The Next Generations
How it was for the ANZACS 1914-1918
The following are paragraphs from reports, letters, books, and diaries that I have read during research into my Family War History.
This is my selection to give you some idea of how life was for soldiers in training and battle during W.W.I. and some of their ideas and ideals in those times. These are not necessarily in any date sequence, though I did my best to do so. I hope that these passages will encourage those who previously have not read the books mentioned to do so. Some authors did not always include dates or exactly where the incident happened. I have only taken parts from old books, some of which are difficult to purchase today as well as a couple of paragraphs from Perce's diary and Bean’s History.
If I had taken parts from later war books, these extracts would end up being like a book instead of a chapter. There are some gut-wrenching, wonderful, graphic, sad and tragic stories in books that have been printed in recent years that can be bought readily or borrowed from libraries. These are only some that I have read from my son’s large library.
“Somme Mud” by E.P.F. Lynch- Edited by Will Davies, Printed by Random House, 2006.
“Over the Top” by H.G. Hartnett – Edited by Chris Bryett. Printed by Allen & Unwin, 2009.
“Fromelles” by Patrick Lindsay, Printed by Hardie Grant Books, 2007.
“Mt. St Quentin:” by Bill Billett, Printed by Rosenberg Publishing, 2009.
“Men of Mt. St. Quentin” by Peter Stanley, Printed by Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2009.
“Beaten Down By Blood” The Battle of Mont St. Quentin-Peronne 1918. By Michele Bomford. Printed by Blue Sky Publishing, Release date 2 September, 2012
I have not included any information from written records that are already in previous chapters.
The following books are about the battalions in which the Smythe boys served. The initials used instead of full book titles are listed below.
FRTH --- From Randwick to Hargicourt - by Eric Wren, 3rd Battalion History, Printed by Halstead Printing Co. Sydney, 1935.
R&WD --- “Red and White Diamond” by Sgt. W. J. Harvey M. M., 24th Battalion History, Printed by Alexander McCubbin, Melbourne, 1920.
GC --- “Gallant Company” by H.R. Williams, 56th Battalion History, Printed by Angus & Robertson, Sydney. 1933.
COTGA --- “Comrades of the Great Adventure” by H. R. Williams, 56th Battalion History, Printed by Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1935.
(The two books by Williams have many of the same incidents documented).
On the way to Egypt on the ‘Euripides’ (FRTH - Pages 26-27) 1914 - We had a great deal of sickness on board. The men were very crowded, and the heat of the tropics was stifling. We had quite a lot of pneumonia, and two of our poor chaps died of it. Just as we got to Egypt there was a tremendous epidemic of colic, hundreds suffering. Many were brought to the hospital in a state of collapse. We made them very sick with soda, gave injections of morphine and atropine, lots of hot water bottles and abdominal massage, and nobody died though some looked rather near it. It was a mystery. The steam cooker was found in a very dirty state, much food refuse having silted between the inner and outer jacket. This may have had something to do with it.
One of the horses, too, had strangles, and sprayed his nasal discharges over the lines of mess orderlies as they waited by the kitchen with their dixies (mess tins). This was looked on as a possible cause, and the third idea was arsenical poisoning by a spy. We never knew for certain. I will never forget the hospital deck, strewn thick with groaning writhing men - for all the world like a battlefield.
Mess Tin or Dixie –carried in a canvas bag and hung on backpacks
Egypt (FRTH - Page 30) 1914 - A post examination of the training syllabus shows that considerable time was devoted to practicing saluting - so much indeed, that the impression was left on many minds that the successful issue of the war depended solely on the ability of the Australian soldier to swing his hand snappily to the point just above the eyebrows and pivot the head and eyes like and automaton.
Middle East (GC - Page 21) --- The desert for some distance was shining and undulating. But by 10 a.m. we got into country where the sand was very soft. At every step we sank to our ankles, the sun burnt his scorching rays on to our backs, the perspiration from our bodies began to show in white stains upon our tunics and equipment. The dust rose in fine white clouds, covering our faces like flour, choking our breathing, and burning our lips and mouths. The craving for drink was damnable; but we knew that the surest way to blow out like a broken-winded horse was to gulp water. Officers and N.C.O.’s had strict instructions to prevent men from using water-bottles except at halting-places. Even then only a sip was allowed. All the morning we marched to a schedule. A few men began to drop out - the physically weak, those lacking in determination, or those with sore feet.
Middle East (GC - Page 24) - After 50 minutes marching the general from his horse pointed to our camp which he said was only an hour’s march away. Incidentally it was almost three hours later that the first of our brigade reached the indicated camp. From where we halted the tents looked like thimbles on the sand. Thence forward the march became a debacle. Men fell unconscious in the sand and were left lying where they fell. Some became delirious and raved. The strongest of us felt that his strength had been taxed to the utmost. Companies dwindled to mere handfuls. ---
Middle East (GC - Page 25) - Now we struck a stretch of very soft sand; we reeled like drunken men. Our packs seemed to have grown to the weight of mountains. We were only marching on our determination, foaming at the mouth like mad dogs, with tongues swollen, breath gripping our throats with agonizing pain, and legs buckling under us.
Middle East (GC - Page 26) --- there are no prizes issued for this mad marathon. I was very distressed, --- When the whistle blew, we lay on the ground for a few extra minutes, and then staggered after what was left of A Company. We caught the head of the column before they moved to the next halt. But we dropped behind, and were a few hundred yards in the rear when we saw the Adjutant, Captain Anderson muster the remnants of the 56th Battalion and form them up. The N.C.O.’s and men numbered only thirty-eight out of a battalion over 900 strong. --- Here we found a ship’s tank cut in half containing a small quantity of dirty water. We joined about a dozen men in a mad scramble to drink this filth. We were parched with thirst and went on our hands and knees, buried our faces in it and drank like famished beasts.
Middle East (GC - Pages 27-28) - Some days later the battalion was paraded and we had read to us a lengthy screed on the march from the divisional commander, Major General McCay. In scathing terms he described what had been reported to him as our “disgraceful conduct”. This made the men in the ranks scapegoats for someone’s blunder. As punishment, for many mornings after the battalion was marched round and around in great circles under full packs for two hours, to teach us march discipline.
Middle East (GC - Page 36) - An N.C.O of each platoon stood by the water-picket and checked each man as he drew his bottle full. The allowance of water per day was two bottles per man. Our toilets we performed each in a small tobacco-tin which had to serve for cleaning teeth, shaving, and washing with shaving brush in that order. Flies haunted us by the million. They bit our naked bodies as we slept, the tops of the tents were black with them, and to eat in the middle of the day was practically impossible. In a much cooler type of tent than our bell-pattern the thermometer reached as high as 125 degrees. We scraped holes in the sand and buried our water-bottles in an endeavour to keep the contents drinkable. Our bodies were burnt to the colour of a Gyppo’s. The slightest scratch became septic in a few days and spread into an ugly fester. Vegetables were extremely scarce, and three mornings per week we got an issue of porridge. Invariably this was so sand-laden that it was hard to eat, and no doubt laid the foundation of some of the stomach complaints found among soldiers who had served in the desert. But our greatest hardship was lack of water. We meditated on the sound of running streams and the chance of drinking without restraint ... Each day the sun beamed from a cloudless sky upon endless wastes of sand, causing mirages in fantastic shapes to mock us and the heat-rays to dance before our eyes. The monotony and silence of this god-forsaken stretch of country was stupefying. Lack of sleep was felt very much. We lay in our tents during the heat of the day and cursed the flies and the country in a hymn of hate that came from our hearts.
Gallipoli, After the Landing (FRTH - Page 49) - Machine-gun bullets were now pouring into the Australian line from all directions, and the slaughter was appalling. Turkish machine-guns were operated from hidden recesses of Baby 700 (a hill) while snipers carried out their deadly work with ghastly precision from the shelter of innumerable “hide outs” in the scrub. The most spirited opposition, added to the fact that the Turks had all the advantage of position, made it extremely difficult for Captain Leer and his men to come into holts with the enemy.
Looking towards Baby 700
Gallipoli (FRTH - Page 55) - The crescendo of rifle and machine-gun fire, the moan and sharp crack or thud of Turkish bullets as they struck the ground or human flesh, the screech and crash of Turkish shrapnel, the bark and whip of spiteful machine-guns and the whine and roar of the heavy shells from the battleships - all this made it a soul-wracking ordeal for new and till then unblooded troops. The ear-splitting detonations of great guns and huge shells were echoed and re-echoed from cliff to cliff, until they seemed to shake the whole countryside. The only cover available in the main, was low scrub and slight folds in the ground; real shelter there was none. Throughout the whole of that fateful Sunday the troops sniped whenever a target offered, and scraped anxiously with their entrenching tools the protection for their aching bodies that even shallow holes offered.
Portion of Anzac Beach
Gallipoli (FRTH - Page 62) 26-27 April 1915 - At midnight I went into the trenches and attempted to get the new trench dug, but the Turks watched us, firing at the men each time they appeared silhouetted in the bright moonlight against the skyline, and to such purpose that the men were afraid to work. I took a pick and shovel and showed them how sapping could be done on hands and knees. (Sap / Sapping: In trench warfare, the practice of digging small ‘sap’ trenches at roughly ninety degrees out from existing lines and then digging a new trench line at the front of the saps. A slow, but relatively safe way of moving forward.) But this was slow work, and moreover the Turks fired at every shovelful of earth as it was thrown up.
