LT Thomas Naylor and PTE Norman Watson
21-year-old Thomas Naylor of Victoria Parade, Wooloowin joined up in August 1914, while Norman Watson, who was the same age, and who lived on the other side of the railway line in Old Sandgate Road, joined a year later.
Young, and eager, and straight of limb, they both fought in a Queensland infantry unit, the 49th Battalion.
Naylor was wounded at Gallipoli and again in France, where he was promoted to be a Lieutenant. Watson was also in France, where he was made a Lance Corporal.
The young men who had grown up together now served together in the cause of their country.
In April 1918, the men of the 49th Battalion were in France defending a portion of the Somme near the village of Dernancourt. It was not far from the vital town of Amiens, and holding the front line was essential. The Germans had attacked the town a week before but had been repulsed.
However, on the 5th of April, the Germans attacked again, with the biggest offensive ever launched against Australian troops in the war. 16,000 artillery shells containing gas and explosives pounded the ground in the early morning. Machine guns poured deadly fire onto the Australian trenches as the grey-clad figures of German soldiers poured out from under a railway bridge and smashed into the Australian lines.
The Australians fought tenaciously. Each trench was held until the defenders ran out of ammunition or were outflanked. If one man fell, another took his place. As they were slowly forced back, the Australian machine gunners continued to fire until their mates were safely away before falling back themselves. In the Australian Army tradition, it was the officer who was the last man to leave each post.
Eventually, the weight of numbers began to tell. The Australians were outnumbered three to one and had been pushed back so far that their first aid posts had been overrun. Late in the afternoon, it was apparent that the entire sector would fall if something was not done urgently. At that time, Queensland’s 49th Battalion was called forward into the front line. Their task seemed almost impossible: to recapture in a few hours the ground that three battalions before them had been unable to hold in the face of the German attacks.
Outnumbered but undeterred, the men took their places, fixed bayonets, and began the assault. Observers recounted what awaited them to their front: one described it as “a devilish fire, a tremendous tattoo of machine guns,” and another as the heaviest fire he had ever known. The 49th Battalion pressed on, charging over a crest and disappearing from sight at the moment they closed on the enemy troops.
However, working in teams, with rifles, bombs and bayonets, they cleared one enemy position after another so that within a few hours, they had recaptured most, but not all, of the ground that had been lost.
But it came at a terrible cost. In the centre, where the fighting was heaviest, half of the officers were killed, including Thomas Naylor, who died instantly when a bullet passed through his right side and out his left shoulder, piercing his heart as it went. A further 53 other soldiers were killed in the attack, one of whom was Norman Watson.
After the war, Naylor’s and Watson’s bodies were collected and buried in the Dernancourt War Cemetery. Close as they were in life, they lie closer still in death, buried thirty metres apart.
Stricken by grief, Watson’s parents donated his medals and death plaque, along with a photo of him, to the RSL, with the request that he always be remembered.
His items have been preserved, and here, one hundred years later, we continue to keep our pledge to remember him, as we do all the other men and women who have served our nation and died maintaining the ideals we hold dear.