- Name: John Woods WHITTLE
- D.O.B: 3rd August, 1883
- D.O.A: 15th April, 1917
- D.O.D: 2nd March, 1946
- Award: Victoria Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Sergeant, 12th Battalion (S Australia, W Australia and Tasmania), 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, Australian Imperial Force
Boursies, Hermies, and Lagnicourt, France 9-15 April 1917
9-15 April 1917
The First World War 1917
The Battle of Arras (9 April-16 May 1917) was planned to coincide with, and distract, German resistance to a massive French offensive, the Second Battle of the Aisne, planned by General Robert Nivelle, fifty miles to the south. In its first phase Canadian troops succeeded where others had failed, and in the Battle of Vimy Ridge 9-12 April succeeded in driving the Germans from this nearly impregnable position between Arras and Lens to the north. To the south, British and Australian troops made less spectacular advances and at a heavy cost. As part of the advance on the Hindenburg Line, 1st Australian Division was detailed to capture three villages close to the Line, Boursies about half way along the Bapaume- Cambrai road, and Demicourt and Hermies, just to the south. On 7 April 1917 the Australians began to advance towards Boursies from the north. In the fighting that followed Captain J E Newland, assisted by Sergeant J W Whittle, led an attack on a ruined mill. They then entered the village. Meanwhile, a platoon of 2nd Battalion took up a position in a chalk pit so as to engage German troops retreating north from Hermies to Demicourt. Here they themselves came under fire from a German machine-gun position. Private T J B Kenny single-handedly attacked and captured the enemy post. In the German counter-attack, the enemy succeeded in entering the trench at Boursies which Whittle and his men were holding, but Whittle managed to retrieve the position and then worked with Newland to hold the line. Their Battalion, the 12th, was relieved by the 11th on 10 April. On 14 April they relieved the 9th Battalion north-west of Lagnicourt, itself north-west of Boursies and the site of Captain P H Cherry’s VC action on 26-27 March (see above). Early on 15 April they came under very heavy enemy attack (see Lieutenant C Pope VC below) and the Germans succeeded in almost surrounding Newland’s company. Newland and his men retreated and took up a defensive position in a sunken road. Whittle, seeing the Germans setting up a machine-gun which would threaten them, charged and captured the gun. 12th Battalion was then reinforced by the 9th. Together, they counter-attacked, regaining the ground they had lost. This outcome was largely due to the gallantry shown by Newland and Whittle.
For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on two occasions. When in command of a platoon the enemy, under cover of an intense artillery barrage, attacked the small trench he was holding. Owing to weight of numbers the enemy succeeded in entering the trench, and it was owing to Sjt. Whittle personally collecting all available men and charging the enemy that the position was regained. On a second occasion when the enemy broke through the left of our line Sjt. Whittle’s own splendid example was the means of keeping the men well in hand. His platoon were suffering heavy casualties and the enemy endeavoured to bring up a machine gun to enfilade the position. Grasping the situation he rushed alone across the fire-swept ground and attacked the hostile gun crew with bombs before the gun could be got into action. He succeeded in killing the whole crew and in bringing back the machine gun to our position.