Few Australian communities have had one of their own immortalised by a statue. The small rural settlement of Byaduk in Victoria can make that claim. Here a ‘digger’ stands on top of a plinth listing fourteen men of the district who, in the reverent commemorative language of the time, ‘made the Supreme Sacrifice in the Great War of 1914–1919’.
The Byaduk ‘digger’ has no name. He is an idealised representation of an Australian soldier of a kind seen on similar memorials all over the country. An examination of the listed dead, however, reveals the Byaduk local whose name, long after the unveiling of the memorial in 1923, was lifted from rural obscurity to national prominence – Simon Fraser.
Fraser’s story lay buried in the third volume of Australia’s official history of World War I published in 1929. It was not a story connected with his death at Bullecourt, France, on 12 May 1917, as recorded on the memorial, but with a 1916 battlefield supposedly forgotten by Australians until recent times. In the early 1990s official interest began to focus on overseas sites that some felt had not received adequate Australian commemoration. One such site was that of the Battle of Fromelles, Australia’s first major action in France where, on 19–20 July 1916, more than 5500 men of the Australian Imperial Force were killed or wounded.
As the wounded lay out in ‘no-man’s-land’, men risked death by trying to rescue them. In the official history is part of a letter Byaduk’s Simon Fraser wrote describing these acts of mercy and how one wounded man yelled out ‘Don’t forget me cobber’. Fraser, who had carried many to safety on his back, ensured that this man too was rescued. At the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles, dedicated in 1998, a statue entitled Cobbers shows Fraser carrying a wounded man. Fraser’s name at Byaduk recalls the sadness of the friends and family who lost him at Bullecourt. His statue at Fromelles recalls the compassion and bravery of those who risked their lives to help the wounded.
For Simon Fraser’s letter, see CEW Bean, Official history of Australia in the war of 1914–1918: Vol. III – the Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1941, p. 441.
2nd Lieutenant/3101 Simon Fraser, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914–1920, National Archives of Australia:
For an illustrated account of Fraser’s role at Fromelles, see: www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/fromelles/visiting-fromelles/sergeant-fraser.php
Roger Lee, The Battle of Fromelles 1916, Army History Unit, Canberra, 2010.