Gallipoli (FRTH - Page 64) April 1915 - I had been firing rapidly up until 2 p.m. and I had to use two rifles, allowing one to cool while I used the other. This may seem strange, but the oil actually bubbled between the stock and the barrel. This made it compulsory to change to a cool rifle.
Private Leighton I kept in my rear loading clips with ammunition from the out-of-date brown paper packets of ten. I particularly remember Private Fabian, standing on my left, with his eyes blood shot for the want of proper rest, and firing continuously from daylight until about 2 p.m., when all Turkish movement ceased to the north of our position. He turned a deaf ear to all suggestions the he be relieved by a man less in need of rest, and stated that he would not leave while I was there.
Gallipoli (FRTH - Page 66) - On Wednesday, April 28th, the fighting continued with unabated vigour and fury. The men were completely worn out, but the timely arrival of reinforcements and assistance of the guns of the fleet prevented the Turks from pushing home their advantage.
Gallipoli (FRTH - Page 69) - The A.M.C. (Army Medical Corps) section was particularly well-trained. Captain Bean spent a lot of his own money on medical goods, consequently the battalion was better equipped in this direction than most units. All his men had been trained in the use of the hypodermic, and supplied with a mixture of camphor, olive oil, and ether in equal parts, used by the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese war, with so much success, as a prophylactic against shock.
The distance from the firing line to the each dressing station was two and a half miles, down steep dangerous mountainous tracks; and for three days and nights the gallant 3rd Battalion stretcher-bearers carried big heavy men to the safety of the dressing station.
Four days and nights of fierce fighting were beginning to tell their tale. Malone, the gallant medical corporal attached to the battalion, recalls that some of the men were at breaking point, and that the relief by the marines on the night of the 28th was not a minute too soon.
Gallipoli (FRTH - Page 75) Before 18 May1915 - All this time the heat was intense. The flies became unbearable, and the “chats” (lice) almost invincible. The flies were of all sizes and hues, and, as many of the dead still remained unburied since the Landing, it was inevitable that sickness should ally itself with the Turkish bullets in adding to the casualties. It was, then, quite impossible to bury the dead who lay out in No-Man’s Land, and they lay there until an armistice was arranged later. The “chats” got into the seams of tunics, shirts, trousers, and even in the socks of the troops, and each day were slaughtered unmercifully. Yet they were just as plentiful the next day. Heaven alone knows how the men could have survived had they not been able occasionally to swim off the beach, in the blue Aegean, even though “Beachy Bill” daily sprayed the water with shrapnel. ('Beachy Bill', a Turkish artillery battery at Olive Grove, concentrated on the beaches and caused heavy Allied casualties ...)
An AIF 6 inch howitzer, known as The Kangar, in White's Valley preparing to fire on a Turkish Army gun,
known as Beachy Bill, in the Olive Grove. August 1915 and a dud shell from Beachy Bill.
Gallipoli after a fierce Turkish attack (FRTH - Page 80) 19 May 1915 - Our chaps were magnificent. Every man for whom there was room was firing, across the trench at the line of fire from the dark ground, as fast as he could press the rifle trigger and draw back the bolt to reload. When the rifle got too hot to hold, or jammed, the man below on the trench floor would hand up his weapon with additional cartridges. The machine-guns, too, poured back at the enemy with a hail of lead. Many of our fine chaps died in the morning shot through the head, but immediately there would be another man to jump up on the step and take the place of him who fell. Every man knew full well that, if the Turks broke through, the 3rd Battalion would be wiped out as a man. We had no reserves; only the steep dangerous hillside sand the Aegean sea lay behind us.
60 Pounder Quick Fire Gun
A steep hillside on the Gallipoli Peninsula, honeycombed with shelters
known as dugouts
because of their means of construction.
Gallipoli (FRTH - Pages 89-90) June 12 1915 - With the Turk on High Ground, and great hills before us, it was indeed a gruelling task to ensure defence with the men and guns at our disposal. But the troops never complained nor lost their saving sense of humour, even though the dreaded dysentery, caused by the hordes of awful flies, was now beginning to thin the ranks. The men remained to fight were visibly falling away in weight in an alarming fashion. The flies, big, black-and-green fat brutes, were nauseating in the extreme. The troops carried food to the mouth with one hand, using the other strenuously to ward off their ubiquitous irritatingly persistent attacks. It was a common happening to hear a man say, ”Who pinched my bread and jam?” when, having put the food down for a moment, he would not immediately sight it again. It would be there all the time, the white bread and jam completely hidden by a swarm of cloying black flies. No wonder dysentery exacted its toll!
The Lone Pine landscape before the charge. The Pine tree was used as target practice.
A similar tree is growing at the Australian War Memorial.
Lone Pine (Volume 1 Introduction - Pages 6-7 Bean) In the last few minutes before the bloody attack upon Lone Pine in Gallipoli, when the 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion was crowded on the fire-steps of each bay of its old front-line trench waiting for the signal to scramble over the sand-bags above, a man with rifle in hand, bayonet fixed, came peering along the trench below. "Jim here?" he asked. A voice on the fire step answered "Right, Bill; here." "Do you chaps mind shiftin' up a piece?" said the man in the trench, "Him and me are mates, an' we're goin' over together." The same thing must have happened many thousands of times in Australian Divisions. The strongest bond in the Australian Imperial Force was between a man and his mate. No matter how hardened a sinner against camp rules at the estaminet, an Australian seemed never to fail in the purely self-imposed duty of standing by his wounded friend whenever his task in the battle permitted him to do so. In the foulest French winter, or at Cape Helles when bullets seemed to be raining in sheets, on every occasion when an Australian force went into action there were to be found men who, come what might, regardless of death or wounds, stayed by their fallen friends until they had seen them to safety.
An unidentified soldier, standing on a fire step, using a periscope to see outside the trench he is standing in, on the ridge of Lone Pine. A kit bag and water bottle is on a ledge to his right and his Enfield rifle is leaning against the trench in front of him. AWM
Lone Pine (FRTH - Page 95) Early August 1915 - The next two entries are rather long but I could not work out how to cut them down because it would have lost impact. - Major J.W.B. Bean, who was now back with the battalion as medical officer comments: “The men were in a very bad way from constant work and strain, and no sleep worthy of the name. It was all trench work and one fatigue after another. It was bad enough, dragging up those steep hills with slippery fine dust underfoot – it was clay soil, and the moment there was rain the paths became slippery and cloddy and the soil clung to one more tenaciously than the mud of a ploughed field. The sun was absolutely boiling – quite tropical – beating down fiercely on the back of ones neck, making all feel sick and dizzy.
A section of a deep trench with a ledge for a fire step AWM
Imagine under these conditions carrying up great iron loop-hole plates, ammunition boxes weighted with cartridges, or heavy cans of water. And remember, the food was very ‘samey’ for tired digestions. There was too much onion, so very indigestible when washed down un-masticated with gulps of tea. The tea was a terrible brew, nearly inky-black. Often men lived on nothing but this inky tea. They couldn’t keep anything else down. They became so exhausted that often they could not even keep the tea down. ---
Well it was not according to regulations, but Colonel Brown determined that each day one platoon should have 24 hours off, which they could spend as they liked. It was a bold thing to do - it was not complying with orders, but it was just the salvation of our boys. They went down to the beach in turns, and bathed and lazed and slept. Sometimes one or two were hit by a shell-burst but that was the risk wherever it was. In the evening they would have a jolly good ‘sing-song’ ---
Lone Pine Attack (FRTH - Page 101) - We heard his deep voice – “Three minutes to go” - “two minutes to go.” And then ---“over you go.”
Everywhere whistles were blowing. The covering artillery-fire had ceased. We were scrambling, hands and knees, up the trench side - we were kneeling - we were walking - we were running ... Lone Pine was out there in front.
As we scrambled over the parapet or emerged from the underground line there came immediately from the Turkish lines opposite the roar of continuous, rapid rifle-fire and the just-distinguishable staccato note of angry machine-gun, tap-tap-tapping, it seemed, in a furious rage. Here - there - men staggered, crumpled, pitched forward, sagged sideways. Men shouted, men laughed. Men groaned.
Shells came shrieking. One came to decapitate a bugler- the headless body ran on for several yards before it stopped and dropped. In front khaki-clad figures struggling on the parapet of the first Turkish trench. The glint of steel. Red flashes from a thousand rifle-barrels. Khaki figures that were not moving. Men lying huddled together as if waiting another signal to move forward.
Yes, some were moving - twitching. Others - crawling away - or trying to - maimed - dying. All were perfectly still - a great wave of dead men.
(Below this was a paragraph written by Lieut.-Col. A. F. Burrett)
“The slaughter commenced from the second we emerged from our trenches. Machine-gun and rifle fire came from the direct front and enfilade fire from both flanks. Men fell thickly on the way over. Imagine our surprise when instead of finding open trenches we saw only holes on the ground at intervals of 10 yards or so. The Turks had sheltered their front line and to a minor degree their rear trenches - with legs about one foot in diameter and covered these with a foot or so of earth. Each hole spat fire. However, a few men managed to get down through these holes into the trench. Many of us just rushed over the front line and got into the rear trenches right among the Turks. Then started probably the most gruesome, bloody, and fierce hand-to-hand fighting of the whole war.”
Gallipoli (FRTH - Pages 105-106) - One gallant chap was so highly incensed at having his bombs returned (by the Turks) that he decided to make the feat impossible with the next. But he cut too low. At the zenith of his swing the bomb exploded and his hand up to the wrist went over with the bomb. Grasping the stump with his left hand he jumped from the fire step, and with a cheery ‘That’s the end of this business for me,’ set out for the beach.
