Simpson Prize 2017
"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?
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.
Source 1: Statistics
a) Australian deaths on Gallipoli
|Month||Killed in action||Died of wounds||Died of disease||Total deaths|
*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|
*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
20 July 1916 THURSDAY
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?
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.
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.
For all copyright enquiries relating to the above sources write to:
Head, Research Centre
Australian War Memorial
GPO Box 345
Canberra ACT 2601