The Last Fifty Miles
Australia and the end of the Great War
By Adam Wakeling
Published by Viking/Penguin
RRP $35.00 in paperback • ISBN 9780670079148
The title of this book refers to the distance between Villers-Bretonneux and Montbrehain, the fifty miles that General John Monash and his multi-national 200,000 plus force would have to traverse if the German army was to be defeated.
Within this multi-national force were the five Australian divisions which had recently been combined into an all-Australia Corps of 110,000 men, fighting as one unit in France.
But around this time, March 1918, the German High Command, seeking to seize the initiative prior to the arrival of the American troops, launched a massive offensive involving 2 million German soldiers, with the aim of splitting the British and French forces. The British line buckled at Villers-Bretonneux and the Australians were thrown in to help stem the advance.
The line was saved and what followed was a succession of hard-fought victories as they breached the German defensive lines at the battles of Hamel, Amiens, Mont Saint-Quentin, the Saint-Quentin Canal and finally at Montbrehain. These victories greatly enhanced the reputation of Monash and his men, but they came at a cost to the Australians. The last fifty miles cost the AIF 5,500 men with 18,500 wounded.
In addition to his coverage of these battles, Wakeling also examines the situation at home in Australia during the final year of the war. Society had been divided by the two conscription referendums and this had caused bitter political divisions within the federal parliament.