Dragging a Water Cart up the slopes at Gallipoli
--- Colonel A.F. Burrett recalls the following incident: “Two of my bombers - Norton and Hamilton - the latter won his V.C. there - were up on the parapet throwing bombs as fast as they could light them. One burst prematurely in Norton’s hands, and blew both of them to fragments. We sent him back to the dressing station. Next morning a doctor said to me: “Good God! It’s wonderful. That man Norton is the gamest thing that ever breathed. After I Had finished fixing him up for the beach he said - “Good-bye Doc., old sport. Sorry I can’t shake hands.”
Gallipoli (FRTH - Page 109) --- behind the Pimple facing the Pine --- 5 officers and 166 other ranks--- B Company came out without a single officer and only 49 men.----Subsequently three of the four wounded officers died, including Captain Beekin, who commanded the company, and beloved-of-all the original men of the 3rd - big Eddie Mc Gowan. He was wounded in fifteen places as he lay out between the Turkish and our lines for 36 hours or more. He died during October at Mudros.
Lone Pine (R&WD - Page 31) - At dawn and dusk (the most likely hours of attack by the enemy) every man in the trenches “stood to” sometimes for half an hour, an hour, or longer. “Carry On” meant the resumption of normal duties, when men off post might put away their rifles, but on account of the nearness of the enemy no man while in the trenches was permitted to remove his equipment or boots. Everybody had to be ready to jump up, even from sleep, fully prepared for action.
Lone Pine (R&WD - Page 37) - On the 27th a cold snap set in, and that night many an Australian saw snow for the first time in his life. Daylight on the 28th found the whole field under a thick mantle of white. Everything left exposed was buried, and the material required for the day’s activities had to be fossicked out from under the snow. The troops, impoverished by lack of nourishment and the rough existence, and many of them also lacking clothing suitable for such a pronounced atmospheric change suffered intensely. The weaker men and men in poor health collapsed, and many were depressed by this cheerless condition.
Gallipoli (R&WD - Page 40) - I say without a doubt that the Turks would have failed for never have I seen more determined men than the remnant of the Battalion (24th) which went into the trenches that morning. Many of the men were ill. For the past week they had lived on scant rations-half a small pannikin (mug) of tea for breakfast, nothing to drink for dinner and again at tea time half a pannikin of tea, and usually only bully beef and biscuits to eat. Yet at the word of command they sprang to the parapets without sign of wavering. They knew that if an attack came they would be facing overwhelming odds. But for the sake of the comrades who had fallen around them, and the name of Anzac, they were ready to fight to the last man. On all sides one could hear such defiant expressions as ‘Let them come!’ or ‘If Abdul comes he will get what he is looking for!’ For all they knew, ‘Lone Pine’ was isolated. They believed the communication trenches and tunnels had all been blown in.
Gallipoli (R&WD - Page 45) - The troops had other enemies than the Turks. Vermin never infested the habitations of soldiers in greater numbers than they did on the Peninsula, while for size and biting capacity these “Anzacs” had no rival in any country. On a sunny day it was a common thing to see men in various stages of undress squatting about in scores hunting “chats” (lice) in the fold of their garments and perpetrating the wholesale slaughter of these tantalizing enemies with the keenest satisfaction, and with the hopes of a brief respite from torture when the raid had yielded a numerous catch.
Gallipoli (COTGA - Page 23) 1915 - In the semi-darkness of the underground corridors Australian and Turks grappled like wild beasts let lose in a sunless deep pit. In this awful contest men, stripped of all humane feeling, were consumed with mad lust of battle, or with primitive urge to kill as a means of self-preservation.
A British soldier visits his comrade's grave on the cliffs on the tip of Gallipoli Peninsula at sunset.
The simple cross and soldier are silhouetted against the skyline.
Egypt (COTGA - Page 36-37) 1916 - After the evacuation - It was a rough camp at Ferry’s Post, where our food was scanty, the grind of training more severe, and the heat of each succeeding day more intense, that a new-born esprit de corps became noticeable. No longer we heard the grumbling and mutterings which had been a feature of the weeks spent at Tel-el-Kebir. The men in the ranks now appeared to take a savage joy in the fact that they could withstand any test to which they might be subjected. This freshly-awakened determination was manifest during the frequent desert marches. Heavily burdened, scorched by pitiless rays of the sun and tormented by cruel thirst, the men ignored these hardships and marched with grim resolution to stick it out. A man who lagged or gave vent to his feelings by complaining was turned upon by the jeers of his comrades. These jeering remarks too, awakened strong traits in men’s characters, and caused them to prefer any suffering rather admit they were beaten.
Egypt (FRTH - Pages 115-116) - After the evacuation - While the there remains one Anzac of the 3rd Battalion, the Gallipoli nightmare can never be forgotten. Bad as were the conditions in the mud of Flanders and on the Somme, there were always compensations of good wholesome food, occasional clothing changes and a refreshing rest in more or less comfortable billets behind the line. But for men on Anzac, cut off completely from the world, living like rats in holes, clinging precariously, to a mere foothold on enemy territory with only death out in front of them and the only retreat the Aegean waters that washed into Anzac Cove - there was never security, never rest, never respite.
France (FRTH - Page 142) April 1916 - The march (to Strazeele) was a particularly severe one. After the soft sands of Egypt the rough cobbled stones of France played havoc with the feet of the troops. By the time the 12 mile march was finished, no fewer than 50 men had fallen out of the ranks of the 3rd Battalion to be attended by the medical officer, Captain Fitzpatrick, for foot trouble.
Fleurbaix (R&WD - Page 72) c. July 1916 - These sandbags had been there since the end of 1914, and the rats, which were inoccupation of the whole system, were numerous enough and big enough to defend the position without the aid of men. Ravenously hungry, the rats were more annoying than the Huns, for while men slept in sandbag shelters the vermin raced over their faces, and even stayed to nibble noses and fingers.
French soldier, his dog and a heap of very FAT dead rats.
Photo taken in a
small museum in Carcassone in 2007.
Fleurbaix (R&WD - Pages 72-73) Gas 23 April 1916 - What atrocity of the war was dreaded more than the use of poisoned gases? The horror had already been used by the Boche when we arrived at the Western front and at that time, not having the effective defensive equipment which was supplied later, we almost trembled at the thought of the deadly fumes, for we had heard all about the torture they inflicted, of the cemeteries in the Ypres sector full of their victims, and the general confusion a gas attack created. The small gas respirators with which we were issued were little more than suffocating masks, and the effects of perspiration and the chemicals which saturated the cloth of which the masks were made were bad enough without gas. Many a man had his face well blistered, though no gas came near him. Yet we cherished these crude masks as a miser clings to gold. We knew that at any moment they might be all that stood between us and death.
Fromelles (Volume 3, Ch. 12 - Page 383 Bean) 10-26 July 1916 - The moment they cleared the parapet it became hideous with machine-gun fire. There was a slight slope - our line (of men) ran down it, and then went splash into the ditch up to their waists in water. It was slimy, but it gave some protection. The leading Lewis gunner turned to the right and led the guns along the ditch, and then to the left along the communication of it, which ran towards the German line. It was very good protection for the guns. About 40 yards along it the leader got hit in the neck by a machine-gun bullet. He choked - one of the gunners tied him up, and, with another, they lay there for half an hour or longer. The ditch was full of wounded and dying men - like butcher’s shop - men groaning and crying and shrieking. Ammunition was being carried up by pairs of men, the boxes being carried on sticks. One man would go down and crash would go the box into the water, shelling was very heavy. The engineers (14th Field Company) were digging a communication trench at this point beside the stream; the wounded were hopping over into this, and the engineers were having an awful time trying to dig the trench. So many men were falling that things were clearly wrong; but when the word about retiring came along, the men received it with : “What – retreating? Not on your life!” At the same time, things were so broken that they had a sort of fear that it was true.
Fromelles (GC - Page 57) - The German shelling and machine-gun fire had now reached a terrific volume. The communication trench called Brompton Avenue had in places ceased to exist as a defined work; the bodies of dead men lay thickly along its length. Here the supporting battalion, moving up had suffered severely in the passage. The German shells searched this sap and blew great craters along its length as we struggled through, trampling underfoot the dead that cluttered it. All the while we were losing men. Some of the wounded lay in pools staining the water with their blood. Dead men, broken trench-material, shattered duckboards that tripped us as we passed, the smell of fumes of high explosives, and the unforgettable odour of death made this trench a place of horror. The gas alarm passed down added to it, and we were ordered to put on our helmets. So into the hideous, vile smelling P.H. helmets we got. The heat of our heads soon clouded the glasses; we floundered through the mire and debris of the shattered trench partly blinded.
Fromelles (GC - Pages 63-64) - The dead were saddening to look upon but a worse sight were the wounded lying out in No Man’s Land beyond our aid. On the left an Australian officer and an N.C.O. had gone across under a white flag during the morning and asked a German officer for permission to collect the wounded still lying there. The German sent to the rear for instructions, which were negative. So we had to see our wounded lying there to suffer the torments of the damn. They called unceasingly for help and water. The sun and the flies tormented them. Those of them who were able to crawl were sniped by the Germans. One man was almost in front of our bay crawled inch by inch towards us, drawing a badly wounded pal with him. He got within a few yards of our parapet when he was fired on by a German sniper. The two then took shelter in a shell-hole, and called to us for water.
