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Australians on the Western Front

Australians on the Western Front

After the campaign on Gallipoli ended in December 1915, most of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was sent to the war’s main theatre, the Western Front in France and Belgium. Already millions of men had been killed here and ahead of the Australians lay more than two and a half years of fighting. By the time the war ended the AIF had taken part in every major British offensive, from the Somme in mid 1916 to Passchendaele in 1917 and Amiens in 1918. More than 46,000 Australians lost their lives on the Western Front.

In this documentary we hear from five Australians who lived through the war years. Eric Abraham and Ted Smout, both from the Brisbane area, were just 17 years old when they enlisted. Abraham joined the ‘Dungarees’ recruitment march at Ipswich, one of hundreds of Australians to be persuaded into the army by the excitement of the ‘snowball’ marches that took on recruits as they went through rural districts in 1915 and 1916. Frank MacDonald, a Tasmanian farm boy, made two attempts to get into the AIF before he was accepted in 1916. Phillip Rubie was a 21 year flour mill worker from Manildra when he enlisted in February 1915. He served on Gallipoli and then the Western Front. Anita Ryall was a school girl living in Sydney whose father was a Boer War veteran and who had two brothers in the army.

Ted Smout served in the Sanitation Section of the Army Medical Corps, which meant working as a stretcher bearer during times of battle. Each of the other men served in the infantry. Looking back over almost a century they describe their experiences of the Western Front, summed up by Eric Abraham with the words ‘we were living with death all the time’.

Today no survivors of the First World War remain alive. It is no longer possible to speak with those who lived through what people then called the Great War, but by sharing their memories with us in the final years of their lives, the men and woman in this documentary offer a glimpse into a world that is now long gone.