Australian troops parading at the Somme trenches 1916.
Australian troops cheering the king.
For Australia, as for many nations, the First World War remains the most costly conflict ever in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 300,000 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.
The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great public enthusiasm. In response to the overwhelming number of volunteers, the authorities set exacting physical standards for recruits. Yet most of the men accepted into the army in August 1914 were sent first to Egypt, not Europe, to meet the threat which the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), posed to British interests in the Middle East and the Suez Canal.
After Gallipoli the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was reorganised and expanded from two to five infantry divisions, all of which were progressively transferred to France, beginning in March 1916. The AIF mounted division that had served as additional infantry during the campaign remained in the Middle East. When the other AIF divisions arrived in France, the war on the Western Front had long been settled in a stalemate, with the opposing armies facing each other from trench systems that extended across Belgium and north-east France from the English Channel to the Swiss border. The development of machine-guns and artillery favoured defence over attack and compounded the impasse, which lasted until the final months of the war.
While the overall hostile stasis continued throughout 1916 and 1917, the Australians and other allied armies repeatedly attempted attacks preceded by massive artillery bombardments intended to cut barbed wire and destroy enemy defences. After these bombardments, waves of attacking infantry emerged from the trenches into no man's land and advanced towards the enemy's positions. The surviving Germans, protected by deep and heavily reinforced bunkers, were usually able to repel the attackers with machine-gun fire and artillery support from the rear. These attacks often resulted in only limited territorial gains which were followed in turn by German counter-attacks; although this style of warfare favoured the defence, both sides sustained heavy losses.
Australian infantry were introduced to this type of combat at Fromelles on the Somme, in July 1916, where they suffered 5,533 casualties in 24 hours. By the end of the year 42,270 Australians had been killed or wounded on the Western Front. In 1917 a further 76,836 Australians became casualties in battles such as those at Bullecourt, Messines and the four-month long campaign around Ypres, known as the battle of Passchendaele.
Name and Rank
Events that happened
Clarence Henry Arthy
Joined the Australian Imperial force on the 4th of October 1915.
He was given the Regimental number 9672, and joined the 17th Battalion (New South Wales) Infantry Battalion, 5th Infantry Brigade.
After the allied evacuation from the Gallipoli peninsula in December1915, the 17th Battalion manned outposts in the Sinai desert until, on 23 March 1916, it embarked from Alexandria for Marseilles, France, as part of the 2nd Division.
On the 10th of April the Division took over a forward position in the eastern Armentieres sector. As a prelude to the Battle of the Somme, orders were issued that as many raids as possible were to be carried out on the enemy positions between the 20th and 30th June 1916.
On the Somme, the 17th Battalion was committed to the attack on the village of Pozieres in late July, taking heavy casualties in a fierce bombing fight in a trench known as Munster Alley. The Battalion remained in the line and later took part in the capture of the village. In just a fortnight at Pozieres, under heavy shellfire from 25 July to 7 August 1916, the battalion lost 403 men.
Later, the Battalion fought at Butte de Warlencourt in February and March 1917. During the German counterattack at Lagnicourt in April 1917, the Battalion's headquarters was caught up in the fighting. The Battalion was also in action at the Menin Road on 20 September 1917.
Presumably Clarence Henry Arthy was wounded in one of these engagements for he was repatriated to Australia on the 31st of October 1917.
Source for the photographs Battle of the Somme. Imperial War Museum and history Australian War Memorial
Research Riik Earthy February 2002.