Fromelles (GC -Page 65) - Willing hands eased the stretcher down into the trench. --- a machine-gun had made a wound in his hip so large that a fist could be inserted; while he had laid unconscious flies had blown his wound. With ashen face, clothes soaked in blood and mud, he laid face downwards on the stretcher shivering in the raw morning air. He said he had been hit on the Wednesday afternoon during the initial stages of the advance, he had lost consciousness and could hardly believe it was now Friday morning.
France (COTGA - Page 49) August 1916 - The covering party had preceded us, and, laden with coils of wire, angle irons and mallet, we approached our task. Of all fatigues which fell to the lot of the Infantry in the forward area, none was more unpleasant as erecting wire entanglements in No Man’s Land. Barbed wire, never very easy to handle, is at its worst when being used on such a job as had been allotted to us. We found our wire defences badly cut in many places, and some of the pickets pulled out of the soft ground. Flares were constantly shooting up from the German line, and each, for a space of seconds, illuminated the desolate waste with a brilliant gleam. While the star-shells were burning out, we either had to stand motionless or fall prone. As we toiled, bullets hissed by with a queer swishing sound, or cracked overhead with a report like that of a stockwhip. Alex O’Rourke worked with the sangfroid of a man who did not appear to realize our danger.
The Somme (COTGA - Page 77) 1916 --- Across country was moving a long train of pack-mules, and often the shell-laden beasts floundered and sank to their bellies in the quagmire. Stout-hearted brutes! It was they who fed with ammunition the field batteries, and thereby enabled the 18 pounders to maintain a constant fire on the German positions. But the treacherous, shell-churned earth took a heavy toll in animals, and the tracks to the gun positions were strewn with the carcasses of mules which had been shot because they could not be extricated from the bogs.
18 Pounder Gun
Somme (COTGA - Page 83) 1916 (Words of Captain Fanning) “---- Moreover, a man is a shirker who will not accept responsibility and there is no room for a shirker in my company.”
To this code Captain Fanning religiously adhered, and by his own conduct set his command an example which created a deep impression in them. Bravery makes a strong appeal to most men, but when bravery is linked with leadership, understanding and initiative, an ideal leader has been found. Fanning possessed these qualifications in a marked degree, and, in France his men had such implicit faith in him that they followed him, knowing they would never fail for lack of valour on the part of their leader. He trained the members of his company to be soldiers; he taught many to conduct themselves as men; and, in the end, he showed how unflinchingly a brave man can die. Surely the germ of a nation’s greatness is contained in the heroism of such valiant souls.
Cardonnette (COTGA - Page 99) - However, during our period of “rest” we realized the disadvantages of having a bad name. Apparently the “heads” concluded that the best method of keeping the “undisciplined colonials” in hand, when out of the line, was to drill them from daylight to dark. This plan was rigidly enforced. We were “doubling” along snow-covered roads before sunrise, and the fowls had retired to roost before our parades were ended. For hours we exercised in sodden fields, the bitter wind flogging or shivering bodies, and, as we stood at the “slope” the butt plate of the rifle numbed our hand with its icy coldness. Hour after hour we preformed movements which recruit days had made monotonous; even saluting by numbers was resurrected. The hard, gruelling training on the Egyptian desert was essential; essential because it toughened men fresh from civilian life. Much of the training inflicted upon us at Cardonnette was senseless to the point of absurdity. This harassing of men just out of the line stresses how lacking in intelligence was the “Brass Hat” responsible for the syllabus.
Approach to Pozieres (FRTH - Page 157) July 1916 - In a shallow cutting to the left of the battalion sector were the remains of a light railway line. At one point this cutting was choked with British and German corpses. Indeed, unburied dead lay thickly all over the ground, and before advancing to the assembly trenches it was thought advisable to send out parties of veteran soldiers to bury the bodies adjoining the route, for the sights were well calculated to unnerve the younger soldiers.
Pozieres (FRTH - Page 163) - At 12.28 a.m., two minutes before zero the full force of the British and Australian barrage fell on the German front line with an intensity not hitherto experienced or contemplated by our men. The flashes of the exploding shells were so close and continuous that they formed an unbroken wall of flame crowned by rolling columns of smoke illustrating the inferno below. The noise could only be described as tremendous. Separate explosions were quite indistinguishable, being fused into one continuous roar. No order could be heard unless shouted into the ear.
Pozieres Commenced 23 July 1916 - On 28 July 1916 the 7th Brigade was assigned to form the centre of the attacking force between the 5th & 6th Brigades. But the attack failed with the 2nd Division losing some 3,500 men. One of the great difficulties in night attack was that in the uproar, the confusion and the blackness soldiers could not find their way. Digging jump-off trenches from which the attacking troops would begin their advance was an almost impossible task. A famous letter written at this time by Melbourne journalist Lieutenant J.A. Raws, who with his brother, was killed in the Somme battle, describes the battle scene. No account of Pozieres is likely to equal this description written by Raws. (The paragraph above as well as the section marked ** below was sent to me some time ago by a contact, who shared a common interest in Pozieres. I later found the text with some minor differences in (Vol 3 Ch. 19 - Pages 658- 659 -Bean)
“The great horror of many of us (says Raws) is the fear of being lost (i.e. losing our way) with troops at night on the battlefield. We do all our fighting and moving at night, and the confusion of passing through a barrage of enemy shells in the dark is pretty appalling …
Our battalion ... had to march for three miles, under shellfire, go out into No Man’s Land in front of the German trenches, and dig a narrow trench to be used to jump off from in another assault. I was posted in the rear to bring up the rear and prevent straggling. We went in single file along narrow communication trenches. We were shelled all the way up but got absolute hell when passing through a particular heavy curtain of fire where the enemy was playing on a ruined village (Pozieres) ... In the midst of this barrage our line was held up. I went up from the rear and found that we had been cut off, about half of us, from the rest of the battalion, and were lost. I would gladly have shot myself, for I had not the slightest idea where our lines were, and the shells were coming at us from, it seemed, three directions. As a matter of fact that was right. Well, **we lay down terror-stricken along the bank. The shelling was awful ... we eventually found our way to the right spot out in No Man’s Land. Our leader was shot before we arrived and the strain sent the two other officers mad. I and another new officer Lieutenant Short took charge and dug the trench. We were shot at all the time ... the wounded and killed had to be thrown to one side ... I refused to let any sound man help a wounded man, the sound had to dig ... We dug on and finished amid a tornado of shells ... I was buried once and thrown down several times ... buried with the dead and dying. The ground was covered with bodies in all stages of decay and mutilation and I would, after struggling from the earth, pick up a body by me and lift him out with me and find him a decayed corpse. I pulled a head off - it was covered with blood. The horror was indescribable. I went up again that night and stayed there. We were shelled to hell ceaselessly. X went mad and disappeared ... there remained nothing but a charred mass of debris with bricks, stones, girders and bodies pounded to nothing ... we were lousy, stinking, sleepless ... I have one puttee, another dead man’s helmet and a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic rotten with other men’s blood and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains.
Pozieres (R&WD - Page 94) - The enemy did not spare us after daylight revealed our whereabouts. His batteries which were in great strength in that sector opened a bombardment on the whole of the Australian positions, maintaining fire for 36 hours.
Pozieres (R&WD - Page 95) - All day the men were being buried by shell fire and extricated by their comrades. According to Brigade records, at one period of the day casualties on the field were occurring at the rate of 60 per hour. The ordeal of holding those ghastly trenches, which appeared to be merely waiting for death, threw many of the men into shell-shocked stupor, and stretcher-bearers who struggled with the wounded had to kick the dazed men to induce them to get out of the way.
Pozieres (R&WD - Page 96) - The vicinity of “Gibralter” (blockhouse) was a death trap. It lay right on the route of all movements to and from the lines, and as the shells crashed in salvoes around the structure, men fell right and left. Every track over the remains of the village changed shape a dozen times a day under the deluge of shells that fell there, and men went past “Gibralter” and down the “Death” road at the double. Stretcher-bearers with wounded were swallowed up in the inferno, and fatigue parties sometimes had half their numbers cut down getting through.
Gibralter Blockhouse 1916 AWM
Pozieres (R&WD - Page 97) - Pozieres provided our regimental stretcher-bearers with a task utterly beyond their powers. Each Battalion went in with 16 bearers (four per company). On that field a hundred bearers per Battalion would have been more in keeping with requirements. On the second day only four of our 16 bearers remained in action, the others being killed or wounded. In the forward trenches, the wounded waited hours for removal. Many of the company men helped with the work of rescue, and when our transport section heard of the plight of the troops in the line they immediately volunteered for duty as stretcher-bearers. Although some of them were included among the honoured dead before their task was done the rest never wavered. Every trip to the aid–post left the bearers fewer in numbers, but they carried on their heroic work with coolness and faithfulness, dressing the wounded under hellish fire, and then carrying them away with all possible care. --- Some of the bearers at Pozieres, after many hours of unceasing toil, had the muscles of their hands so strained that they could not grip the stretcher handles. --- Later in the campaign the bearers worked in parties of four and six, and carried the stretchers on their shoulders, but at Pozieres they were fortunate if they could maintain two men per stretcher.
