A Dish of Wheat

In the April of 1918 members of the 3rd Battalion 1st Division A.I.F were in action near the town of Strazelle, near the Belgium Woods, in the eastern area of the Western Front, France.

Jim Sullivan from Castlevilla, Boomi and Fred Alexander of Murki (my grandfather), Boomi along with a Sergeant, took up position with their Lewis Machine guns in a farm house some distance in front of the Australian lines. Their orders were to hold up the enemy advance until they were signalled to return to the main line behind them.

When the order finally came for the men to withdraw, the Sergeant said, ‘I’ll go first, you two blokes draw straws to see who follows next.’

ww1 001Running down a sunken road that led from their position to the Australian trenches, the Sergeant made the distance without injury.

The German forces, knowing that other men in the farm house would soon try and make a run for it, directed their fire on the sunken road.

Jim Sullivan was next to make a dash down the road under increasing German fire, however he managed to get back to the safety of the Australian trenches.

Fred Alexander, knowing that he had no chance of surviving if he followed his mate, Jim, avoided the road and took off over the top across the open expanse of No Man’s Land, carrying the heavy Lewis Gun. Although catching the German troops by surprise the enemy quickly redirected their fire at him. Fred made it to the trenches, threw the gun in and fell on top of it.

Patrick Allen of Maxvale, Boomi, who had a mild stutter, remarked to Fred as he got to his feet, ‘They couldn’t hit you with a d- d-dish of wheat’.

Fred Alexander’s good fortune ran out a few days later when he was wounded in the head by a German sniper. He eventually recovered and returned to Murki at Boomi to resume the management of the property. Jim Sullivan never returned to the bush after the war, spending his remaining days in Sydney. Patrick Allen returned to Maxvale at Boomi.

Fred Alexander and Jim Sullivan were both awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry for their actions at the Strazelle farmhouse and the part they played in holding up the German advance.

(This was written by my father Ian, as told to him by his father, Fred Alexander)

Picture – taken at Durban, South Africa en-route to the Western Front. Jim Sullivan is closest in the picture while my grandfather, Fred Alexander sits beside Jim in the rickshaw.