Centenary of the Great War

THE COLD WAR: An Australian soldier reflects on the reality of fighting through a winter on the Western Front. Picture: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony.

THE COLD WAR: An Australian soldier reflects on the reality of fighting through a winter on the Western Front. Picture: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony.

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for 7-13 January 1918.

WINTER STOPS FIGHTING

The winter has set its hands on all fronts, and heavy rain has stopped work in Mesopotamia.

The main feature of Sir Douglas Haig's despatch is that it proved that the British bore the brunt of the fighting in 1917. We have no complaint to make in this respect. It gave the French time to recover from the previous two years' fighting without calling up the younger population, which Germany had been compelled to do. The story of the hard, successful fighting throughout the year showed clearly that the war did not depend on any one country. 

NEW YEAR PROSPECTS

Mr. C. E. W. Bean, the official Australian correspondent, telegraphing on January 1, says:- The sound of steady gunfire suddenly broke out in the night. One wondered for the moment if it was a raid, and then looked at one's watch. The hands were exactly at twelve o'clock. Possibly it was a German greeting for the New Year; possibly the sound of the distant battle of Passchendaele, which still constantly flares up. Anyway, amid steady drumming of great guns across the snowfield in the night the New Year has come in.

One desires to tell the Australian people plainly, without exaggerating one way or the other, exactly what faces today this force which Australia sent abroad in order to inforce her resolutions regarding the war thrust on the world by the Kaiser. On October 4th, after the great battle of Broodseinde, with all the Allies holding and the British breaking down the German resistance by a series of great crushing blows, the end never seemed more certain. The Germans could not stand an unlimited series of such hammer blows. We know by captured papers how disturbed the Germans were after the Polygon fighting. Within a few weeks of the decision of the Russians to make peace with the German military chiefs, the defeat of the Italians completely changed the complexion of the war. The difference in the morale even of the German troops opposite this part of the front was noticeable. The Kaiser visited them, and made a speech, which Mr. Lloyd George described as drunk with boastfulness. Marshal von Hindenburg and General von Ludendorff swelled with hints of the great things they now would accomplish. At Christmas came the news of the German terms.

Today, entering the new year, everyone here is conscious that within the past fortnight a great decision has been arrived at by France and Britain, and probably Italy. It might possibly be said that the ideals for which we entered the war were too difficult to attain, and that the task was too great. "We will give up, since the German military chiefs are now so strong. We agreed to take their compromise without guarantee." The other alternative is that France and Britain, and if possible Italy, will refuse to compromise with the Kaiser, and hold on here with grim death, through the coming year, while all the time America builds up the enormous power, which as far as absolute certainty can attain in this world, will bring German militarism to our terms. The force it will give to the guarantees of treaties will be observed. Everyone here realises that the French and British have definitely chosen the latter, This year the Germans are certain to attempt to deliver a decisive blow on the west. France and Britain have decided to hold on at all costs in the west, while America is raising a mighty force, which will settle the war. It will be a tremendously heavy task, but it has been done before and will be done again. The Australian force here will, if needs be, fight with its back to the wall for the same old ideals for which the first division left Australia. It would be idle to pretend that its prospects in every respect are bright, I do not know the plans of the authorities, but the whole force realises that some action is almost certainly necessary through the falling off of recruits. It is possible that Australia will yet discover some means of solving this.

RED CROSS WORK

The report of the Australian Red Cross Society for December shows that 80,000 Christmas boxes were distributed among the hospitals; while a gift of 2s 6d per head secured extra fare and entertainments.

The society is awaiting 20,000 boxes of presents from Australia for new command depots. The articles have been delayed through the strike.

The operations of the society have been somewhat hampered through the shortage of supplies and the upward trend of prices. The authorities are anxiously anticipating the arrival of Australian supplies, and so curtail local purchases, especially tinned fruits, the stocks of which are now exhausted.

During December 98 men, including ten officers, reached Switzerland from Germany. Not one was seriously injured, but many were ill, owing to the hard conditions in Germany. Arrangements have been completed by which Australians who are prisoners of war in Germany are able to receive personal parcels quarterly from their relatives through the agency of the Red Cross Society.

The Australians in captivity in Germany number 2819, and in Turkey 121, to whom 17,924 parcels of food and 1399 of clothing were despatched in December. Letters touchingly testify to the gratitude of the recipients.