Pozieres (R&WD - Page 101) - Darkness had fallen before we reached Kay Trench which had been lashed with a tornado of “whiz-bangs”. Who of those who participated in that engagement and have survived it will ever forget the dash along the notorious trench? Some idea of the physical and mental strain of that night may be gained when it is considered that the men, each carrying about 70 lbs. of equipment, were pushing through a tempest of shells, and stumbling over dead and wounded and all manner of obstacles.
Further down the page - It was a night of terrible suspense and agony. The faithfulness of the troops in pushing on in spite of all opposition and uncertainty of direction and the excellent work of the officers and N.C.O.’s in directing the men, won success out of a situation which might easily have resulted in failure.
So painful was the situation at time that the men of weak nerve buried their faces in the dirt and clawed the soft ground as if trying to hide themselves, while stouter hearts climbed over them and went on towards the enemy. ---
Pozieres (R&WD - Pages 103-104) - The number of enemy wounded was considerable. Our dugout was found to contain over 50 badly wounded Germans. It was discovered that this dugout had been used as a front line hospital, and a German doctor informed us that they had been unable to shift their wounded for several days owing to the intensity of our artillery fire. The fact that all these wounded enemy soldiers were removed from the lines speaks well for the humanity and impartiality of our stretcher-bearers.
The German doctor, who spoke English fluently, volunteered to remain in the firing line, and he carefully attended to our own wounded. Orders subsequently came up to pass back all unwounded prisoners, and he left the line. We heard with regret that he, with others, had been killed by a shell on the way out.
Minenwerfer - Museum in Paris 2007
Mouquet Farm (R&WD - Page 111) - commenced 5 August 1916 - The Boche specialized in Minenwerfer (mine-launcher) bombs. These deadly big bombs fired at a high angle across No-man’s-land onto our trenches at night. Their direction could be followed resembling that of a rocket, but they fell so swiftly and vertically that there was little hope of getting out of their way.
Mouquet Farm (FRTH - Pages 182-183)19 August 1916 --- concerned with intolerable sleeplessness and fatigue and with the ceaseless scream and crash of German shells from all sides. There was little laughter anywhere. The labour conditions, too, were intolerable. Communication avenues were repeatedly blown in and frequent calls had to be made for more and yet more men to volunteer to keep them open. The front lines were little more than wide shallow ditches strewn with sad, still bodies of comrades newly slain. But worse than all this was the reeking sense of bitterness engendered by the short shooting of some of our supporting artillery. The men were ready and willing to assault, but, because of their faith in the trustfulness of their own artillery had been shaken, there was in the mind of them a depressing doubt as to the final outcome of the struggle.
Further down the page --- A weariness, the inexpressible weariness of body and mind similar to that of an athlete who has run himself to a standstill, was the paramount feeling of every man in the much-battered battalion as it filed out of way of Sausage Valley and other tracks to Albert. At no other time in its history was the 3rd Battalion ever to know such feeling of despondency. Tired and worn, and silent with the memory of comrades who had who had fallen, ---
Mouquet Farm before its destruction by shellfire in 1916 AWM
To Bonneville (R&WD - Page 114) - It is not a pleasant experience to be marching with full kit (about 60lbs) hour after hour without prospect of refreshment, and the worst feature of army life is that one never knows when the journey is likely to end. Distances which are given as three or five miles mysteriously extend to six and eight, eight to twelve and twelve to twenty. With serious doubts about the distance to Bonneville, the boys fell in again and moved on, and an hour or two later the village was reached.
After the Battle of Mouquet Farm (R&WD - Page 115) - On the 4th the Battalion paraded on the high ground above the village, and the acting C.O. Major G.M. Nicholas, D.S.O., had some very plain words to say to men whom he described as ‘shirkers’ - men who were inclined to leave the fighting line on the least pretence, and hang around dressing stations seeking sympathy of the medical officers. These remarks were provoked by the critical position in the line at Mouquet Farm, where a handful of each company held on against tremendous odds, yet after the Battalion was relieved the strength of the unit perceptibly increased. The 24th Battalion was not unique in that respect.
Belgium (FRTH - Page 195) 2 November 1916 - near Gueudecourt the Commanding Officer Lieut. Col. Howell Price was badly injured. Padre B. C. Wilson, who was with the battalion at the time afterwards wrote: ” As eight ambulance men were preparing to carry their colonel out to the nearest ambulance post, one thousand shell-hole-strewn yards away, two men of the battalion, Sergeant-Major Douglas and Corporal McLachlan stepped up and brushed the bearers aside. Douglas said, “No one else must carry our colonel out.” And these N.C.O.’s would not allow one of the bearers to touch the stretcher during the long, dangerous trek to the dressing-station.”
Lt.-Col. Howell-Price lingered for two days, only once, and for a short period regaining consciousness. Major J.W. B. Bean - our original R.M.O., who happened then to be specially attached to the British casualty clearing station outside Heilly, to which the C.O. had been taken - asked Howell-Price if there was anything he could do for him. “Only one thing, Doc,” was the reply; “Will you write a note to the Padre and ask him to give my love to the battalion.” Those were Howell-Price’s last words. Relapsing into unconsciousness, he died shortly afterwards. But those words summed up the whole of his service in the A.I.F. - love for the battalion.
Belgium (FRTH - Page 200-201) - Before November 6 - Later in the day Lieut. Bishop and nine men were killed by the short-shooting of the British artillery. Bishop, who had been promoted from C.Q.M.S. in August, had a happy, smiling disposition, and his passing was regretted by all ranks. There was nothing the infantrymen hated more than shells from his own artillery falling short. He could stand any amount of shelling from the enemy but short-shooting by his own guns quickly demoralized him.
Flers (FRTH - Page 207) - Rations for men in the line - Two trips were made each night, about eight miles in all. But such miles. Wading all the way through half-frozen slush, strafed unmercifully when the enemy detected the approach, only the grateful thanks of the hungry men in the freezing outposts made the march at all tolerable.
Leaving Gueudeucourt (FRTH - Page 211) late 1916 - Mateship was never more evident in the ranks of the 3rd Battalion than on the weary march out of Gueudecourt. In the inky dark, weakened to the point of collapse by the cruel conditions, many of the sick men would have found the route impossible had it not been for the readier assistance of their hardier mates. For every sick man there was always a willing arm and shoulder, and no mate was abandoned until he was either in the good care of an R.A.P. or sound asleep in some handy ditch that was in the reserve line.
Somewhere near High Wood? (FRTH - Page 216) - The cold now gripped the devastated area of the Somme battlefield had frozen the crust of the earth to a depth of four feet, and new problems arose. Probably the most difficult was how to approach the forward outposts over sloping snow-covered ground, entirely exposed to the view of the hostile enemy. For the most dangerous patrols and listening posts, white overalls of nightgown pattern were provided, and those proved to be an excellent method of disguise. For the normal outposts, and the positions within seventy yards of the enemy, the men had to find their way forward by whatever means they could. Very little ingenuity, however was necessary, for it soon became apparent that the enemy also was being harassed by the weather and for the moment was more concerned with his own problems.
“Yarra Bank was place where the trenches had been about six feet deep with five feet of water in them,” wrote Lieut. Geoff Leslie. “When the frost came the water froze and the trenches were only a foot or so deep. The troops on both sides had to wriggle along them on their tummies or get shot. We fraternized in this sector for the first and only time that I can remember. No one fired at the enemy for about three days. ---
(FRTH - Page 217-218) The “flying pig” experts were relentless in their attention to the German positions about The Maze and the Germans replied to their fire with showers of “pineapple bombs”.
The Flying Pig
Montauban (GC - Page 93) - The mud around Montauban was not only dirty: it was foul, slimy and reeked of corpses---- the mud of the Somme during 1916 drowned men’s spirits with horror.
Montauban (GC - Page 94) - This operation had its objective “the improving of the line” (as the communiqués called it), an operation generally notable chiefly by the number of new white crosses it set up which altogether outweighed the advantage gained.
Somme, Delville Wood - Flers (R&WD - Pages 120-121-122) 1916) - Our unit had been detailed for work on the extension of a railway in the vicinity of Delville Wood, about four miles in the rear of the line, and the scene of a terrific struggle by the South Africans in the days of the Somme Push. There was no camp or shelter of any kind here, and the men were marched to a vacant piece of ground and informed that this was to be their “home”. A dog might have died at the thought of trying to camp in such a spot. Mud and shell-holes were its conspicuous feature. It was encompassed by the main roads, on which all the traffic of war ploughed through the slush; howitzer batteries on the edge of the wood kept up a continual din and drew enemy shells; the wood was reeking with the stench of the dead, and the whole aspect was of turmoil and discomfort. The troops did not possess a blanket, and all that offered for shelter from rain and cold, as well as the shells, were waterproof sheets and greatcoats. Yet they settled down to make the best of the situation ---
(Bottom of page 121-122) --- Nor did the men have the privilege of resting in their damp shelters after their days work. Many a night they came in to find they were detailed for fatigue duty to the trenches, and they had to set out on a long tramp through darkness and miles of mud to the line before they had time to eat the scant rations which were available for their tea.
Flers (R&WD - Page 123) 14th November 1916 - The most urgent work was the carrying of wounded men from the firing line to the aid-posts and from the aid-posts to the Field Ambulance Stations. It was on this task that many of our men were employed for two days. Numbers of the wounded had to be rescued under heavy fire from No-man’s-land and carried over the slush a distance of three miles. The strain, even with six men to a stretcher, exhausted the strongest of the troops. It was difficult to distribute rations to these men, as they were scattered all over the field and many of them carried on without a bite for 24 hours. Officers and N.C.O.’s shouldered stretchers with their men, as heavy casualties called for the utmost energy from all ranks. The wounded from English units on the front often found themselves in the kindly hands of the Australians. An English officer who was being borne out on a stretcher remarked that at the front he could never distinguish Australian officers from their men. “It might interest you to know,” replied one of the party, “that the Australians who are carrying you include a lieutenant, two sergeants, and the other three are corporals.”
