Worst Day In Australian History

Australians at the Battle of Fromelles  – 19-20th July 1916

Private William Frederick Crow, pictured above, was in the 59th Battalion and was killed in action at Fromelles on the 19th of July 1916. He is commemorated on the VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France with others who have no known grave.

Private Crow was from Tally Ho, Victoria. He was a 20 year old orchardist before joining up on the 14th of July 1915.  He then embarked for overseas with the 11th Reinforcements of the 7th Battalion from Melbourne on the 11th of October 1915 aboard HMAT Nestor.  Following further training in Egypt, Private Crow transferred to the 59th Battalion and joined them in the field in France.

Private Crow’s photograph is also included in the video below titled ‘You never came home’.

The video below entitled ‘You never came home’ is a memorial to the Australians who died on the Western Front in WW1.

Western Front WW1.

From 1916 to 1918, nearly half of all Australians that died in all wars and battles (including WW2), died on the Western Front in less than two and a half years. The image you see for the video are Australian stretcher bearers and dressers lying utterly exhausted in the mud after 60 hours without rest. The Western Front was hell on earth.

Worst day in Australia’s history – In WW1 on The Western Front at the Battle of Fromelles (19th of July 1916), Australia experienced its worst day in history (not just military history).  A total of 5,533 casualties (with around 2,000 dead) in one night.  The catch cry of the battle was “Don’t forget me cobber” due to the fact that so many soldiers were left wounded in no man’s land.  For the 3 days and nights after the battle, men risked their lives to go into no man’s land to save 300 of their wounded mates. A German soldier at Fromelles facing the Australians was Corporal Adolf Hitler.

The Battle of Fromelles was an absolute disaster… preparations were inadequate and rushed. The enemy was on higher ground and could easily observe what was happening.  The artillery failed to deal with the German Sugarloaf machine-guns which cut through the Australian attack, which was described at the time as ‘a bloody holocaust’. A senior artillery commander at that time complained that he was not given sufficient time to fully understand the battlefield and setup his artillery batteries properly. He didn’t even have a decent map to fully understand the messages he received during the battle.

Many Australian soldiers were never found after this battle and have no known grave.

100th year anniversary of the Battle Of Fromelles 19th July 2016 – Lest We Forget.

300,000 Australians served on The Western Front in atrocious conditions, many of them having survived the Gallipoli campaign. More than 46,000 died in France and Belgium.  About 11,000 have no known grave.  There were more than 132,000 Australians wounded – many soldiers being wounded more than once. Australia’s casualty rate was around 65 per cent and was the highest in the British Empire. Australian army nurses also caught trench diseases like dysentery, measles, typhus, influenza and mumps.

In the most successful period of the Australian campaign, 27 March-5 October 1918, the AIF made up less than 10 percent of the entire British forces. It captured 23 percent of the prisoners, 23.5 percent of the enemy guns and 21.5 percent of the ground taken from the Germans.  It must be remembered that Australia at that time had a population of just under five million, and before The Western Front, Australia had 26,111 casualties (with 8,141 killed) at Gallipolli.

In WW1, Australia’s population was just under 5 million, with the USA population at 100 million. Australia’s number of war dead (over 60,000) was more than half the USA’s (117,000).

This website page ‘Worst Day in Australian History’ has been online for a couple of years and in February 2015, Peter Barnes, the author of ‘Can You Hear Australia’s Heroes Marching?’, did some research into his family history and found that his Great Grandmother’s brother was killed on 19th July, 1916 at the battle of Fromelles.

Peter found this article from The Ballarat Courier, Wednesday 19 September 1917…

WILLEY.- Killed in action on 19th July, 1916 (previously reported missing). Josiah Willey, loving husband of Mary and father of Mary, Josiah, Eileen, and Kathleen; only son of the late Josiah Willey, of Stawell, and Mrs Merry, of Ballarat. and brother of Mrs J. Harvey and uncle of Ruby; aged 28 years.

Note: Josiah Willey was actually 38 when he died.

Mrs J. Harvey (nee Eliza Jane WILLEY) is Peter’s Great Grandmother and Ruby (Ruby Eliza HARVEY, later married Leslie Barnes) is Peter’s Grandmother.

