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The question

"The experience of Australian soldiers on the Western Front in 1916 has been largely overlooked in accounts of the First World War." To what extent would you argue that battles such as Fromelles and Pozières should feature more prominently in accounts of the First World War? 

Instructions

The Simpson Prize requires students to respond to the question using both the Simpson Prize Australian War Memorial Source Selection (the eight sources below) and their own research. It is expected that students will make effective use of a minimum of three of the sources. It is also expected that up to half of their response will make use of information drawn from their own knowledge and research.

Information about word or time limits, the closing date, entry forms and judging can be found at the Simpson Prize official website.

Note: students who submit winning entries for this year's Simpson Prize question will travel in 2017.

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Source 1: Statistics

a) Australian deaths on Gallipoli

Month Killed in action Died of wounds Died of disease Total deaths
April 25-30 643 203 14 860
May 1,805 469 24 2,298
June 265 199 9 473
July 143 113 46 302
August 2,054 532 80 2,666
September 145 163 91 399
October 82 84 115 281
November 295 184 120 599
December 50 46 124 220
January 1916 0 19 42 61
Totals 5,482 2,012 665 8,159*

*A revised estimate, dated January 26, 1919, gives the total number of Australians killed as 8,709. This larger figure is the accepted official estimate of the total number killed. In all 61,522 Australians lost their lives in the First World War. As well, an estimated total of 664 Australian officers and 17,260 men were wounded. According to the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, 70 Australians were captured on Gallipoli. (Source: Australian War Memorial)

 

b) A.I.F. Battle and non-battle casualties sustained on the Western Front

  Killed in Action Died of Wounds Died of Gas Poisoning Wounded Shell shock (wounded) Gassed Prisoners of War Total Battle casualties Died of Disease Died of Other Causes Sick Accidentally Injured Self-Inflicted Wounds Total Non-Battle Casualties Grand Totals
1916                            
March 5 1 - 16 - - - 22 - - 38 2 - 40 62
April 59 34 - 187 2 - - 282 14 8 1,690 4 4 1,720 2,002
May 161 73 1 609 7 1 22 874 15 4 1,629 14 5 1,667 2,541
June 193 70 1 913 41 8 2 1,228 22 12 2,080 20 14 2,148 3,376
July 4,094 624 7 10,843 141 83 569 16,361 26 5 3,532 21 19 3,603 19,964
August 2,895 851 3 9,193 245 52 243 13,482 12 10 3,373 56 20 3,471 16,953
September 688 241 - 1,347 52 5 86 2,419 11 7 3,647 51 16 3,732 6,151
October 216 137 1 854 39 14 10 1,271 15 7 4,768 41 16 4,847 6,118
November 1,293 355 4 2,952 75 60 55 4,794 22 6 12,073 39 21 12,161 16,955
December 344 189 1 977 11 7 5 1,534 94 9 12,113 41 11 12,268 13,802
1917                              
January 335 163 - 1,164 24 4 16 1,706 51 10 10,261 71 14 10,407 12,113
February 619 295 6 2,285 19 44 60 3,328 64 13 9,546 80 13 9,716 13,044
March 652 350 - 2,370 44 28 101 3,545 37 13 8,058 76 13 8,197 11,742
April 1,890 459 3 4,218 34 69 1,829 8,502 32 7 7,420 107 17 7,583 16,085
May 1,908 531 3 6,744 130 159 61 9,542 12 5 6,280 113 17 6,427 15,969
June 1,449 424 2 5,951 77 526 22 8,451 9 26 6,310 70 18 6,433 14,884
July 535 198 1 2,183 20 292 50 3,279 8 6 7,092 80 20 7,206 10,485
August 335 181 3 1,325 12 97 10 1,963 13 8 6,031 38 6 6,096 8,059

*The table does not include casualties suffered by the two Australian Mechanical Transport companies before the arrival of the main force in March-April, 1916. These units, with a total strength of some 10 officers and 550 other ranks, landed in France on 8 July, 1915. (See Australian Official History, Vol III, pp. 115-116).

A. G Butler,Official History of the Australian Medical Services in the Great War, Melbourne, 3 Vols, 1930-43, vol II, p.864: https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/pdf/RCDIG1070025--1-.pdf. Copyright Australian War Memorial.


Source 2: Painting

Charles Wheeler, Battle of Fromelles, 1924.
Oil on canvas, 133 x 224.5 cm.

On the 19th July, 1916, in order to pin down the German forces in the neighbourhood of Lille [France] ... the 5th Australian and the 61st British - were thrown against the Sugar-loaf Salient and adjoining sectors in front of the Aubers-Fromelles ridge ... During the afternoon of the 19th the German artillery, in reply to the British preparatory bombardment, shelled heavily the communication trenches and reserve and support lines of both divisions, causing serious loss ... The 5th Division’s casualties in this action were between five and six thousand. In the official painting Mr. Wheeler shows the Sugar-loaf Salient on the extreme right, with the first waves of the 5th Division advancing across No-Man’s Land.


