By Ross McMullin.
The worst 24 hours in Australian history occurred 90 years ago at Fromelles. Not the worst in Australian military history, the worst 24 hours in Australia's entire history. The Australians suffered 5,533 casualties in one night. The Australian toll at Fromelles was equivalent to the total Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and Vietnam War put together. It was a staggering disaster.
And this catastrophic attack at Fromelles - advocated and orchestrated by a British corps commander - had no redeeming tactical justification whatsoever. It was, in the words of a senior participant, Brigadier General H.E. "Pompey" Elliott, a "tactical abortion". One-third of the Australian casualties at Fromelles were in Elliott's 15th Brigade.
In July 1916 Elliott and his men had just arrived at the Western Front. Like most formations new to the main arena in the biggest war there had ever been, they were given a relatively undemanding initiation in a quiet part of the line. Only twice since the Western Front had stabilised had there been fierce fighting in this benign sector near Fromelles. But Elliott and his senior officers had scarcely begun to familiarise themselves with their new surroundings when they received startling news: Elliott's 15th Brigade would be participating in the 5th Division's imminent full-scale attack against the Germans.