SOLDIERS' LETTERS  

Private T. W. Bedford, of Waratah, writing to his father from a military camp in England on October 20th, 1917, says:— "Since last writing to you I have made another shift. We left camp at 9 a.m. yesterday, and route marched 17 miles to where we are now, and it was a long, tiresome march, and we were all dog-tired when we arrived, as we had to carry full packs. This is a draft camp here, and I think it is only a matter of a few days when we will be sent over to France. Well, I am not sorry, as it has been getting very monotonous here. I don't know how my feet will stand it this time; and I am not worrying. I am just going over if I have to, and bog in. I know in my own mind that my feet won't stand more than a fortnight over there in the mud, but, oh, well; what's the use of worrying. Even if a man happens to lose a foot there won't be any corns to worry about, nor blisters. We are still in the county of Wiltshire. The chief industry outside of the military is farming and sheep breeding. I saw a fine flock of sheep on the hillside this afternoon, but not so big as the flocks of sheep of Australia. I dare say I saw 150 this afternoon, and that is looked on as a big flock in England. In the farming line here you can easily see that there is a great scarcity of labour, as most of the reaping is done by machinery. Some of the farms here are well kept, and are very extensive and they are all pretty rich in crops. It has been an eye-opener to me. I never thought there was such a vast lot of open country. It is also surprising what a lot of ground is allowed to go uncultivated. You will also be surprised to know that there is some dense bush in parts, too. They call isolated patches of wood "copses," and when in patches like this it looks very picturesque. I notice there are no female farm labourers round these parts like in other places, Tisbury, etc.

Sunday, October 21st. — There was a draft for France picked out this morning to rejoin two battalions. There is no doubt our battalion is lucky, and does not get the cutting up some of the others get. This is because we have a good leader Colonel __, who is also, I may state, a brave man. You can tell the Waratah people I said so. I saw Jimmy one terrible night in France with the seat of his pants torn out by barb wire, waving a revolver about, and telling the men to keep their heads low; he had no thought of himself. Jimmy has turned out a trump all right. I managed to get into Warminster last night, and it is a fine town, and is much bigger than Salisbury, and there are some very large buildings in the city part. It is just about three-quarters of an hour's walk from our camp. The streets are nice and wide, and are much better than the streets of London. Just before I got into the town proper I came on to a real English fair, composed of a merry-go-round, all sorts of side-shows, Aunt Sally, and Cheap Jacks of all sorts, and it is very funny to listen to those chaps getting rid of rotten jewellery, etc. I got sick of the show after a while, and went on into Warminster, which, being Saturday night, was thronged with people shopping. I passed one grocer shop, which was full of women buying goods, and it reminded me very much of Ted Bull's shop in Waratah on Friday nights. I am always struck here with the number of women going into hotels. Warminster is no exception to other English towns, and in one pub, I saw about 20 women among the men "drinking up." It only is the custom here.

IN FLANDERS      

Corporal E. Hodges, in writing to his father, Mr. John Hodges, of Eddy-street, Hamilton, under date 9/11/'17, says: "We are about to go out after nine weeks' fairly solid going. You have no doubt read of the doings of the Australian troops in Flanders. I think they have kept their name up fairly well. I never missed a day in the whole nine weeks. I was most fortunate on many occasions, and had many narrow escapes. Though the fighting was heavy, and the shell-fire intense, it was not nearly as bad as Pozieres. That was undoubtedly the hardest stunt the Australians were ever in, or ever will be in. The peninsula fighting was child's play compared with it. Anyway, that is the opinion of men who were in both. I have been a little more fortunate lately in the way of promotion, etc., for they have given me the Military Medal for something or other, and I was recommended for immediate commission, which I expect to get in the course of a couple of weeks. I think it will be in the Pioneers. I received also two promotions in the company so you will think I have had a windfall. I do not know where we are going to when we move out, but I suppose it will be back to some French village, where there is one man and a dog, Anyway, that will be a change.”

ENLISTMENTS

Ernest Blanch, Waratah; Reginald James Eather, South Singleton; James Hill, Wallsend;

Joseph Leslie Hodgetts, Cessnock; John George Lynch, Denman; William Rebecca, Scone.

DEATHS

Pte Samuel Pittman, Bow.

David Dial OAM is a Hunter-based military historian. Follow his research at facebook.com/HunterValleyMilitaryHistory