Honouring our heroes: Private Michael Roache


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Soldier’s family returns to Froissy Beacon

The parents of Michael Roache, like so many other Australian families, prayed their son would return safely, and when he died in action, they vowed to remember him always. Portrait of Michael Roache in uniform

Throughout the past century, the Roache family have kept that promise, with family history research culminating in a tour of former battlefields in France and Belgium.

The ‘Michael Roache Centenary Tour’ begins in Lille and includes museums, memorials and special places where Michael, 25, and his brother Jack, 34, experienced the war. On 23 August, it concludes in Froissy Beacon where Mick was killed in the Battle of Chuignes, 100 years ago to the day.

More than 20 people are taking part in the tour organised by Mick’s descendant, Lawrence Roache, who has produced a detailed publication that is now held by the National Library of Australia. 

“Little is known of the Battle of Chuignes but it was extremely important, some say the start of the end of the war,” Lawrence said.

“The operation was planned between the British commander, General Henry Rawlinson, and Australia’s commander, General Sir John Monash.

“The high ground of Froissy Beacon, overlooking the River Somme, was heavily armed and protected by Germans and it was not included in the original plans for the attack.

“Monash uncharacteristically changed his battle plan twice to include Froissy Beacon, once he realised it had been overlooked as an objective.

“He was bothered about such a late move but knew it had to be ‘taken’ for the success of the overall operation.”

Lawrence has researched the Battle of Chuignes and his great-uncle’s contribution in the capture of Froissy Beacon, which is now known as Mont Clairon.

“During this battle, there was very heavy fighting for Froissy Beacon. On 23 August, Australia’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigades were gathered at 2 o’clock in the morning near St Germain Wood and Luc Wood.

“Mick’s unit, the C Company of 9th Battalion from Queensland, advanced to attack Luc Wood and worked along the edge to the foot of Beacon Hill.

“When the 9th Battalion made for Froissy Beacon, the Germans unleashed a heavy artillery barrage. C Company was fired upon at point-blank range and Mick was fatally wounded from a high-explosive shell, as fierce fighting continued all around him. 

“By 3pm, the 9th Battalion was joined by the 11th and 12th and they stormed Froissy Beacon, forcing the Germans to retreat east over the River Somme.

“Mick was taken to Proyart Clearing Station. In the early hours of 24 August 1918, he died from his injuries.

“The confidence gained by this win saw the Australians to continue chasing the enemy east, destroying the Germans’ capacity to fight. The Germans eventually retreated to the Hindenburg Line, bringing the war to a successful conclusion for the Allies in November 1918.”

The commemorative tour organised by the Roache family includes a memorial service and the laying of wreaths and mementoes at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux.

“Mick and Jack Roache, graziers’ sons from Mackay – along with nearly 60,000 Australians – did not die in vain. Their main legacy was a free world, a new confidence in Australian society, and a determination to stand up for our interests,” Lawrence said.

“When American President Woodrow Wilson questioned the authority of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, as the leader of just five-million people, Hughes was indignant: ‘I speak for 60,000 dead. For how many do you speak?’”

In the final year of Anzac Centenary (2014-2018) we are sharing stories of men and women from all wars, peacekeeping operations and conflicts through the Honouring our Heroes series.