Source 3: Book excerpt

Losses in the Australian Fifth Division amounted to no fewer than 178 officers and 5,355 men—all this in less than 24 hours … Remarkably, in one night, the AIF’s participation at Fromelles had resulted in a staggering toll—equivalent to the entire Australian casualties of the Boer War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War put together

There was no more distressing sight for Australians in the whole war than the scene in the AIF front line ... Devastated trenches were packed with dead and dying men. Shocked observers groping for words to describe the carnage resorted to the analogy of a butcher’s shop. Corporal Hugh Knyvett of the 59th was one:

The sight of our trenches that next morning is burned into my brain. Here and there a man could stand upright, but in most places if you did not wish to be exposed to a sniper’s bullet you had to progress on hands and knees. If you had gathered the stock of a thousand butcher-shops, cut it into small pieces and strewn it about, it would give you a faint conception of the shambles those trenches were.

According to [WH] Downing, ‘the sandbags were splashed with red, and red were the firesteps, the duckboards, the bays’. It was the ‘[m]ost awful scene of slaughter imaginable’, wrote [Dave] Doyle.

Ross McMullin, Pompey Elliott, Scribe, Melbourne, 2002, p. 222-23.


Source 4: Diary extracts

Sister Alice Ross King enlisted with the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) in 1914. Between 1915 and 1919 she kept a diary detailing her experiences in the First World War. The accounts here were written on 18, 19 and 20 July and 4 August 1916 while Sister Alice Ross King was serving in France.

18 July 1916 TUESDAY

A little lighter today. 20 Australians adm. Aust. are at Albert. The last lot of boys have been one day on the other side of Nimmitz Wood. One man has been lying four days on top of a heap of German dead. Another is quite blind.

19 July 1916 WEDNESAY

Harry Killed in Action
Fleurbaix
19 July

20 July 1916 THURSDAY

[no text]

4 August 1916 FRIDAY

I expect I must pick up life again and go on. I do not know how to face the lifeless future though. I feel Harry’s presence constantly with me and my love is growing stronger and deeper ever since his death. I cannot really believe the news yet and each day I long for a letter telling me he is only wounded. How am I to bear life?

View original diary


Source 5: Photographs

a) French photographer, Pozières before Bombardment, c. 1913

Locals and horse drawn carriages on the Route Nationale, Pozières, before the First World War. Concentrated German artillery bombardments in July and August 1916 completely razed the village, and, when the battle had passed, a notice board marked ‘Pozières’ was the only indication that a village had ever been there.

 

b) Unknown Official Australian Photographer: Pozières after bombardment, April 1917

The village of Pozières as it was some months after the battle. The view is from the southern side of the main road looking southwards, east of the Copse. The lonely grave is that of Captain Ivor Stephen Margetts of Wynyard, Tasmania, who served in the 12th Battalion and was killed in action on 24 July 1916. The German Spring Offensive in 1918 re-captured this area and Margetts’ grave was obliterated and was lost. His name is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.


Source 6: Painting

Frank Crozier, Bombardment of Pozières, July 1916, 1918.
Oil on canvas, 133 x 224.5 cm.

The village of Pozières held up the left flank of the Anglo-French offensive in the first battle of the Somme in July 1916. After being attacked several times without success it became a major objective. The subsequent fighting, in which the 1st and 2nd Divisions were involved, was notable for massive artillery bombardments from both sides, the ferocity of which had never before been experienced by Australians. On no part of the front in France were German bombardments more severe than at Pozières. The village quickly disappeared into rubble; the surrounding ground was churned and tortured until it resembled a choppy sea; men, weapons, equipment and defence positions were literally buried; approach routes were lined with dead.


Source 7: Quotation

Sergeant E.J. Rule of the 14th Battalion has left a description of [the men who emerged from fighting at Pozières]:

Although we knew it was stiff fighting, we had our eyes opened when we saw these men march by. Those who saw them will never forget it as long as they live. They looked like men who had been in hell. Almost without exception each man looked drawn and haggard, and so dazed that they appeared to be walking in a dream, and their eyes looked glassy and starey. Quite a few were silly, and these were the only ones in the crowd. What they must have looked like before they had a night’s sleep and clean-up must have been twice as bad as what we saw. We could see that they had lost a lot of men—some companies seemed to have been nearly wiped out—and then again others seemed as if they had not fared quite so bad. In all my experience I have never seen men quite so shaken up as these.

C.E.W. Bean, 'The AIF in France', Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, vol III, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1935, p 599


Source 8: Quotation

At Bullecourt, Messines, Ypres and elsewhere Australian infantry afterward suffered intense bombardment, but never anything comparable in duration or effect with [Pozières]. On that crowded mile of summit the three Australian divisions engaged lost 23,000 officers and men in less than seven weeks. The [Pozières] Windmill site, bought later by the Australian War Memorial Board--with the old mound still there--marks a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.

C.E.W. Bean, Anzac to Amiens, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1983, p 264

 

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For all copyright enquiries relating to the above sources write to:

Head, Research Centre
Australian War Memorial
GPO Box 345
Canberra ACT 2601
info@awm.gov.au