Drawing on the letters, diaries and memoirs of the men, Diggers in France gives life to the voices of the young Australians who served their country on the Western Front.Buy this Book
Diggers in France describes the life and times of the Australian Soldiers on the Western Front from 1916 until 1918.
It gives a graphic account of the diggers in battle in the front line. It also draws on superb anecdotal accounts from the diggers themselves to describe their lives away from the front when wounded, on leave, or resting out of the line.
Diggers in France offers a new perspective on the lives of a generation of Australian men and women who offered their lives in service of their country.
Australia maintained an army of around 150,000 men and women in France and Belgium during the First World War. The diggers preferred France and Belgium to Gallipoli. ‘There were no girls to talk to on Gallipoli, and no beer, or white or red wine,’ wrote Sergeant Denning. But the sense of relief was short-lived. In a few weeks on the western front the diggers suffered more casualties than in the entire Gallipoli campaign.
In 1916 and 1917 the diggers fought in many of the toughest battles – Fromelles, Pozières, Mouquet Farm, Bullecourt, Messines and Third Ypres. They suffered terribly under the impetuous command of the British Generals Haig, Haking and Gough, who believed that casualties were ‘the price of victory’, and did not hesitate to pay. But in 1917 the diggers came under the command of two British generals of quite a different stripe, Generals Plumer and Harington. Their use of the bite-and-hold tactic, thorough planning, and inclusive ‘leadership by trust’ style suited the Australians.
By 1918, when the five Australian divisions came together in a single Australian Corps under the command of General Monash, the diggers had honed their fighting skills and methods. They played a key role in the battles that led to victory – at Villers-Bretonneux, at Hamel, on 8th August 1918, and at Mont St Quentin and Péronne.
During the three years the diggers were on the Western Front, they fought in 12 major battles.
If a major battle lasted on average 3 days (few did), and if individual diggers fought in 10 major battles (few did), they spent 30 days in battle.
That left 35 months of their service spent on other activities – training, building trenches and fortifications, carrying ammunition, tending horses and donkeys, repairing and maintaining carriages, vehicles and guns, and working on the many activities needed to sustain an army in the field.
The French and Belgian civilians kept bars, called estaminets, near the front where the diggers ate, drank and partied.
It was possible to be in the trenches one day and in London the next. Paris was closer still. Both cities provided an abundance of ‘congenial company’. Whilst many diggers found it difficult ‘to adjust from the rough manners of the trenches to the arcane conventions of British society, or to overcome the shyness that, surprising to some, was very much part of the Australian character’, those who did enjoyed their leave or convalescence. Lieutenant Lawrence fell for the women of Paris: ‘superbly gowned and beautiful women. Surely they were only made to tempt man, and they well knew how to do it’.
Drawing on the letters, diaries and memoirs of the men, Diggers in France gives life to the voices of the young Australians who served their country on the Western Front.
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