Howitzer Project is our contribution to The Great War centenary

SOMEWHERE on a muddy field in France in April, 1916 a German artillery crew awoke to the ever present boom of cannons and the shrill of shells to prepare their howitzer field gun for battle.

If they’d got any sleep at all, they would have quickly ate breakfast of tinned food, washed it down with coffee and unpacked crates laden with armour piercing shells.

Some would have stubbed out the burning embers of Bavarian pipes, kissed photographs of loved ones, made the sign of the cross or uttered a brief prayer.

Most would have been supremely confident of the day’s kill for, after all, they crewed one of the deadliest weapons of World War One, the howitzer mobile field gun.

By 1917, the already devastating German howitzer had been modified with a short barrel and an steeper angle of ascent ideally suited to the task of striking targets in a vertical plane Ð especially the Australian trenches – with large amounts of explosives and considerably less barrel wear.

The German army had always been well equipped with howitzers and had far more at the beginning of the war than France, Britain and Russia.

But these new howitzers were special. They were the pride of the Kaiser’s frontline forces.

The standard German light field howitzer at the start of the war was the heavy 10.5 cm leichte Feldhaubitze, ideal for striking houses and other fortifications.

By 1917 these new howitzers were lighter, wheeled versions of leichte Feldhaubitze with an adjustable propellant cartridge that would hit a trench and send a shower of shrapnel along it, killing some and wounding many others.

To make matters worse, the German Air Force had been winning the war in the air and its fighter aces shot down enough allied planes to enable reconnaissance aircraft to freely pinpoint allied trench positions, usually with astounding precision.

In contrast the new German trenches were deeper and stronger than the Allied trenches and the highly valued artillery positions were often placed near the best dug in positions.

The German population were assured that Ð despite widespread hunger Ð their superior military technology would win the war.

Yet one year later, at an enormous cost in human lives, the Allies had over run many German trenches in near suicidal “over the top” raids and knocked out the howitzers.

One of these howitzers was captured at Le Motte Farm near Beaurevois, France by Australian soldiers in 1918 and was presented to Hunters Hill in recognition of the municipality’s contribution to the war effort.

To honour the memory of those who died in the Great War, this howitzer was restored as part of a $60,000 collaborative project between The Weekly Times, Hunters Hill Council, and the Hunters Hill RSL Sub Branch where the howitzer stood until it was recently restored and erected at the Hunters Hill Town Hall where it was opened by NSW Governor The Hon David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d) for Anzac Day.

Local historian Richard White praised the restoration by Ben Pacey from the Vintage Motor Garage and noted the restoration work retained the original paint scheme and wartime damage.

“What is particularly significant is that this howitzer, previously outside the RSL Sub Branch in Alexandra Street, was captured in one of the last actions by Australians in World One War before the American forces took over from us,” he said.

By that time the financial, humane and military sacrifice made of the citizens of Hunters Hill towards the war effort stood out among the contributions made by the people of Sydney

The howitzer gun is a gift to Hunters Hill in recognition of this contribution and a further tie which binds the historic municipality to France and (especially) to the Parisian town of Le Vesinet, which has a unique and eternal Friendship Agreement with Hunters Hill.

From 1914-1918, about 65 million men marched to war.

More than eight million never returned and countless more were wounded.

Blinded by gas warfare, many Australians were treated at the Dame Edith Walker Hospital in Concord, just across the Parramatta River from Putney.

The Great War was unlike any other conflict experienced in human history.

For Australia, it was a time when the notions of duty and responsibility were debated, when elements of our national identity began to evolve and, overwhelmingly, there was the experience of shock, grief and loss.

The Weekly Times’ office proudly displays a Certificate of Commendation from the citizens of Hunters Hill for its leading role in the German howitzer restoration project.

The Weekly Times, in partnership with Meadowbank Public School, and the Ryde RSL Sub Branch also won the City of Ryde’s 2016 Event Of The Year for the Year for a combined Great War educational commemoration.

Managing Editor John F Booth said he hopes local children will visit the howitzer, learn about its history and honour our Anzacs with the same appreciation shown by French children in towns like Beaurevois and Villers- Bretonneux where thousands of Anzacs lost their lives.

“Today in these towns, the relationship forged between Australians and the people of the area is strong,” he said.

” Memorials and plaques recall the bravery and selflessness of Australians who fought there.

“Town Halls fly the French and Australian flags and the children of France learn about our sacrifice, indeed one French school even raised money to rebuild one of the schools that was burnt down in the February 2009 bushfires.”