The lost diggers of Vignacourt
These six objects embody six stories of Australian soldiers from the exhibition Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt. Explore them below and investigate further with the questions under each story.
Father James Gilbert MC
In 1917 Father James Gilbert, an army chaplain with the 60th Battalion, was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery and devotion to helping wounded soldiers under very dangerous conditions. For 48 hours Gilbert put his own life at risk, carrying the wounded and tending to the dead. While he was one leave in Vignacourt, Father Gilbert was informed that he had been awarded the medal. He finally returned to Australia in 1919.
What is a chaplain?
What would a chaplain’s job be during wartime?
Was it Father Gilbert’s job to help wounded soldiers? Who usually does this job?
Helpful link: /sites/default/files/forever_yours.pdf
George Hammond (known as Meysey), was awarded the Military Cross and Bar (which means he was awarded the medal twice) as well as the Military Medal. While serving in Belgium, Hammond’s arm was badly wounded. He was unable to use the damaged arm and needed to support it in a sling all the time. Medical staff advised him to return home, but he refused, insisting on staying with his men. Sadly, Hammond later died in France as a result of wounds received at Polygon Wood, and was buried at Vignacourt. Hammond’s men were upset, as he was very well respected and liked.
The families of the 60,000 Australians who died in the First World War, including Hammond’s family, received the next-of-kin plaque.
Find other medals that have been awarded to military personnel, such as the George Cross or Distinguished Flying Cross, and research an Australian who has been awarded these medals. Where did they serve? What did they do to earn their medal?
Why did the family receive a next-of-kin plaque?
Who sent it?
Helpful links: /encyclopedia/medals/
This photo was taken in the town of Vignacourt on the morning of 11 November 1918, when everyone was told the war was finally over. Australians were there for a celebration that took place in the town square, with music from the 18th and 20th Battalion bands.
This tambourine was made by soldiers during wartime. What is the tambourine made from?
Why would someone have made it?
What effect does music have on a person’s well-being?
19th Battalion colour patch
Reginald Hunter died of wounds near Morlancourt on 5 June 1918 and is buried in the Vignacourt cemetery in France.
The 19th Battalion disbanded (was broken up) in Vignacourt in October 1918. There were not many men left in the battalion, so they were sent to other units. This was a difficult time for them, as a battalion was like a soldier’s home.
Do you wear a uniform? Perhaps for school or scouts? What do have on your uniform to identify yourselves as part of your school or scout group?
Examine the photograph above. Where did soldiers wear their colour patches?
The Victoria Cross is the highest award for acts of bravery in wartime. This award can be made to any serving member of the armed forces, no matter what their rank is.
Joseph Maxwell (shown seated on the right) was awarded not only the Victoria Cross, but also the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Cross and Bar.
On 3 October 1918, when he was 22, Maxwell took over from his wounded company commander and went on to capture an enemy machine-gun. Maxwell then attacked another post. He was briefly captured, but managed to pull out a concealed revolver and fire at two of the enemy, which allowed him to escape with his men. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for this action.
This photo was taken in Vignacourt, France, in November 1918.
Research three other Australians who have been awarded the VC. Why were they awarded the medal?
Helpful link: /visit/hall-of-valour/
The word “puttee” comes from the Hindustani word meaning “bandage”. Puttees were a uniform item made from a length of cloth wound firmly around the leg 7 times, from the ankle up to below the knee. Puttees were intended to support the leg when walking and also to protect against the cold and mud.
On the Western Front, many soldiers suffered from trench foot, a painful medical condition of the foot. Puttees were partly to blame, as they cut off circulation to the lower leg and foot. Standing in mud for days on end, and the lack of the right kinds of food, also contributed to trench foot.
On the battlefield, what else could the soldiers have used a puttee for?
What helped to prevent trench foot?
Why were women in Australia busily knitting socks for their loved ones serving in the trenches?
Examine the photo above; one of the soldiers has used his puttees to store some tools. What are they?