It’s now been a little while since Australia celebrated ANZAC day; to commemorate the day I pulled from my to-read list “Great ANZAC Stories” by Graham Seal.
I read war stories for several reasons. Firstly, I think it is important to remember the horror of war. As George Santayana said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Only through attempting to recognise the true depth of their sacrifice can we truly honour those who died for us. Secondly, and a long way down the scale of importance: such stories help to inform and flavour my writing. I have never been in combat so reading such stories is research.
One of the good stories in Great ANZAC Stories so far is that taken from a letter from a Private on the Somme (1916):
On July 28th at 7:30 p.m. a party of us were called to carry bombs, bags and water to the battalion who were charging that night. From the dump to the firing line – about a mile – was enfiladed by German artillery fire, and as the communication trench was shallow they could see us moving through, and peppered us properly. We had several of the party killed and a lot wounded. We had to make six trips in, and after the first trip it was left to me to take charge of our party. … We had three officers with us but they stayed behind to look after the dump … we had to make our way in and out over dead bodies and pass other crowds going in and out. We were hung up in the trenches at midnight for hours, while a big bombardment and a charge were on, and I could see waves of our men charging over the ridge. We were in again three times early next morning, and the sight was dreadful. The trenches were almost level, and the dead were lying everywhere. We found one of the lads from my section and buried him in a shell hole. His name is Charlie Carter from Pomborneit, and he was my section bomber. It seems wonderful how any of us came out alive. They call it the night of horrors, and a good name, too.
The next night we went into the trenches, and the shell-fire was worse than it had been the night before. As the lads had advanced 300 yards and dug in on the previous night, we had to go over the open right to the new line. The shells were bursting everywhere, and you would think it was impossible for anybody to live. However, with the exception of about ten casualties, we got into the trenches all right and were fairly comfortable for the night. At daybreak we moved further along the trenches to where they were not so deep. Fritz kept putting in his shells, and kept us busy dressing and sending away the wounded. We were very fortunate and had but few deaths. Our sergeant was wounded going into the trenches, and I had to act as platoon sergeant. I had some miraculous escapes from death.
When I left only 17 of our platoon remained out of 50. On the last night I was out in ‘no man’s land’ with a party preparing communication trenches to charge from, and as Fritz did not see us we had a good time. The last job I did was to bury an Australian officer, whom we found lying out in the front. After that I was about to have a sleep when a shell burst over me and cracked me in both legs.” (page 52, 53).