I came across this image on the excellent WW1 Photographs Facebook page and owner Ian Roofthooft very kindly let me use it here. It is part of a collection he has showing Allied prisoners in Germany and what drew me to this image was the fact that it depicts an Australian soldier of Aboriginal heritage. Images of these men are not unique but are rare. But who was he? On the rear of the image was this inscription:
It was not initially clear whether this was the man shown or it was a reference to another soldier who may have owned the image originally. A search of the Australian War Memorial site showed that this soldier was Robert George Garner. He appeared on various nominal rolls which showed that he had served with the 17th Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and had departed for war in June 1916. The next step was to find his service record and his physical description. The records confirmed the address stated on the postcard and the physical description showed the following:
Wartime attestation papers like these did not use the term ‘Aboriginal’ when describing these men and the clue that confirms it for this soldier is how they describe his skin complexion as ‘very dark’. This can only mean that the man in the photo is the same person who signed it on the back and this is a photo of Aboriginal soldier Robert George Garner. But what of his war?
After making the crossing to England he spent some time at a Depot before being posted to the 17th AIF in France in November 1916. At this time they were on the Somme front at the start of what would be the coldest winter of the war. He was crimed for drunkenness in December and in January 1917 was admitted to hospital with sickness, an all too common occurrence in the AIF at that time as they suffered more casualties from the elements than the enemy. He rejoined his battalion in February and in April the 17th were involved in the early actions against the Hindenburg Line. On 15th April 1917 the Germans launched a massive counter attack against the 17th AIF at Lagnicourt and while the line held, there were heavy casualties and many Diggers became prisoners of war. One of them was Garner who was reported missing and then confirmed as being a prisoner of war. He had been wounded in the legs and spent the remainder of the war as a POW – which is when this image was taken. He was repatriated from Germany in November 1918 and returned to Australia in 1919. Little is known about his life post-war.
Robert George Garner was one of more than a thousand Aboriginal Australians who served in the Great War and I am proud to have his image on the site to remember their contribution to the Australian Imperial Force in WW1.
Charles Hedley Wood joined the Australian Imperial Force aged 19 in August 1914: one of the first to enlist, it appears that actually he may have lied about his age and was only 16 in 1914 – he certainly looks very young in the photo.
A century ago today he landed in the second wave at ANZAC with the 6th Battalion AIF and fought with them in the trenches above the beaches until he was wounded on 8th May 1915. That brought his war to an end; he was subsequently discharged but he was certainly alive fifty years after Gallipoli to claim his ANZAC medal in the 1960s.
Today we remember the original Diggers like him who were part of Australia’s baptism of fire in the Great War and at the dawn of their country coming of age a hundred years ago today.
For many today is ANZAC Day as well as the centenary of the Gallipoli landings but it is all too easy to forget the NZ in ANZAC.
The New Zealand Expeditionary Force was part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and it’s units landed alongside the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) battalions at what would be known as ANZAC Cove a century ago today.
This image shows original volunteers of the Canterbury Regiment in New Zealand in 1914. The regiment took part in the landings a century ago today as described in their regimental history:
The first troops of the New Zealand Brigade to land were the Auckland Battalion, at noon, and the Headquarters and 1st and 2nd Companies of the Canterbury Battalion, at 12.30 p.m. These were immediately ordered to reinforce the left flank of the 3rd Australian Brigade, and to fill the gap between that flank and the sea. While the order was in process of being carried out, the two Canterbury Companies became separated on Plugge’s Plateau, a quarter of a mile east of the beach. There was great confusion, as the men of the various companies had not only become mixed with one another, but in some cases had attached themselves to the Auckland and various Australian Battalions; while Aucklanders and Australians were picked up by the officers commanding the various Canterbury parties.
Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart with the 2nd Company got well forward, and took up a position on the upper portion of Walker’s Ridge, which ran north-east from near Pope’s Hill down to the sea. They immediately became involved in heavy fighting, and Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart, going back to bring up reinforcements, collected a large party of Australians, and was killed while exposing himself in leading them up to the firing line. There the 2nd Company and the Australian reinforcements repulsed with the bayonet three Turkish attacks, and then withdrew slightly to more suitable ground, where they dug in.
These men were among those who paved the trail of New Zealand immortality and legend a century ago: we must always remember the NZ in ANZAC.
Today on the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli much focus will be on the Australian and New Zealand troops who landed there in April 1915. One of the forgotten combatants of the campaign French soldiers who served alongside their British and Commonwealth comrades.
Some 80,000 French soldiers fought at Gallipoli as part of the Corps expéditionnaire d’Orient with almost 27,000 casualties. Many of the French troops were from Colonial units drawn from the far corners of the French Empire. This image comes from a French source and depicts a French Zouave in the trenches at Gallipoli in 1915 from the 17e division d’infanterie coloniale who took part in the fighting at Krithia.
Today is the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli: on 25th April 1915 British and French troops landed at Cape Helles and Australian and New Zealand troops of ANZAC landed further up the coast on what would be called ANZAC cove.
This morning on Great War Photos I will be posting a number of Gallipoli related images starting with this image showing troops at ANZAC sometime in the campaign. It was taken by a French officer who had been serving with the French forces at Helles. British troops, who served here later in the operations, are visible as well as Indian Army and Naval personnel from the Royal Navy vessels that supported the landings here.
Today is the Centenary of the start of the Second Battle of Ypres and a hundred years since the first use of poison gas on the battlefields of the Great War. Poison gas was a weapon outlawed under the Hague Convention but by 1915 the Germans viewed the conflict as a ‘Total War’ and that every weapon was justifiable for victory; there was also belief that the Allies had gas weapons too and it was just a matter of time before they were implemented.
After much preparations and a trial use of the gas, the poison cloud was released at 5pm on 22nd April 1915. More than 170 tons of chlorine gas was released over a 6.5km front, on positions held by French Colonial and Territorial troops. More than 6,000 of them quickly became casualties, having no protection against the gas. Most died within ten minutes as the chlorine gas irritated their lungs causing a ‘drowning’ effect. German assault troops came flooding through the French positions, protected by their own gas masks, and gradually the whole front, including the British lines, began to collapse. In the fighting that followed troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force played a prominent role in the defence of Ypres; the 1st Canadian Division losing more than 2,000 men killed in action in the first days of the battle.
The photograph above is grainy and unfocussed but shows German soldiers in a captured French trench in the opening phase of the battle. Two dead Poilus are on the trench floor, victims of the gas attack which took place a hundred years ago.
Many thanks to German historian Rob Schäfer for the use of these images.
Today is the centenary of the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle, the first major British assault of the Great War. It was not the first attack on the German lines as the trench war had begun in late 1914 and in December there had been several localised attacks. But these had been small scale affairs compared to Neuve-Chapelle which saw more than 40,000 British and Indian troops make a major assault on the village. The Indian Army had taken part in First Ypres and much of the fighting in late 1914 but with the Indian Corps now accounting for a sizeable part of the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders this was one of their major battles of the Great War on the Western Front.
The Neuve-Chapelle Indian Memorial was designed by Sir Hubert Baker and unveiled in October 1927. It commemorates more than 4,700 Indian troops who fell in France who have no known grave and today, one hundred years on from the battle, it will be the seen of commemorations largely by the Indian community who are rightly using the WW1 Centenary to ensure the deeds and sacrifice of the Indian Corps is not forgotten.