Remembering the Second Battle of Bullecourt

Australians in the second line of the trenches before Riencourt (near Bullecourt), in May 1917

On 3 May 2022 we commemorate the 105th anniversary of the Second Battle of Bullecourt fought by the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at the small French town of Bullecourt during the First World War.

The Second Battle of Bullecourt was fought during 3­­ -17 May 1917, forming part of the Battle of Arras, a major British offensive launched in 1917 as the Allies attempted to end the stalemate on the Western Front and break through the formidable German Hindenburg Line defences.    

At the First Battle of Bullecourt, Allied forces, including the 4th Australian Division, attacked the small fortified town of Bullecourt on 11 April 1917. The attack was a disaster for the 4th Division, which suffered some 3,300 casualties while 1,170 were taken prisoner – the most Australian prisoners of war ever taken in a single action until the Fall of Singapore in 1942.  

Despite the failure of the first battle, a second attempt to capture Bullecourt was planned for 3 May 1917 while the British offensive around Arras continued.

This time the 5th and 6th Brigades of the 2nd Australian Division were to follow in the footsteps of the 4th Australian Division, attack Bullecourt’s right flank and link up with the British who would attack the left flank.  

The 2nd Australian Division and the British 62nd Division attacked Bullecourt at 3:45 am on 3 May 1917 and managed to gain a foothold in the German trenches but were unable to capture the village.

German counterattacks began the following morning and continued for a fortnight, resulting in some of the bloodiest trench battles of the First World War.

Australian reinforcements from the 1st and 5th Australian Divisions joined the fight and repelled fierce German counterattacks while British troops managed to seize the eastern side of Bullecourt and link up with the Australians.

On 15 May the German army made their final attempt to dislodge the Australians from Bullecourt but failed and withdrew some days later.

Almost 7,500 Australians and over 8,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded during the Second Battle of Bullecourt.

Over 10,000 Australians would be killed or wounded during the First and Second Battles of Bullecourt, along with 1,170 captured, a tremendous loss which shelved plans to expand the AIF and contributed to 1917 being the most costly year of the war for Australia.

Two Victoria Crosses were awarded for gallantry at Bullecourt, the first to Corporal George ‘Snowy’ Howell VC MM of Enfield NSW for fighting off a German counterattack with rifle, bombs and bayonet on 6 May before being severely wounded.  

The second was awarded to Lieutenant Rupert Vance ‘Mick’ Moon VC of Bacchus Marsh Victoria, who led an attack on an enemy position on 14 May 1917 despite being wounded four times.

The names of Australian soldiers declared missing during both battles are inscribed on the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, while those who were killed in action are buried in cemeteries around Bullecourt and commemorated in perpetuity at the Bullecourt Australian Memorial park.

On this 105th anniversary we honour the men of the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions who fought at Bullecourt and all those who served during the First World War.

Lest We Forget. 


(Image: Australians in the second line of the trenches before Riencourt (near Bullecourt), in May 1917, cleaning their rifles in readiness for an attack.)