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Australian War Memorial Tour of the Western Front 2007

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Polygon Wood, 5th Australian Division Monument

In early 1916, the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions had withdrawn from Gallipoli to Egypt, as had the 4th Australian Brigade which formed part of the composite Australian and New Zealand Division. 8th Brigade had been in Egypt for some months and was holding the advanced defence line east of the Suez canal. The decision was taken to create two new Divisions from the continually arriving reinforcements: the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions. To add experience, men and officers who had seen service on Gallipoli were transferred into the new formations. The Division gradually took shape in the area of Tel-el-Kebir during February and March 1916.

On 20 March 1916 the two new Divisions were ordered to the Suez area, and although 8th Brigade was rushed to the area by train, the remainder undertook a gruelling 3-day march to Ismailia. Scores of men were exhausted by heat, lack of water, lack of fitness, suffering from recent inoculations and simply being asked of too much, in this inauspicious start to the Division's war.

The Division moved to France in June 1916 and disembarked at Marseilles. Under orders of II ANZAC Corps It moved to the area of Second Army, south of Armentieres. On 19 July 1916, the Division took part in its first action, the disastrous and entirely unnecessary attack at Fromelles, in which it suffered more than 5500 casualties. After months of rebuilding, the Division went to on to become a superb fighting force, in particular in its spearheading of the Allied advance from Amiens and across the Somme in 1918.

The Division was merged with 1st Australian Division in March 1919.

The Division took part in the following engagements:

1916: The attack at Fromelles.

1917: The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, in which the Division took part in the Tactical Incidents called the Capture of the Thilloys, 25 February - 2 March 1917 and the Advance to the Hindenburg Line, 14 March - 5 April 1917.

The Battle of Bullecourt, 3-17 May 1917

The Action on the Hindenburg Line, 20-26 May 1917

The Battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September - 3 October 1917, part of the Third Battle of Ypres

The First Battle of Passchendaele, 12 October 1917, part of the Third Battle of Ypres

The Second Battle of Passchendaele, 28 October - 10 November 1917, part of the Third Battle of Ypres

1918: The Battle of the Avre, (fifth phase of the First Battles of the Somme 1918)8th and 15th Bdes only, 4 April 1918

The Actions of Villers-Bretonneux, (sixth phase of the First Battles of the Somme 1918) 24 - 25 April 1918

The Battle of Amiens, 8 - 11 August 1918

The Battle of Albert, (first phase of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918) 21 - 23 August 1918

The Second Battle of Bapaume, (second phase of the Second Battles of the Somme 1918) 31 August - 3 September 1918, in which the Division occupied Peronne

The Battle of the St-Quentin Canal, (fourth phase of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line 1918) 29 September - 2 October 1918, which included the capture of the Bellicourt Tunnel defences