Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2015
If the First World War was a machine-age war, then Mouquet Farm (which soon became known to the AIF as ‘Mucky Farm’ and ‘Moo Cow Farm’) was the mincing machine into which small parcels of men were fed, to be thoroughly chopped up before the remnants were spat out. Part of the problem facing any attacking force was geographical. The Australians’ approach to the strongpoint lay along the crest of a narrow ridge that was under constant German observation, so that any sign of movement of men and materials would be met with well-aimed artillery and machine-gun fire from virtually every point of the compass. To make matters worse, any advance would act to lengthen a salient that would leave the attackers open to fire ‘from Courcelette on the right, from Thiepval almost directly ahead, from Grandcourt to the north and even from Martinpuich to the South’, with the consequence that ‘of all the tactical nightmares on the Somme, this had some claims to be considered the worst.’ Given these difficulties, the taking of Mouquet Farm would require a carefully planned assault, supported by a heavy artillery bombardment and coordinated attacks on the flanks. The tragedy of Mouquet Farm was that such planning and coordination was totally lacking.
It was now the turn of the 1st Division to return to the front. During its time out of the line the division had rested and received some reinforcements, about enough to bring most of its battalions up to two-thirds of their original strength. Many of the reinforcements were youngsters who had never seen action before, but others were ‘old men’, many of them veterans of Gallipoli who had been recuperating in England from wounds, in some cases for as long as fifteen months. Bean believed that the influx of new, untried troops ‘naturally to some extent’ diminished the efficiency of the division’. Corporal Thomas of the 6th Battalion was probably typical of many experienced soldiers when he commented that ‘to put reinforcements into action so soon is not good…and [is] also by way of a handicap for us more tried chaps, it is however I suppose the only way to win the war’.