Diggers in France Cover

Diggers in France

Australian Soliders on the Western Front

Richard Travers

ABC Books

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 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 Harrington. 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 key roles in the battles that led to victory – at Villers-Bretonneux, at Hamel, on 8th August 1918, and at Mont St Quentin and Péronne.

Diggers in France not only graphically describes the diggers at battle in the front line, but also their lives away from the front when wounded, on leave, or resting out of the line. 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 English 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 Lawrenece fell for the women of Paris: ‘superbly gowned and beautiful women. Surely they were only made to tempt man, and they well know how to do it.’