Little did Tatura resident Geoff Pieper know when he researched the war history of his father, Ernest Louis Frizt Pieper, it would reveal an important link to Tatura VC recipient, Private Robert Mactier.
Mr Pieper’s research shows his father, a grocer in Kerang, enlisted on June 16, 1915, at the age of 20.
Ernest Pieper joined the 23rd Battalion, third Reinforcement and embarked from Melbourne on board HMAT A68 Anchises on August 26 that year.
He returned to Australia on January 31, 1918.
Pte Pieper had two brothers enlisted and they returned to Australia in 1916 and 1919 respectively.
It was when reading the Australian War Memorial’s history of the 23rd Battalion that Mr Pieper discovered the ‘link’ to Pte Mactier.
‘‘In April 1918 the 23rd Battalion helped to turn back the German spring offensive, and then took part in the battles that would mark the beginning of Germany’s defeat — Hamel, Amiens and Mont St Quentin. The fighting for Mont St Quentin resulted in the battalion’s only Victoria Cross, awarded to Private Robert Mactier.’’
According to the Australian War Memorial, the 23rd Battalion was raised in Victoria in March 1915 as the third battalion of the Sixth Brigade, and after initial training, left for Egypt where it completed its advanced training.
‘‘As part of the Second Australian Division, the Sixth Brigade landed at ANZAC Cove in early September.
‘‘The 23rd Battalion was soon manning one of the most trying parts of the Anzac front line — Lone Pine.
‘‘The fighting here was so dangerous and exhausting that battalions were relieved every year. The 23rd Battalion manned Lone Pine, alternating with the 24th Battalion, until they left Gallipoli in December 1915.
‘‘The battalion was next ‘in the line’ on April 10, 1916, when it occupied forward trenches of the Armentieres sector in northern France.
‘‘This relatively gentle introduction to the Western Front was followed in July by the horrific battles of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm, after which it was estimated the battalion lost almost 90 per cent of its original members.
‘‘After manning the frontline throughout the bleak winter of 1916-17, the battalion’s next trial came at the second battle of Bullecourt in May.
‘‘After the failure of the first attempt to capture this town by troops of the Fourth Australian Division, this new attack was heavily rehearsed. The 23rd Battalion succeeded in capturing all of its objectives and holding them until it was relieved, but, subjected to heavy counter-attacks.
‘‘Later in 1917 the battalion moved with the rest of the AIF to the Ypres sector in Belgium and in October participated in the battle that was to secure Broodseinde Ridge.’’
The 23rd Battalion disbanded in Belgium on April 30, 1919.
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