The Futility of Fromelles

Going through some old family records and was reminded that my dad's stepfather was severely wounded at The Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916. A day described by Charles Bean as "the worst day in Australia's history". Almost 90 per cent of Fred's battalion (the 32nd) was wiped out in just 24 hours.

As a macabre twist to the tale, Fred was one of the wounded able to be recovered from the slaughter on the battlefield and sent back to England and a hospital in Colchester. He may well have laid there in the mud and blood for hours amid the cries and moans of his dying comrades before an informal truce was arranged to recover the living. After 'recovery' he was deemed fit to return to service and sent back to the front along with the few of his surviving mates. He was in fact in no fit state to fight again and had to suffer the ignominy of a court-martial. He spent the remainder of the war both humiliated and traumatised, serving in the animal veterinary hospital before finally being discharged at the war's end as medically unfit.

Fred at home in Adelaide in the 1930s

My funny old grandmother (whose baby brother was killed at El Alamein in 1942) used to relate one of Fred's enduring nightmares.

Fred's unit rushed into a German trench and in the brutal hand-to-hand fighting, he bayoneted a young German soldier. Unable to advance or retreat from the position, they were pinned down by merciless machine gun fire from the German's well-prepared defences.

As night wore on the haunting cries of the wounded and dying echoed across the quagmire. Right there in the trench this young, dying soldier cried for his mother until he finally succumbed in the early morning.

Fred lived until 1946, working when he could as an engineer in rural South Australia where he met my recently widowed grandmother in Pinnaroo.

Lest We Forget.

Fred at rest in Adelaide's West Terrace Cemetary (Billion Graves)
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