Enemy rocked safe recesses

When World War I Digger Marcus Alexander George Anderson found himself in northern France, he discovered firsthand all about the trench warfare synonymous with the region.

He was stationed in a sector where water had previously drained into the River Lys, but destruction of the drainage system had left the land waterlogged.

"Trenches could not be dug as the water level was close to the surface," Anderson wrote.

"Hence all defence works were above the normal surface of the ground.

"Our defence works consisted of a parapet on an average of five to six feet high, under which were recesses supported by timber.

"Troops under these recesses considered themselves safe from enemy fire. What a fallacy!"

Anderson's son Max, of Attadale, said that before the war his father had trained as a schoolteacher.

He had enlisted at Boulder in September 1915, travelled by train to Perth, went to camp at Blackboy Hill and became a member of the 14th reinforcement of the 11th Battalion.

Anderson sailed from Fremantle for the war in February 1916 at age 23.

Max Anderson said his father started his service as "a foot slogger" and also spent time in field observation, surveying and scouting.

His memoirs describe how the observers were positioned in places such as chimney tops, church towers or farmhouse ruins on rising ground, with range of vision and concealment two crucial factors in determining the site.

A moveable telescope mounted to a theodolite was used to pinpoint the enemy's position.

Anderson also recalled that on one particular night he was approached by a sergeant "followed by half a dozen men".

"He ordered the chaps who were with me out of the breastwork and the troops took our places," Anderson wrote.

"He told me to wait where I was while he brought some others.

"I was about to tell that sergeant that I would be very happy to be present at his father's wedding when the whole area exploded with flames, smoke and flying metal.

"The enemy range was perfect. I dropped to the ground and snuggled up close to the earth and watched and waited.

"Another fierce bombardment rocked the earth and then except for sporadic firing quiet again reigned.

"The stretcher bearers had a busy time tending the wounded.

"The dead were left until the wounded were removed.

"The breastwork where I wanted to spend the night had been hit by a heavy shell and now was just a big crater with the mangled remains of the men who had occupied it just prior to the attack."

Anderson survived the carnage of the Western Front but did not make it home to WA until April 1919, about five months after the end of hostilities.

Max Anderson said his father returned to schoolteaching after the war and in World War II worked as an air raid warden.

Marcus Alexander George Anderson died in 1981, aged 89.

The West Australian

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