On the spot of an heroic stand

Walking in the footsteps of a Victoria Cross (VC) recipient from World War I gave a Jonathan Church Good Soldiering Award ambassador a new appreciation for diggers’ hardships more than a century ago.

CAPTIONJonathan Church Good Soldiering Award ambassador Corporal Justin Wells picks a poppy beside the Le Hamel Australian Corps Memorial, France. Story and photos by Corporal Jacob Joseph.

Corporal Justin Wells and three other award recipients are visiting French and Belgian battlefields, from August 16 to 30, to learn about leadership through the lens of Australian military history.

As part of the tour, the soldiers were asked to complete a presentation on significant Australian people or battles.

Corporal Wells recounted the events that led to Lieutenant Albert Borella, of 26th Battalion, being awarded the VC in 1918.

The Sunshine Coast father of two said looking at the Somme’s rolling green-and-brown fields, it was hard to fathom the carnage that took place during World War 1.

“When you’re on the ground you realise how close everything is,” Corporal Wells said.

“It’s so flat and easy to see where everything happened and how the actions around the Somme were all connected.”

In 1918, Lieutenant Borella led a platoon attack on a key German feature that would straighten the front line south of Villers-Bretonneux.

He single-handedly took a German machine gun pit using only his revolver and captured more than 180 metres of enemy ground.

About 500 German soldiers attacked and bombarded the Australians’ position but were unsuccessful in removing Lieutenant Borella and his platoon, which was down to 10 men by the end.

Corporal Wells stood in the field on the spot where Lieutenant Borella silenced the German machine gun.

A plaque commemorating the VC winner, hidden behind long grass and overgrown with vines, would be hard to find if you weren’t looking for it.

The Jonathan Church Good Soldiering Award recipients cleared the vegetation around the plaque so they could read Lieutenant Borella’s VC citation.

“It was the first VC recipient I’d done significant research into,” Corporal Wells said.

“From what I’ve seen so far in the study tour, all the other Australian VC winners had similar levels of heroism.

“Borella’s was an amazing story and the visit was something I won’t forget.”

He said what would stick with him the most was the impact Australians continued to have on the towns and people around Amiens.

Even at the city’s most sacred sites, including the almost 800-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral of Amiens, an Australian flag hangs against the wall to commemorate ‘the brotherhood in arms of the sons of Australia with those of France’.

“I never really knew how big of a deal Australians were over here,” Corporal Wells said.

“I’d heard stories about locals shouting coffees and beers for Australian soldiers who come over to pay their respects, but it was really eye-opening to see how the locals honour our contribution.”

CAPTION(L-R) Jonathan Church Good Soldiering Award recipient Private Wayne Drage, from 31st/42nd Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment, ambassador Corporal Justin Wells, from 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, recipients Corporal Michael Stoop, from 9th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, and Corporal Dylan Curran, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, at Villers-Bretonneux, France.


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