Flers (R&WD - Page 124-125) - It was only by superhuman efforts that men moved at all over that quagmire. In some places a man would do well if he proceeded a few hundred yards in an hour, and he would be fortunate if he was not bogged hopelessly as to require assistance before he could extricate himself.
(GC - Page 84) - A mile of so past the remains of Bernafay Wood the wheeled transport halted where the road was obliterated in a waste of shell-torn ground, and we came upon a sight that must have made angels weep – Delville Wood, or Devil’s Wood, as the soldiers called it. Shell fire had torn its great trees into a blackened jagged stumps and littered the ground with trunks and branches. Trench systems had criss-crossed through the wood, separated in places by only a few feet: huge shell craters pock-marked the ground. Many of them partly filled with greenish water, and the desolation was completed by a carpet of rotting corpses of the men who had won and lost the wood. British and German lay there unburied. The ground was strewn with equipment, rifles, cartridges and all the other debris of an untidy battlefield. Here had been staged one of the fiercest fights of the Somme offensive. From 15 July to 18 July every inch of the wood had been contested in hand-to-hand fighting and the survivors of each attack consolidated behind hastily thrown cover, consisting often of the bodies of the dead.
Flers (GC - Pages 97-98) November 1916 - The writer’s company lost their Commanding Officer Capt. Fanning. As he lay on the stretcher at the regimental aid post, some members of the 54th Battalion near by recognized the captain. One turned to his companions and said “That’s Captain Fanning, badly knocked. ‘A’ Company of the 56th is buggered now.”
Fanning overheard the remark, and he asked for the man to be sent to him. The soldier came, no doubt expecting to be reprimanded. Instead Fanning said “I do not know who you are sonny, but you have paid me the greatest compliment of my life.” Perhaps in this unexpected tribute couched in the rough words of a soldier Captain Fanning found some consolation in the agony of his last hours.
Capt. F Fanning’s grave at Dartmoor
Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, France.
His parents were Lt. Col. F. G. and
Mary Fanning, of Coomeragee, Casino,
New South Wales. He was Mentioned in
Despatches three times.
Capt. V. E. Smythe, M. C. took over command of ‘A’ Company and it would have been difficult trying to fill the shoes of such a great officer.
Montauban (GC - Page 101) November 1916 - At that time a soldier had to be at death’s door before he was sent back. That was the only way to keep the battalions any near strength.
Gueudecourt Sector (GC - Page 104) November-December 1916 - Often did I open my tunic and shirt and thrust my wet muddy hands against my skin in an effort to get them warm. Our feet were like blocks of ice. Twice a day we rubbed them frantically with whale-oil and changed our socks, partly drying the wet ones by putting them around our waists ---- Trench feet was a loathsome thing. Beside the swelling, the nails became discoloured and when the disease was in an advanced state the feet gave off an odour of putrefying flesh. Many an amputation was necessary from this disease.
Gueudecourt (GC - Page 105) - There was only one worse state than having to stand garrison day and night in mud. That was being bombarded in it. The German barrages used to do a lot of damage. They regularly used high explosive shells, many of then the dreaded 5.9s. Our line would occasionally at evening be marked by a cloud of heavy smoke, pieced with the wicked orange flashes of the bursting shells. They whistled through the air to burst with a nerve-shattering roar, flinging the mud high and making the trench almost rock under the percussion. Only when our artillery became active and blasted the German frontline did the fire slacken and eventually cease. The labour of the stretcher- bearers in getting out the wounded beggers description. Even to bury a dead body took an incredibly long time.
Gueudecourt (GC - Pages 105-106) - Lieutenant Morrison led us as we ploughed our way to a post and were met with the worst sight I saw during the war. Not a man of the gun team escaped. Five were dead, and several shockingly wounded, the body of J …. still sat in the shell slit where I had spoken to him only five minutes before. His face was entirely blown away, leaving just the back of his head; one hand and forearm were missing, likewise a knee, but his corpse had not moved. We turned from this ghastly sight to bind up the wounds of those still living. Our field-bandages were inadequate and somebody had get shell dressings from battalion headquarters. Little bandy-legged Grenna jumped at the job. It was brave act for which he was not even recommended for the poorest decoration given by the army. (There is almost a page of printing on the incredible actions of this courageous man on his journey there and back.)
Gueudecourt (GC - Page 109) - Every second place was an estaminet (French café) which dispensed vin blanc and vin rouge of dubious vintage. These places were only open to troops during certain hours. To the villagers the soldiers had long ceased to be anything but customers with a thirst.
Buire (GC - Page 109) 1916 - Our Christmas Eve bath was our first for many weeks, and no words can describe the desire for it of men whose bodies and clothes were overrun with vermin and foul trench mud.
Leaving Gueudecourt for Delville Wood (COTGA - Page 121) 1916 - Our sick were collected and given several hours start on the rest of the company. In spite of this precaution, however, No. 3 Platoon had not traversed half a mile when its rear was composed of fellows verging on the state of collapse. Lieutenant Morrison, therefore, decided to push on with the more fit and ordered me to shepherd the exhausted men back to camp in easy stages. Peter Hughes, again ill with dysentery, and a quiet, big-hearted bushman, named Jack Coleman, were included in my party. Coleman, despite being well over military age, always bore hardships with the indomitable spirit typical of the Australian bushman. The pluck of the old fellow had made a strong appeal to me; to aid him in his sorry plight I now shouldered his rifle and equipment.
That journey, in charge of those line-weary and sick men, through the deep slime and darkness proved to be a nightmare – a nightmare made more terrible to me because despair seemed to ride heavily on the shoulders of the exhausted men. After many spells, however, we reached the edge of Delville Wood, where I rested my party.
(COTGA - Page 122) ---my mate was in bed. Lack of width in the domicile forbade such frivolity as turning in ones sleep - you had to go into the cold outdoors to turn around. Another noticeable feature was our water-frontage. This was part of the drainage system and caused us much anxiety. One night, following a day of incessant rain, the moat banked up into our bed-sitting room. The practical Edgar placed a duckboard above the flood waters; on this we perched like a brace of shags. Sleep was out of the question, so, with blanked-draped shoulders, we yarned the hours away… On two occasions he brewed tea potent enough to upset the stomach of a cannibal.
Le Transloy Section (COTGA - Pages 145-146) - Presently, far up in the blue vault of sky, sounds the faint “rat-tat-tat” of a machine gun. The eyes of all look upwards. Away in the heavens we can discern two silvery specks – fighting planes, things of grace, they circle and manoeuvre, while a thin ribbon of smoke issues from each long before the report of their guns reaches our ears.
Suddenly the beauty of the scene is turned to horror, stark and ghastly. One of the machines falls away and bursts into flames. The other hovers a moment above, then follows it down. The victor descends so low that we can distinguish the black Iron Cross on his plane. Meanwhile, on a wing of the doomed “warbird,” the figure of a man can now be seen. A moment he hesitates, and then leaps into space. With arms and legs outstretched the hapless aviator falls earthwards with a sickening rush. Within a second or so the blazing wreckage passes him and comes to earth near our position. The man who jumped lies smashed and half-buried in the snow, while the body of his dead companion is entangled in the fiercely burning ruins of the plane.
Thus died two Australian airmen.
Hermies (FRTH - Page 227-228) c. April 1917- During the Hermies “stunt”, one of C Company’s runners, Fred Kennaugh, was given a bunch of about thirty Fritz prisoners to take to headquarters. He arrived there sitting upon a stretcher carried by two of his prisoners while the others marched ahead and with his hand in his pockets. The officer to whom he handed over his prisoners wanted to know what he meant by coming in like that, and was told that that was the easiest way he could think of on the spur of the moment, and it kept some of his prisoners busy and gave him a good view of the others. When told of the risk he was by having his hands in his pockets, and no weapons, he removed his hands and showed a Mills bombs in either hand. “What’ll I do with these, “he asked, “now I have finished with them?” “Throw them down,” said the officer. Kennaugh prepared to do so and asked “Can you run?” “Yes,” replied the officer. “Why?” “Then run like b---hell,” said Ken, as he threw them, “because the pins are out.” It is said that the officer broke “evens” in the rush to safety, and that Ken, although a professional runner was a very bad second. - Private W. Atkins.
Near Louverval (GC - Pages 117-118) c. April 1917 - The 14th Brigade’s turn to take up the advance came on 29th March. Peter Duncan was in an ominously pensive mood during the evening before. Generally the wit of our sing-song gatherings around the camp-fire he alone would not sing that night. When we rallied him about it he broke into that mournful Scotch dirge “The Land of the Leal.” This closed down our concert as abruptly as if a 5.9 had landed in our fire. I went to bed feeling sure that my bosom pal, Peter Duncan, was not coming out of the fight that we were about to enter, and for weeks afterwards his voice singing that dirge rang in my ears like funeral bell.
Louverval (GC - Page 119) - The author and Peter had a discussion and he was asked to visit Scotland after the stunt if the both survived. “Yes, Peter,” I replied, “We will come through the stunt all right, and I will be delighted to come with you.”
