Honouring forgotten victories

November 10, 2008, Jonathan King:

... Australia's former World War I European allies have been commemorating Remembrance Day for decades, but our nation's preoccupation with Gallipoli has overshadowed realities of the Western Front to such an extent that it hardly appeared on the historic radar.

... One soldier wounded at Fromelles told me he was forced to say he was shot at Gallipoli as nobody knew of Fromelles, Australia's worst one-day killing field that claimed nearly 2000 lives.

The Western Front was fives times greater than Gallipoli because five times as many Australians served there - 250,000 not just 50,000; more than five times more died there - 46,000 not 8709; they fought more than five times as many battles - 40 battles not eight; they won more than five times more Victoria Crosses - 52 not nine and fought there for 2½ years, not eight months. More importantly, (unlike Gallipoli) by 1918 they fought as Australians under Australian command, with all five divisions led by General Sir John Monash. Most significantly, what happened was not a defeat like Gallipoli because this all-volunteer army of World War I helped win the war. As Monash reported, the AIF only constituted 10% of Allied forces but won 25% of enemy territory, prisoners of war, arms and ammunition...

I interviewed Peter Casserly, 107, our last WWI Western Front man along with the last 50 diggers who begged us to stop glorifying Gallipoli and focus instead on their victory on the Western Front. They wanted to be remembered as winners, not losers...
What did you learn from the diaries of Australian soldiers who served on the Western Front in World War I?

How traumatised most of the soldiers were having to fight in the battles on the Western Front. They revealed their secret fears in their diaries … these men who were just bank clerks, insurance salesmen, blacksmiths, carpenters or farm hands rose to the occasion, overcoming fear to become brave and skilled warriors all Australians should be proud of ...
SBS radio interview (starts at 4:00) with Jonathan King:
In a special Remembrance Day program we hear Jonathan King, historian who has recently released the book The Western Front Diaries. It is an eyewitness account of the diggers in the trenches of World War 1.
Quote from interview (8:00):
Q: You look at the young of today, will they have the same spirit as those incredibly brave young men?

JK: No, nothing like it. For example, everybody in 1918 was basically British, or Anglophiles, but predominantly British. They were either born in Britain or their parents were born in Britain. Today, Australia is a totally different country, and so we can't imagine that there would be the same commitment, there wouldn't be so many volunteers, and nor would they identify with Britain ... I don't think it could ever happen again.

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