18,050 Kiwi’s and 61,928 Aussies lost their lives in WWI. Staggering numbers but they don’t compare really to the massive losses experienced in some other nations especially when the numbers are expressed as a percentage of the population. For example The Ottoman empire (now known as Turkey) lost 13% of it’s population, a staggering 2.9 million people. (2.1 million of those were civilians.) And the Serbs suffered the loss of 16% of their population.
These numbers blow my mind and it’s scary to consider a world gone mad, and not so very long ago. Today marks the signing of the Armistice to bring an end to the hostilities at the Western Front.
My great great Uncle, James Alfred Heading served in the AIF 45th and 47th Battalions. See here for history of the 45th Batallion and the 47th Batallion. He received a DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) while serving with the 47th Btn. The following is his recommendation:
“At Passchendaele Ridge (NE of Zonnebeke) on 12th October 1917. Especially good work in leading his platoon and setting a splendid example in courage and determination. All Officers of three Companies became casualties and Sgt. Heading took charge, reorganised, placed outposts out and endeavoured to connect flanks and generally displayed initiative and ability in appreciating all situations. His work was of great value to the Battalion. He carried out his duty in a praisworthy manner. “
He was also awarded a Military Medal with the 47th Btn:
“At Dernancourt 5th April 1918, when his Officer was killed he took charge of the Platoon and showed exceptional ability in the handling of same. When his flank was in danger he immediately made dispositions to meet the occasion and showed utter disregard for danger in placing his men. When all the platoon Lewis Gunners were casualtied, he manned the gun and crawling forward to dangerous position he continued to inflict heavy casualties on the enemy until the gun was blown out. By his scouting and patrolling he gained valuable information and established complete control of “No Man’s Land”. His work during the whole operations was of an exceptionally high order.”
My brother shared this quote with me today:
‘An Australian soldier wandered about near the German lines after the battle of Fromelles. He had been hit in the forehead and skin hung over his eyes. He was blinded and out of his mind. He would blunder around in circles, hands outstretched, then fall down. Then he would get up and stumble around again. This went on for days. The Germans eventually killed him. It is unclear whether they did this out of cussedness or kindness. This was the Great War and men did terrible things and did not always understand why they did them.’
~Les Carlyon, ‘The Great War’
War. Awful beyond words.