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  • In the early dawn hours of October 9, 1917, 85 brave Australian soldiers of the 10th Battalion

  • attacked the German army at Celtic Wood in Belgium.

  • The attack was intended as a diversionary tactic.

  • After months of war and shelling, and days of rain, the forested area of Celtic Wood

  • had been reduced to leafless stumps, with giant craters and knee-deep mud making effective

  • fighting difficult.

  • Nevertheless, the men of the 10th Battalion of the 1st Australian Division had proven

  • themselves repeatedly in past combat.

  • However, that day, after the fighting had subsided, battalion commander Lieutenant-Colonel

  • Maurice Wilder-Neligan stated, “I am only able to account for 14 unwounded members of

  • the party”.

  • Most of the men could not be found, and were never heard from again.

  • What happened to the 71 soldiers who bravely made their way into Celtic Wood and were lost

  • to history?

  • Even though most of the world rarely pictures Australians having much to do with World War

  • I, the country was part of the British Empire, and was then known as the Commonwealth of

  • Australia.

  • In fact, the Land Down Under sacrificed a lot to fight alongside Great Britain, France,

  • Russia, and other Allied powers.

  • 416,809 of Australia's population, which was just under five million people at the

  • time, enlisted to fight.

  • This represented around 39% of the male fighting-aged population of the entire country!

  • Over 60,000 Australians would end up dying in theThe War to End All Wars” - a nickname

  • that has aged horribly - and another 156,000 were wounded or captured.

  • As one would expect of people who grew up in a country teeming with snakes, sharks,

  • deadly jellyfish, and even killer octopi - yes, Australia would have an octopus that can kill

  • you - the Australian soldiers were renowned for their bravery in the face of danger.

  • The men of the 10th Battalion of the 1st Australian Division had particularly distinguished themselves

  • in previous battles.

  • During the long but eventually failed Gallipoli Campaign of 1915 to 1916, fought on the Gallipoli

  • Peninsula of Turkey, the 10th Battalion had led the Australian forces in the defense of

  • ANZAC Cove, so named because it's where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps

  • landed.

  • In fact, two of the 10th Battalion's members had been awarded the Victoria Cross, the most

  • prestigious award in the British military honor system, given to soldiers who demonstrate

  • valor in the presence of the enemy.

  • This led to the 10th Battalion being nicknamed theTerrible 10th”, for their fierceness

  • and bravery.

  • The battalion eventually made its way to the Western Front.

  • In October of 1917, where the mysterious and tragic events of the Celtic Wood battle took

  • place, they were stationed in the West Flanders area of Belgium.

  • The mood in the Allied camp was optimistic.

  • The British armies had just devastated the German 4th Army in the Battle of Broodseinde

  • (pronounced: brood-suhn-deh).

  • The German command was in crisis.

  • In fact, the Germans were considering a complete withdrawal from the Belgian coast; which had

  • been the objective of the British offensive.

  • Morale in the German 4th Army was also running low, as it tends to do after several defeats.

  • German Official History calls the day of the Battle of Broodseinde, “the black day of

  • October 4”.

  • However, of all the possible factors that could have flipped the advantage to the German

  • side, the most mildest-seeming one came into play: rain.

  • In the week after October 4, what started as a barely perceptible but constant rain

  • turned into a downpour.

  • As the British tried to push their artillery forward into what had previously been the

  • battleground between the two enemy forces, the cratered, battle-scarred, and water-logged

  • land made advancing difficult.

  • Meanwhile, Germans were retreating onto steadier ground, less devastated by battle.

  • What this meant was that the British had fewer routes on which to advance their soldiers

  • and their artillery, making them an easy target for German soldiers.

  • In the midst of all this, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British

  • Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, decided an offensive attack was needed to

  • push the Germans back further by capturing Passchendaele (pash-ehn-dayl) Ridge.

  • However, seeing some of the disadvantages that were piling up for them, the Allied forces

  • wanted to come up with a more complex strategy than just a simple attack.

  • As a result, they hatched the following plan: the distinguished 10th Battalion would launch

  • a diversionary attack on the Germans at Celtic Wood.

  • They would charge at dawn, blow up the German dugouts, and then when a flare signal was

  • shot up, retreat.

  • To the north of theTerrible 10th”, the 2nd Australian Division would launch a larger

  • attack that would protect the British advance on its northern flank.

  • But how could the Allied forces fool the Germans into believing the 10th Battalion's attack

  • was, in fact, the main attack, and not just a raid or diversion?

  • First of all, the attack would be carried out at dawn, rather than when raids were usually

  • carried out at night.

