, offering US territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause.
Support grew for intervention and troops began to arrive at the front in June 1917
While we were still on the sunken road near Bullecourt, in 2017 with our guide John, he read to us this poem.
The Day my family came
I half awoke to a strange new calm And a sleep that would not clear
For this was the sleep to cure all harm And which freezes all from fear.
Shot had come from left and right With shrapnel, shell and flame And turned my sunlit days to night
Where now none would call my name.
Years passed me by as I waited, Missed the generations yet to come, Sadly knew I would not be fated
To be a father, hold a son.
I heard again the sounds of war When twenty years of sleep had gone, For five long years, maybe more,
Till peace once more at last had come. More years passed, new voices came, The stones and trenches to explore, But no-one ever called my name
So I wished and waited ever more. Each time I thought, perhaps, perhaps, Perhaps this time they must call me, But they only called for other chaps, No-one ever called to set me free.
Through years of lonely vigil kept, To look for me they never came, None ever searched or even wept, Nobody stayed to speak my name. Until that summer day I heard
Some voices soft and strained with tears, Then I knew that they had come
To roll away those wasted years. Their hearts felt out to hold me, Made me whole like other men, But they had come just me to see, Drawing me back home with them.
Now I am at peace and free to roam Where ‘ere my family speak my name, That day my soul was called back home For on that day my family came.
Lest We Forget
By Michael Edwards
Notes Photo of Jill : Joe Mazza Bravelux inc.
Photos: Copyright © 2021 Jill Lowe. All rights reserved