Statement, Red Cross File No 2950410, 3238 Sergeant E.A.O. BAKER, C Company, 59th Bn (patient, Woodcote Park Hospital, England), 12 October 1916: ‘Willey was hanging, badly wounded, on barbed wire in a creek at Armentieres, up to his waist in water. Informant was being carried down wounded and saw this. He got out of his stretcher so as to enable the bearers to go to Wiley’s assistance… Informant does not know what happened after that.’  (Information sourced from The AIF Project)

Josiah Willey was posted missing, 19 July 1916 and has no known grave.

Court of Enquiry, held in the field, 29 August 1917, pronounced his fate as ‘Killed in Action, 19 July 1916’.

His wife (Mrs Mary Elizabeth Willey) had to wait a year to know officially what happened to her husband. There is a letter she wrote to the Army dated 7th May 1917, saying the suspense was unbearable in not having definite information about her husband… She wrote more letters trying to find out what happened to her husband… (Information sourced from The AIF Project) 

Mrs Willey received a letter from SGT E.A.Ormond Baker concerning her husband and it highlights the awfulness of that time…

Dated Feb 20, 1917…

Mrs Willey

Dear Madam

I received yours of 22nd Dec. Which is to hand today re your husband. I cannot tell you more than I told the Red Cross People. 

Our charge of the 19th July was an awful affair & many of our best men were killed & missing amongst them being your husband.

I returned to the Battalion this week when I at once looked for the men who were helping the bearers, there are only a few of the old men left & from what I can hear from one of them your husband was beyond all aid, when they reached him, but of course I cannot say that officially really & regret that I cannot give you any good news. 

I lost many a good friend that day, when our numbers were totalled next day there were only 80 odd left out of over 1026 men so it will give you an idea of how many were lost in that one brief period. 

Really Mrs Willey it pains me to convey this news to you but regret cannot hold out any hope for you & ask you to accept my deepest sympathy in your very sad loss as your husband was one of the men under me in my platoon of 59th Battalion.

Sincerely yours

E.A.Ormond Baker


(Letter from a digital file in The AIF Project – Australian ANZACS In The Great War 1914 -1918 – UNSW (The University of New South Wales) Canberra.

Josiah Willey’s memorial details: VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, Lille, Nord Pas de Calais, France.

Many soldiers who were killed in the Battle Of Fromelles have no known grave and many remains were buried unidentified in the aftermath of the battle.  In 2009, 250 Australian and British war dead were discovered in a mass grave at Pheasant Wood near Fromelles. DNA technology is being used to to identify the Australian soldiers and up to 144 have have been positively identified.

Peter’s Grandmother’s brother on his father’s side was also KIA in WW1 on the Western Front.  Norman Cecil Newey was Killed in Action 3rd July 1918.  His place of burial is Le Grand Hasard Military Cemetery (Plot 4, Row F, Grave No. 7), Morbecque, France. He was only eighteen years old when he first enlisted in July 1915. Before his death, he was wounded in action in Belgium on the 30th September 1917. He recovered to rejoin the 8th Battallion in November 1917.

His older brother Cedric Charles Newey also served in WW1 – Gallipoli 25th April 1915 to 9th September 1915 with the 2nd Field Ambulance and then on the Western Front with the 14th Field Ambulance.  He joined up in August 1914.  He sustained gas burns in June 1918. He survived WW1 to return home to Australia.

My Grandfather, James Stewart Hogg served on the Western Front and was wounded. He also enlisted in WW2.  My father, James Stanley Hogg enlisted in the RAAF in WW2 (I was born out of wedlock and retained my mother’s maiden name). He was 18 years old when he enlisted in 1944.  My father’s brother, William Walter Hogg, enlisted and served in WW2 also.

Below are some useful links.

This website covers topics such as: battle of fromelles – war cemetery – australians in ww1 – australian military history – worst day in australia’s history – the western front ww1 – you never came home – australians killed and wounded in ww1 – vc corner – australian cemetery fromelles – download words to you never came home