Australian slouch hat from Fromelles

Place Europe: France, Nord Pas de Calais, Nord, Lille, Fromelles
Accession Number RELAWM00541
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Headdress
Physical description Fur felt
Maker Unknown
Place made Australia
Date made c 1914-1916
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Australian khaki fur felt slouch hat with four small regular ventilation holes in the crown. There are several further holes in the crown as well as two holes in the brim which appear to have been caused by shrapnel or bullets. The hat is missing its Rising Sun badge and the hook attachment on the crown. It has been pushed out of shape and is covered with mud and water stains.

History / Summary

This slouch hat, belonging to an unknown Australian soldier, was found on the Fromelles battlefield in northern France at the end of the First World War.

Fromelles was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front. Directed against a strong German position known as the Sugar Loaf salient, the attack was intended primarily as a feint to draw the Germans from the main Somme offensive, then being pursued further to the south. A seven-hour preparatory bombardment deprived the attack of any hope of surprise, and ultimately proved ineffective in subduing the well-entrenched defenders.

When the troops of the 5th Australian and 61st British Divisions attacked at 6pm on 19 July 1916, they suffered heavy losses at the hands of German machine-gunners. Small sections of the German trenches were captured by the 8th and 14th Australian Brigades, but, without flanking support and subjected to fierce counter-attacks, they were forced to withdraw. By 8am on 20 July the battle was over. The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 casualties, rendering it incapable of offensive action for many months; the 61st British Division suffered 1,547. German casualties were little more than 1,000. The attack was a complete and costly failure as the Germans realised within a few hours it was merely a feint, and made no impact whatsoever upon the progress of the Somme offensive.