Duckboard from Fromelles

On 27 November 1918, Sergeant George Arscott of the Australian War Records Section arrived at the old Fromelles battlefield. He spent three days in the area, collecting objects from the battle to become part of the Australian War Memorial’s National Collection. Arscott recovered this section of duckboard from trenches that had been manned by Australians. Duckboards were used to line the floor of a trench and keep the men’s feet out of the mud. This example is partially covered in wire mesh to assist the men with grip.

The battle of Fromelles occurred on the night of 19 July 1916. The attack was a large-scale feint, designed to tie down German reserves and stop them from reinforcing against the main offensive on the Somme further south. After a seven-hour preparatory bombardment, the 5th Australian and 61st British Divisions attacked strong German positions, consisting of concrete fortifications situated on higher ground, crossing exposed open ground to reach them. The results were disastrous: the 5th Division suffered 5,533 casualties in the attack; the 61st Division suffered 1,547. No ground was taken in this attack.

Fromelles was a terrible introduction to large-scale attacks in France for the Australian Imperial Force. Even at the end of the war, the carnage from the battle was evident. Charles Bean visited on 11 November 1918 and said, “we found the old no man’s land simply full of our dead”.