  • Second, the 10th Battalion would be protected by the creeping barrage gunfire usually used

  • to cover advances, rather than the box barrage used to cover raids.

  • A box barrage consisted of three to four barrages, which formed a box around the raiding army.

  • A creeping barrage was intermittent, meant to move forward slowly and keep pace with

  • advancing infantry.

  • Despite their possible worries about the plan, and the exhaustion they felt after being shelled

  • for days in the rain and mud, the 10th Battalion knew this tactic would protect their Australian

  • and British army mates up north.

  • They agreed to the mission without question.

  • At 5:20 AM on October 9, the creeping barrage of gunfire was initiated, and 78 men along

  • with seven officers ventured into Celtic Wood.

  • No one knew it was the last time most of them would be seen.

  • The men were under the command of 22-year-old Lieutenant Frank Scott, who worked as a railway

  • porter in Gawler during peacetime.

  • Even though the barrage was much lighter than expected, leaving the 10th Battalion much

  • more vulnerable than he would have liked, Scott and his men advanced into the Celtic

  • Wood regardless.

  • Scott was actually an exceptional commander, which was good because the odds he was about

  • to encounter were terrifying.

  • When the Germans started returning small arms fire in the muddy, crater-filled woods, retaining

  • vocal command of the troops became nearly impossible.

  • The noise of artillery stood at around 140 decibels, considered painful and dangerous,

  • loud enough to quite literally split soldiers' eardrums.

  • Artillery from the front could often be heard in London...just under 200 miles away!

  • To add to the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that faced them, Scott realized the German

  • troops outnumbered his own two to one.

  • Still, Scott managed to not only order and execute a successful frontal attack on a trench

  • teeming with Germans, but also simultaneously led a second group to attack the enemy from

  • the rear.

  • A fierce hand to hand encounter ensued, leaving plenty of casualties on the German side.

  • However, just as things seemed to be going surprisingly well, the German artillery laid

  • down fire between the 10th Battalion and the Australian trenches, cutting off their retreat

  • with explosions.

  • Reinforcements showed up to help the German army, and it seemed all hope was lost for

  • the Australians.

  • As we know from eyewitness accounts, the men of theTerrible 10thstarted getting

  • gunned down pretty quickly after this shift of fortune.

  • Officers were quickly struck down, leaving almost no one to shoot the flare that would

  • signal the Battalion's retreat.

  • The one officer left, Sergeant WilliamOld KingCole, managed to fire the flare just

  • as he was killed, according to eyewitness accounts.

  • But how could the soldiers possibly retreat now?

  • Well, they didn't have any great options.

  • Some risked the barrage of gunfire blocking them off from their trenches to run back,

  • others lay in craters playing dead hoping to avoid the worst of the gunfire, then crawled

  • back under cover of night.

  • However, instead of a pile of bodies, Australian forces were instead left with a huge mystery

  • in their hands.

  • The next day, Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Wilder-Neligan wrote down

  • the following: “I am only able to account for 14 unwounded members of the party”.

  • This set off a barrage - pun only slightly intended - of questions about what happened

  • to the 71 missing members of the 10th Battalion.

  • To start with, Wilder-Neligan's statement was a little misleading; many took it to mean

  • that none of the bodies of the 71 missing soldiers could be accounted for, but this

  • turned out to be false.

  • 14 soldiers returned unwounded, seven eventually returned wounded - though five of them died

  • from the injuries, and five bodies were eventually found and identified in the woods.

  • However, that leaves 59 soldiers unaccounted for.

  • Not only unaccounted for, but 37 of them don't even have known names.

  • The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, which honors those who fell in the

  • area's battles, only lists 22 of the 59 names.

  • Most of the 22 were reported as killed in action by eyewitnesses, but their bodies,

  • as well as those of the missing, unnamed 37, have not been found.

  • What happened to those soldiers?

  • Why were five bodies eventually found in a good enough state for identification, but

  • no trace of 59 missing soldiers was ever found in the area around Celtic Wood?

  • One explanation people have put forward has to do with the muddy conditions and craters

  • in the area.

  • The simplest solution, they theorize, is that the bodies simply sank deep into the mud,

  • never to be recovered.

  • However, this theory doesn't hold up to close scrutiny.

  • Bones, like stones, have a way of coming to the surface, and the area was searched extensively

  • a year after the battle.

  • All over Europe, bones from WWI are still being intermittently discovered up until today.

  • Celtic Wood was eventually plowed under and is now a field.