“I wonder?” he said, as he gazed with a fixed stare into the dancing flames as it they held the answer to the riddle. Again the feeling that Peter was going to be killed, and that he knew it - wanted to tell me, but held it back - came into my mind. Premonition of coming death was frequent during the war. Many thousands of those who died knew their end was at hand. In some cases their best pals knew as well as they did.
(R&WD - Page 131) - Death, familiar to the armies at the front, did not leave us on Christmas Day. The troops in the trenches, the men who waded to the lines with rations, the gunners who fed the batteries, the drivers who struggled with teams and motors, engineers who made or repaired roads and railways, and airmen who skimmed through the clouds and mists, all said farewell that day to mates who left the world of strife for more peaceful places.
(R&WD - Page 133) January 1917 - After three days in the line the Battalion was relieved. We remained a night in supports at Needle Trench, and on the following day went back to camp. The troops were in a sad plight. In some cases the trench-feet complaint was so acute that the feet were badly discoloured and so swollen that boots could only be removed by being cut off. Men groaned with pain and the burning sensation that afflicted their extremities.
Further down the page -The trench-feet complaint was the result of the combined effects of intense cold stagnation of the blood, and the absorption into the skin, through the medium of mud, of germs with which the whole battlefield, with its insanitary conditions, was infested. The worst cases were removed on stretchers, while those who could put their feet to the ground, even with much pain, were obliged to walk out, hobbling along the duckboard tracks and roads like a procession of lame ducks, with their feet wrapped in strips of blankets ...
(GC - Page 121) 2 April 1917 - After what seemed years of waiting, and just a faint light began to show in the east, a company runner came with orders to the platoon commanders to have the men up on one knee. No sooner was this completed than the word to advance was completed. Peter Duncan moved out with his screen of scouts, to meet death just over the rise.
(COTGA - Page 165) April, 1917 - For many weeks prior to his death Duncan was included in every patrol which left our company trench; every wiring job he was on; and, in short, he saw that he missed no task which entailed extra risk. He met his life’s end while leading a screen of scouts, which covered the advance of our attacking formations, knowing in his heart, as he set out, that a rendezvous with death awaited him over the crest of the ridge. Steeped in the fighting tradition of his nation , his pride forbade him to falter; and, perhaps, too, the spirit of the Scottish hosts which died at Flodden, Culloden and other stricken fields fortified him to go forth and die like a valiant and brave soldier.
Hermies (FRTH - Page 234) before April 17 --- I discovered that I had received a knock. By some means or other I scrambled on my feet and turned to dash for the sunken road. Before I could do so, I heard my companion scream out not to leave him as he was wounded. There was no time to use a field dressing, so I bent down to grab him and saw that he had been badly hit in the thigh. I also noticed that the other chap had vanished. I think he, too, was hit, for although I could not see him, I could hear someone crying out, “Oh, my eye.”
I managed to get the first chap on my shoulder ... and half-running, half-stumbling, made a dash for the road. I was probably more than half-way, when a shell exploded directly in front of us, blowing my unfortunate burden clean out of my grasp and suspending portion of his body in a tree. ---
Caption reads: The Communication Trench – Problem- Whether to walk along the top
and risk it or do another mile of this. (Bruce Bairnsfather)
Bullecourt (R&W - Page 156) May 1917 - As the morning wore on our casualties were mounting up, and stretcher-bearer after stretcher-bearer was shot down, the enemy in many cases turning his machine-guns on the bearers as they carried out the wounded. The patience and heroism of our wounded was beyond praise. When a lad was hit he would crawl into some sheltered portion of the trench and there wait patiently. The fighting was so continuous and heavy that the wounded had to be left almost entirely to stretcher-bearers, who had a strenuous and difficult task. As men passed along the trenches, a word of cheer would be spoken to a smashed boy, who would always responded thus “Keep going; don’t worry about me; I’ll stick it !” The pain men endured, especially as the day was warm, was excruciating.
Bullecourt (R&WD - Page 158) - Mysterious orders to retire were being given by some quarter, but our men refused to leave until ordered to do so by their own officers.
Bullecourt (R&WD - Page 159) May 1917 --- When the troops were leaving the line they saw two lads who had blown their own brains out, being unable to endure the fearful torment of lacerated bodies during the frosty night. These were the boys who had said, “Don’t mind me, I’m all right; but give Fritz hell.”
Bullecourt (R&WD - Page 160) May 1917 - The Stokes mortars were used with disastrous results for the Boche. One of our transport drivers, with two horses and a limber, galloped into the thick of the fight with a battery of these trench guns in the middle of the afternoon. The Germans followed him all the way with their shells but he got away in spite of their frantic efforts to stop him.
Well Earned Rest - Warloy (R&WD - Page 164) 1917 - Only one cloud fell upon the peaceful scene. This was an accident during a rehearsal with trench mortar guns outside the village. A premature bust of a bomb resulted in eight deaths and a batch of wounded. The whole village mourned for the dead, and when the bodies were buried with full military honours, the women, weeping bitterly, added their prayers publicly to the funeral ceremony, and followed to the cemetery with flowers for the graves of the fallen soldiers. It was the most impressive ceremony Warloy had ever witnessed.
Polygon Wood (FRTH - Page 255) September 1917 --- The enemy’s harassing fire, particularly at night, reached a crescendo of fury difficult to describe, while the inflammatory shells, sent over for the purpose of range-finding and the destruction of ammunition dumps, cast a weird and confusing light over the whole chaotic scene. The British guns, belching sheets of orange flame everywhere in the darkness, added to the frightful din, making the successful completion of the intricate troop movements over the battlefield a matter of great difficulty.
Polygon Wood (COTGA - Pages 217-218) September 1917- The author was in England at that time) - History, however, seldom deals with the personal aspect of warfare. It is the more intimate details of the battle of Polygon Wood with which the story-tellers next regaled me. They spoke of the superb leadership and personal bravery of their late colonel, Alan Humphrey Scott. To him can be attributed, in great measure, the complete success of the 56th Battalion in the second phase of the 14th Brigade’s attack. They described how Scott, during the battle had made several reconnaissances of the battalion front. During one of these his runner was killed while following close behind the C.O. A distinct note of enthusiasm was noticeable as they told how Scott moved along the position, and spoke words of encouragement to his men - a position which was an inferno of bursting shells and hissing machine-gun bullets. Fate wiled, however, that Polygon Wood was to be Scott’s last battle, and the men who now eulogised his bravery and leadership had assisted to carry his body to the rear for burial. (I believe he was killed by a ricocheting bullet as he was handing over his command.)
Ypres Front (R&WD - Page 176) 20 Sept - Oct 1917 - The camouflaged artillery, with the noses of the guns poking up from the earth, carried on day and night, never permitting a cessation of the booming, screeching noises, but only distinguishing the quieter hours by pandemonium fury at frequent intervals. Batteries strafed batteries, horse lines were thrown into confusion when the shells came their way, infantry camps were regularly molested, dumps were special objectives, roads were sprinkled with explosives that spread the traffic about in particles. Villages received their daily portion of “iron rations”, field hospitals were not immune from the “uplifting” influence of shells. For this reason the Australian C.C.S. (Casualty Clearing Station) at Dickebusch had to be moved further from the front. In one night the Second Division had 36 horses and mules put out of action. The mortality among the beasts everywhere was high.
Broodseinde Ridge (R&WD - Page 183) October 1917--- The bayonets of our attacking waves had an awe-inspiring effect upon the Germans, many of whom shammed to be wounded or dead. Several of those Huns rose up after our men had gone on and fired on our troops from the rear. Their deaths were real enough after they were caught in this act of treachery.
(R&WD - Page 191) The medical officers of several Battalions were of the opinion that the troops were not medically fit to go into the line and the Battalion, Brigade and divisional commanders made representations to the higher command that they doubted the advisability of putting men in such a condition into an attack as it was considered the men were too exhausted to undertake the task with a reasonable prospect of success under the conditions prevailing now that unfavourable weather had set in. The higher command, however, decided that the attack must be made. So the troops prepared to do their best.
Ypres Area – Daisy Wood (R&WD - Pages 193-194) - The stretcher-bearers who operated on the field during those trying days had a task which called for the greatest feats of endurance and courage. The tracks over the ridges and valleys were churned into muddy holes, in many instances large enough to engulf a whole squad, while at certain points the bearers had to wade through water up to their hips, carrying the stretchers on their shoulders and straining to preserve the wounded from precipitation into the mire.
Third Battle of Ypres (FRTH - Page 264) After 4 October 1917 - Who, among those who were fortunate enough to witness it, will ever forget the sight of Lieut. “Nobby” Clark leading out his platoon. All were plastered with mud, red-eyed from lack of sleep, and unshaven, and there were few among them who had not been blackened with soot of bomb and shell explosions. At the head of them all, dirtier than any they say, strode “Nobby” with his beaming smile, his teeth being the only white thing bout the whole grimy outfit.
March to Ypres (FRTH - Pages 268-269) - The conditions on the march back to Ypres that night were unforgettably vile. Shells had obliterated most of the tracks, and in the bewildering darkness many parties were lost upon what was indubitably the most dreadful area of desolation that it had ever been the misfortune of man to behold. Many men were drenched through and through, and their heavy equipment at times almost drowned when they fell into brimming shell-holes, some of which were almost ten feet deep.---
Tales of fortitude to a degree almost incredible were told of this night march through the ghastly morass of Zonnebeke valley, and it is certain that never before were the spirits of the men drained to so low an ebb. The Australian Comforts Fund hot drinks in the back areas were little heavens this night.
