Editors Note: This article was originally published in April 2018 and has been reviewed and updated in order to provide the most relevant and accurate information.
ANZAC Day represents a national time of commemoration and remembrance for all Australians and New Zealanders who bravely served and passed to secure our freedom. The famous quote “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.” – taken from a poem written by Laurence Binyon, signifies these soldiers’ immortality in our eyes and hearts, letting them live on in the spirit of the ANZACs.
The following are extracts taken from “The World War 1 Diaries of John ‘Jack’ Francis Phelan Volume 1, (2015) Edited and Self-Published by Margaret-Anne Oxenham and Assisted by Ronnie Baskind.
These entries give us true insights into the lives of these soldiers, many of whom were teenagers, helping us understand and be grateful for everything they have done for us.
“In the darkness we found a gruesome sight. Some 37 of the boys were strewn all over the road; there were 40 in the party. 3 were attended to.
The first had a good blighty on the arm, his elbow was missing, I guess his arm went West.
The second chap had a piece of shell between his shoulders.
The third a pet of a wound almost across his face. We patched him up the best we could then put him on the roadside to await conveyance to the nearest D.S.
All the rest were napoo, so we shifted them off the road until daylight.
Next morning at daylight we saw one of the many queer things you only see at Wartime.
One digger was sitting quite natural, his elbows on his knees, rifle held between his knees, dead.
Next to him his pal, also in a sitting position his riddle along-side, one hand still held a bumper that had signed his two fingers.
Next to him was another pal …sitting down. He had a biscuit in his hand half-way to his mouth which was partly open. Dead.
The three of them were killed by concussion, they never had a scratch on them, such is War.
After attending to those unfortunate chaps, we turned and collected the others, who in most cases were bashed about something awful. We had to uncover them and collect their belongings for identification purposes.” p.84-85
“… I will give you a short sketch of the four that we met.
Number one has a fair size gash on the head, he said someone’s tin has hit him. Number Two said something hit him on the nose and broke it, he is bleeding like a pig and still manages to keep his fag alight. Number Three is covered with mud and blood; got blown up in the trench, lost the love of an ear; he seems quite satisfied with his lot. Number Four is the Dinky Die Digger you read about in War stories.
His hat is at an angle of 45 degrees, the old Woodbine[i] stuck to the corner of his mouth. He is leaning against the door of the pill box, one hand in his hip pocket, coat open. The other arm has several empty sand bags wrapped around it, tied with a thick piece of rope. He enters the pill box and returns some ten minutes later minus one arm. A fag is lit for him, he cast a stony stare back where he came from, mutters something to himself, adjures his hat and off the four of them go.
Over 400 diggers were treated at that pill box before dark set in. God only knows how many took a risk and kept on the move till out of danger. All this happened on a front just 1,000 yards long. I believe our front line was some 450 miles. Eat that.” p. 22-23 Vol 1
Extracts taken from “The World War 1 Diaries of John ‘Jack’ Francis Phelan Volume 1, (2015) Edited and Self-Published by Margaret-Anne Oxenham and Assisted by Ronnie Baskind.
“Waking up from a kick in the backside, one is brought back to the humdrum of war fare, half awake, you feel inclined to cut somebody’s throat, instead you crawl to the gun pit, only to find that fritz has been up to his old tricks while you have been having a nap, your gun has a broken back, the wheels are on the booze and altogether just another war wreck lucky no lives have been lost, and from the troops point of view that is the main thing.
Breakfast over, one is inclined to scream the stench is just beginning to make one uneasy, naturally the head does not help improve matters I have heard from quite a few of the lads, who complain, about the mixture we have to contend with, Death, Dust, Flies. Wasps and Heat do not mix very well and on top of all this you are in a lather of perspiration, and naturally you have no means of ridding yourself of all these rotten things. Summer has it curses just the same as Winter has its drawbacks, so practically all the year round you wish in one or the other.
It was on such a day as this, that our gun crew were practically wiped out, one shell howled over five men, another caught two of them and a third killed three and wounded two, all three happened in about five minutes, some of the heroes were great pals, and surely deserved a better ending than was their lot. Poor old Joker the hero of many a barroom brawl, had both his legs almost severed and there he lie puffing away at his cigarette, large tears slowly trickled down his checks, a loot in his eyes as much as to say how the hell are you going to manage without me. He was like that, always ready to help, be it, in action or out of it, a fight or a lack Joker always held the ace. We placed him on a stretcher trying our damdest, to make it easy for him, naturally we all had the dingbats, we all suffered, our walk to the main road was some two hundred yards and believe me, it was the hardest job we had for many a day. On reaching the clearing station, we took our pal to the Quack, and waited to hear the news.
Later on the orderlies beaconed to us to take our mate away, both his legs had to be amputated, he was still conscious, so much so, that his parting shot to us prior to entering the ambulance was, you can toss up for my bloody boots. I won’t need them again. That was the spirit, of one of the toughest men I ever want to call a pal. The word soon got round that the Joker could not see it through. We would not believe it, those of us who knew him so well, knew he would live, it was his will to live, and so we left a mate rough but honest as the sun. After we recovered from our loss we asked our Captain to recommend Joker for a decoration. He not only granted this request but made a solemn promise to see that it was granted.”
“Another episode that caused quite a stir in our company happened at Anzac Ridge in the Ypres sector it happened one Sunday afternoon in broad daylight Fritz as usual, started strafing our battery. In no time we were all under cover (such as it was) hoping for the best when a salvo landed right in the battery. This is a terrible shock although you expect it sooner or later, and waiting for the all clear signal one passes through a real nightmare you imagine all sorts of things and try hard enough to appear game, however someone generally crawls out and discovers, how many are finished, also the number of . He then calls for stretcher bearers who loose no time attending to their cobber’s. It was on such an occasion as this that Snowy Mason stood out like a beacon light in the darkness. Alone he carried three of the wounded to safety, then sallied forth looking for any strays, that perhaps might be seeking help elsewhere.
It was while on this errand that Snow got his issue, fair between the shoulders. He carried on his task call to us to lend a hand, when one of the boys noticed his tunic it was saturated, Snow himself was pretty white about the gills and although we begged of him to go the Quack, he refused to do so. Soon after he just crumpled up, and fainted. We carried him over to the Doctors, who ripped his tunic off and almost staggered, Snow had a terrible wound, you could almost put your fist in to it. How he carried on was just a miracle. Still the Doctor gave him every chance of pulling through, providing he received proper attention and the sooner the better. Our Captain detailed two men to take Snow to the clearing station and believe me it was great to hear that. However, we had about five miles to walk, and about half-way Snow opened his eyes and wanted to know what it was all about. On being told he had a Blighty, his eyes lit up and to our surprise started to cry. Quite a few of the lads are affected this way.
Evidently it is the reaction setting in Snow hated leaving the boys and showed it in an emotional manner, naturally we knew Snow was broke to the world so we collected about two hundred Francs on Pay Day and got our Captain to put it to Snow’s credit when he recovered. That is the real digger spirit.”