  • Australian military historian John Laffin, who specializes in battlefield archaeology

  • of the Western Front, says that he has spoken to countless local farmers in the region and

  • even the oldest have no memory of human remains or mili­tary equipment having been

  • dug up.”

  • Some believe the Germans took the surviving Australian soldiers of the 10th Battalion

  • as prisoners.

  • Then they were either killed and buried in a mass grave somewhere else, or died later

  • while in captivity.

  • However, there are some glaring issues with this theory as well.

  • To begin with, the names of the men never turned up on any prisoner lists handed over

  • to the International Red Cross.

  • Additionally, German soldiers, during WWI at least, had a reputation of treating prisoners

  • and those who surrendered with restraint, making an unprovoked massacre unlikely.

  • However, some point out that the German soldiers on the front lines those days were new recruits,

  • many just about the age of your average TikTok star - 17.

  • Minimally trained, demoralized, humiliated by recent losses, and lacking the distraction

  • of an information-stealing social media app, is it possible the German soldiers would have

  • taken Australian soldiers captive just to massacre them further on out?

  • An official report from the German army on this particular regiment raises further eyebrows.

  • The report states, “these men are too young to be able to furnish prolonged resistance

  • and to have great endurance in a critical situation.

  • [The division] is not suited for trench warfare.”

  • The attacked German 448th Regiment, strangely enough, has no record of the Celtic Wood raid

  • ever taking place.

  • Some historians believe this lends further evidence to the theory that an atrocity was

  • committed that day, perhaps by German soldiers massacring surrendered Australian survivors

  • and prisoners.

  • Certainly, the unit would rather wipe that off the history books.

  • However, many war historians doubt a mass imprisonment and later massacre could have

  • occurred at Celtic Wood.

  • The British revenge barrage would have made it extremely difficult for Germans to capture

  • and walk out a large number of prisoners unharmed, only to massacre them later.

  • Others think the omission of the Celtic Wood raid from the official records may be because

  • something even stranger happened that day.

  • Something…[pause]....supernatural.

  • Rumors persisted for years that something otherworldly was present that day at Celtic

  • Wood.

  • After all, even the name itself - “Celtic Wood” - conjures up images of old world

  • rituals and rites.

  • Claims have surfaced throughout the years that in the heavy mist of rain and gunfire,

  • the unaccounted for soldiers simply walked into the trees and fog and...vanished.

  • No one knows where these rumors started, but most historians don't take this theory seriously

  • - unless they're working for The History Channel.

  • Two Australian researchers and veterans actually have another fog-related explanation, but

  • a much more earthly one.

  • Chris Henschke and Robert Kearney have looked into the Celtic Wood mystery for years.

  • They believe the 71, or rather, the 37 missing soldiers can be attributed to the phenomenon

  • known asfog of war”, as well as clerical and other documentation errors.

  • The fog of war is a term given to uncertainty in situational awareness experienced by those

  • in military operations.

  • In wartime, many soldiers and units can become very confused about their own capabilities,

  • enemy capabilities, and enemy strategy or intent, losing all understanding of what's

  • going on around them.

  • After cross-checking military records, action reports, war diaries, and conducting in-depth

  • research into eyewitness accounts, Henschke sayswe hope to change the misconception

  • by showing the result of the raid wasn't a great mystery, but it was simply a raid

  • with a very high proportion of casualties.

  • And all the casualties were accounted for through the military system….it is a story

  • of a typical small unit action that went wrong”.

  • So that still leaves the question - what happened to the bodies?

  • Henschke and Kearney believe the heavy fire coming from the German side, as well as the

  • heavy barrage the British returned as revenge for the defeat, killed the missing soldiers

  • and pulverized their bodies so badly that there was literally no trace of them left

  • to find.

  • In other words, the soldiers were obliterated off the face of the earth.

  • The two researchers believe this is part of the reason why the bodies of those killed

  • were never found.

  • Could it really be as simple an explanation as that?

  • Unfortunately, this was not a rare occurrence in World War I; or indeed, in any war.

  • Of the 60,000 Australians who died in the war, over 20,000 were simply recorded asmissing

  • - presumably killed in action.

  • In fact, the Australian Red Cross dispatched investigators known assearchersto

  • track down bodies, or at least specifics of what may have happened to those soldiers registered

  • as missing.

  • This was done in an attempt to provide some peace and closure to the families they left

  • behind.

  • Ready for more great mysteries?

  • Check out Scientist Solves Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle!

  • Or click this other video over here instead!

In the early dawn hours of October 9, 1917, 85 brave Australian soldiers of the 10th Battalion

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