Private Litchfield describes the day he was shot

Name: Charles West Litchfield
Date:1915-1917
Unit: 9th Reinforcements, 10th Battalion, AIF
Location: France

Like many troops in World War I, Private Charles Litchfield kept a diary through the two years from the time he left Australia until he was wounded and repatriated to Australia.

He had an eye for detail and an easy writing style that began poetically on the boat trip to Europe but became more graphic as he entered battle.

He was particularly taken with Marsailles as the ship entered port, describing it as looking magnificent with beautiful green hills and picturesque red-tiled roofs.

"The most outstanding mark as you pass the first part of the town is a large church with a tall spire situated on the top of a huge sharp-pointed hill overlooking the whole town and harbour. On the top of the spire is the image of some saint gilded over and it can be seen far away when the sun glitters on it."

"A railway that is a work of great genius runs round the far end of the harbour along the steep side of a rocky ridge. It is all tunnels and bridges and seems to cling to the side of the rock like a fly."

His descriptions of war give a clear impression of the hardships and suffering. The day he was wounded is described in chilling, almost detached detail.

"During that few days interval I had rather an exciting time together with a few more picked bombers and scouts," he wrote. "We used to go out on patrol every night carrying a number of bombs each. Several times we struck a Fritz outpost and one night in particular we had a very lively time and after giving him a good fright we managed to get out again with only one casualty, which was old Bill Wilson who had got a bullet through his foot."

"The morning of 2 April found us lying in the open waiting for 5 o'clock. It was bitterly cold as a heavy frost had set in and we had to keep working our bolts to stop them from jamming completely. Everything was quiet as the grave. If I had been lying in our old front paddock at home it could not have seemed any further removed from the awful war.

"Suddenly a murmur ran down the line 'half a minute to go'. A few seconds after, there was a mighty flickering as a thousand guns spoke as one, and we were on our feet, and moving forward at a slow walk, with fixed bayonet, and ready bombs, close behind our barrage, which rolled slowly forward.

"The din was awful and as we topped a bit of a rise in front, the vicious crack, crack, of enemy bullets joined in. As we advanced you could hear the crackle of rifle fire running right down-the line. The sight in the half light of dawn was magnificent in its awfulness. It is impressed on my brain and will remain there to my dying day.

"I was in the first line, (there were four altogether) and was blazing away rapidly as we advanced at the dim forms of Fritzs, as they dodged back before our barrage. The bullets were flying thicker and seemed to be cracking almost in our ears. I had just said to myself 'A man is sure to stop one of these directly' when I felt a terrific clout in my left leg. I hardly knew what it was for a second or two, but I soon found out, when I saw the blood spurting out from behind my knee.

"The attack still went forward and within the hour the objective, 11 miles from the starting point, was reached. At what a cost though, my own battalion out of 800 officers and men lost 600 killed and wounded during that morning and the remainder of the day. All my mates were killed or wounded.

"At about 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning, 4 April, I had to have left leg amputated just above the knee owing to gangrene poison which had set in. The cause of this gangrene was that the wound had been caused by an explosive bullet, which entered through the knee in front, exploded inside and burst its way out the back making a hole about 3 inches in diameter. The next day I was transferred in a hospital train to Rouen to No. 11 Stationary Hospital. Was here for just on four weeks and had two operation during that time."

Private Litchfield was sent back to Australia by ship, landing at Cape Town where he joined fellow wounded on a circular trip around Table Mountain by electric car.

"You travel around the side of Lion's Head (a big mountain) and looking down can see the beautiful blue sea many hundreds of feet below," he wrote, showing he had lost none of his skills of description despite the horrific wounds he had suffered.

"The tram runs right down to the sea at one place - Camps Bay - which is the destination. The tram on the way home keeps going in the same direction as before and completes the circuit of the mountain and comes back into Cape Town at the other end of the town."

He then details the final leg of the trip home.

"We left here on Saturday 20 October in the morning and encountered boisterous weather for a week, though as the wind was behind, I suppose it helped us along."

"After 15 days sail we sighted land once more, the shores of dear old Australia this time, that I hadn't seen for over two years."

"We only stopped at Fremantle for about two hours then sailed again for home (Adelaide) which we reached early on Friday morning 9 November 1917."

The material for this article was supplied by Mr R. Litchfield, son of Private C W Litchfield, from South Australia


Last updated: 20 December 2021

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2021), Private Litchfield describes the day he was shot, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 4 July 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/private-litchfield-describes-day-he-was-shot
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