As the men arrived in small, weary groups at the rendezvous at the canal dugouts at Ypres, many were quite unable to eat the hot food the cooks had ready. Falling prone upon the earth, careless of everything since they had got through to their goal, they slept like dead men until they were aroused for a late breakfast.
Defence of Hazebrouck (FRTH - Page 280) 1918 - The civilian population was fleeing in droves. Old women wheeling their all in perambulators, old men and children struggling to safety as best they could. I remember those who passed close, rushing up and asking whether the Australian were coming back. When I told them ‘Yes’ they stopped - many of them as if by magic. One old Frenchman said to me - “Thank God, we’re all right now.” It was a confidence which inspired us Australians, and it was a wonderful thing to witness.
Merris (FRTH - Pages 285-286) 1918 - We had scarcely got into position and were gazing towards the village of Merris, over the undulating country, when we saw miles of infantry, slowly, but surely, goose-stepping towards us. Officers on grey horses were riding up and down the column. It was a wonderful sight. I sent one of my men back to headquarters with a message, and in a few minutes the most awful slaughter was going on. However, in spite of terrible losses, Fritz kept coming on. So I decided to present him with 1150 rounds of S.A.A.
It was like firing into a haystack – one could not miss. The Germans were about six deep in places.
Villers Brettoneaux (COTGA - Page 253) March - May 1918 - Generally, the men on specialty work in our Infantry book their jobs very seriously; particularly did this apply to Lewis-gunners. In the latter months of the war a company had four Lewis-gun - one to each platoon-and a certain amount of rivalry existed between the different crews. These fellows endeavoured to be past-masters in the handling of their gun, and each section strove to do better than the next one. All were adepts. The Lewis-gun in the hands of an Australian team was a most effective and deadly weapon.
Mt. St. Quentin (From diary of Lieut. P. E. Smythe, M.C.) September 1918 --- there were a lot of dead and wounded lying in a heap together in the trench beyond the left of "A" coy. He thought they were 18th Bn. men, and reckoned that the lives of some of the wounded might be saved if they were taken away to a Dressing Station. I asked him were there no stretcher-bearers attending to them. "No", he said, "not a soul near them, not one of their own men even. They have just been left as they fell." "Good heavens!" I said, "We can't leave wounded men there to die." I hurried along the trench to the left, followed by Jim.
Fortunately I knew what to expect, and was therefore prepared for the scene we came upon. It was the kind of thing that leaves its impress stamped on the mind for ever. A heavy, probably a 9.2 inch, had evidently landed fair in the trench. The carnage was awful. Dead, wounded, and dying, all lay huddled and twisted together in grotesque little heaps, a mass of mangled flesh. At first all was silent. But when those who still lived saw that we were there, they began to moan piteously for help. Without any hesitation we set to work to do what we could for them. Kneeling down by the first living man, I saw that he was in a pretty bad state. Besides other wounds, his right arm was hanging to his shoulder by a small strip of skin and flesh. He begged me to cut the useless limb right off, and I tried to do so with a blunt jack-knife, but could not manage it. I cut his tunic away from the damaged arm, and cut the equipment off his body to give him a little ease. A couple of stretcher-bearers came along, and I got them to take him out. The next living man had both knees completely shattered. He seemed very weak from loss of blood, and kept asking, "How are my legs? I can't feel them." We assured him that he would soon be all right and that the stretcher-bearers would be along presently to take him away. We could do nothing for him except to cut his equipment away and thus give him a little ease before he should drift off into "the sleep that knows no waking." Another poor fellow lay across the trench, with one arm badly wounded and a leg broken in two places. A man beside him was literally covered with wounds, but was quite cheerful in spite of it. Near these two, another poor wretch lay back against the side of the trench. The raw torn flesh showed where both legs had been blown off at the knees. His right arm was shattered from wrist to shoulder, a mass of bloody pulp. His mouth was badly broken and his head and body were covered with blood. Yet he was quite conscious, and kept asking plaintively, "When are they going to take me away?" I cut his equipment away and assured him that he would be got away as soon as stretcher-bearers were available to take him. There were also other wounded there, including one man with several wounds in his legs and a gash in the temple, from which the blood had poured and covered all his face. We did not stop to look at the dead, many of whom lay in the trench all mixed up together.
Mt. St. Quentin (GC - Page 254) September 191 - But the shelling never ceased along our position and on the gains of the 53rd Battalion were consolidating a ceaseless rain of shells and machine-gun fire was falling. A pall of smoke and dust hung over the scene. Passing along the sunken road were stretcher-parties carrying the badly wounded. In most cases they had lain for hours before they could be moved to the Aid Post. They were all in a pitiful condition, drenched with rain, shivering, and with faces pale from loss of blood. But when spoken to each man would summon a wan smile and never a word of complaint was heard from them. There were some ghastly wounds among them. Shells had smashed bones and cut flesh in a manner sickening to behold. One chap had stopped a burst of fire from a machine-gun, which had torn part of his stomach away. How he lived long enough to be carried back to the sunken road was little short of miraculous; still, he lay among us for some time and smoked cigarettes unceasingly, those being fed to him by our fellows.
Mt. St. Quentin (GC - Page 256) September 1918 - Darkness was coming on when, along with my little band, I reached the trench where our company was. Only then did company Sergeant-Major Golding, stripping his tunic off, ask me to put some iodine on a wound on the upper part of his right arm, where a shell splinter had struck him. I told him to go to the Aid Post. He demurred, and only went when he was ordered to do so. Some hours later I heard his voice in the trench, and asked why he had not gone to the Aid Post. He replied:- “I did go back to the Aid Post, but when I saw the crowd of wounded lying around awaiting attention, I could not go in and show my scratch to the doctor.” This cool, game young Englishman actually went over the top in the attack next morning with his right arm hanging stiffly at his side. He was a 1914 man ---
Mt. St. Quentin (GC - Page 257) September 1918 --- had not received its orders. Afterwards it was learned that a senior officer had been sent forward from battalion headquarters to take charge of the attack, and was now missing. Two days later he was discovered. He had trodden on a hidden machine-gun shaft, and the top collapsing under his weight, he had fallen into a hole twenty feet deep. Here he lay and would not doubt have died but for a curious soldier some days later happened to peer down, and discovered the hapless prisoner.
Mt. St Quentin (GC - Page 259) September 1918 - Our battalion was losing men fast, even before we could reach the jumping-off line. The Germans were using in their barrage incendiary shells. I saw one of these burst and knock down three men. Two arose, beating the flames from their tunics and from the hessian camouflage on their steel helmets. The third lay in the stillness of death, the hessian burning fiercely on his helmet some feet away. It seemed a marvel that any of us could pass through that barrage and escape unscathed. The din of the bursting shells was terrific; the earth spurted in geysers from the explosions; the ground trembled and shook. Men collapsed in the waves; their comrades hurried past them, with their faces set and the bright steel of their bayonets showing through the murk of the morning of death. None stopped to help those stricken down; that was left to the bearers. Any man who went down in this shell-blasted area stood a good chance of being blown to pieces as he lay, so combed was the earth by the density of the German barrage.
Daours (GC - Page 263) 1918 - after Mt. St Quentin - the author- Williams had been injured near St. Denis and wrote about the nurses) - They saw soldiers in their most pitiful state – wounded, blood-stained, dirty, reeking of blood and filth. Worst of all was the staring look in their eyes. There was something subhuman, terrifying, in their petrified faces, drawn and ashen. Gone was all the nonchalance which made men face danger with gaiety and resolution; now they were pitiful in their quietness and exhaustion.
The last big battle for the Australians was at Montbrehain in October 1918.
(FRTH - Pages 322-323) Some battalions of the A.I.F. had fallen so low in effectives that they had been disbanded, their remnants being absorbed by the other battalions in their respective brigades, so as to bring those units, also reduced in numbers nearer to establishment. To anyone who did not fight in one of the sixty glorious battalions of the A.I.F., the indescribable sadness attaching to the disbandment of one of them, the heartbreaking wrench of giving up the colour-patches, cannot be even remotely understood. Every Digger loved his battalion and for it to die out was a personal and inexpressible sorrow. However, be it to the everlasting credit of these battalions that were unfortunately disbanded, their members carried on just as loyally and gallantly with their new units.
These last two paragraphs were taken from Liddell Hart’s “History of the First World War”
(Passchendaele - Pages 335-336) - 1917- He (Haig) was lured on by a lofty optimism that extended even to the cost. After the disappointing attack on July 31st, he advised the Government that the enemy casualties exceeded the British ‘not improbably by a hundred per cent’ and in his final dispatch he still declared that it was ‘certain that the enemy’s loss considerably exceeded ours’. That optimism was nourished by ignorance of the situation, due in part to the failure – a moral failure – of his subordinates to enlighten him.
Burial of the Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey 1920
LEST WE FORGET - 1914-1918
Perhaps the most damning comment on the plan which plunged the British Army in the bath of mud and blood is contained in an incidental revelation of the remorse of one who was largely responsible for it. A highly placed officer from General Headquarters was in his first visit to the battle front – at the end of the four months’ battle. Growing increasingly uneasy as the car approached the swamplike edges of the battle area, he eventually burst into tears, crying. ‘Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?’ To which his companion replied that the ground was far worse ahead. If the exclamation was a credit to his heart it revealed on what a foundation of delusion and inexcusable ignorance his indomitable ‘offensiveness’ had been based.