Monday, 2 April 2007

Introduction

A few years ago I became interested in family history, and in the course of finding out as much as I could, I came across a series of letters which my grandfather (known as "Gargoo") had written to his sister during World War One. Mum also had a couple of those beautiful, embroidered postcards which he had sent his mother from France. I had always admired them when I was a child.

I decided that the story my grandad had to "tell" (he had been dead for nearly 40 years) may be quite interesting, and decided to find out as much as I could, mainly so I could write it up for Mum. Like so many of his comrades he chose not to talk about his experiences on his return, other than to denounce war and say he hoped no-one ever had to go through a similar experience.

What especially struck me was that many of the histories of the war concentrate on the battles from the point of view of infantry soldiers - and that's great. But Gargoo was a Light Horseman, and then an Artillery Driver. Many of the histories and guides to battlefields provide very good information about the sites of infantry battles; I set out to discover as much as I can about the wagon lines and artillery positions.

First, I discovered that his personal war service record was available via the War Memorial Archives, so I sent away for that. We knew his regiment and regimental number, so that was easy.

These days the Australian War Memorial has one of the most extraordinarily comprehensive websites of any comparable institution, and it is an absolutely essential resource for anyone undertaking this kind of research.

Once I knew which units Gargoo had served in, I made a trip to the Research Centre at the War Memorial to read the unit diaries. . . they gave a complete picture of where he was on a day to day basis. These records are now rapidly appearing on the AWM website.

The search function on the AWM website led me to the personal diary of another soldier in his unit ,"Gunner Day", which complemented the personal, but limited view I had gained from Gargoo's letters.

While all this was going on, I read, and read, and read. . . voraciously. I stumbled across early editions of C.E.W. Bean's Official History of the AIF in 1916 and 1917, as well as the photographic volume, in a second hand bookshop, complete with the original cardboard casings!

In 2003 we made a family trip which included several days in the Somme area. I had already visited Gallipoli a couple of times in the early 1990s. Then in 2005, I again found myself in the Somme, this time witnessing the Anzac Day commemorations at Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt. I have included many photos from these trips, as well as some family photos.

In other places I have provided links to the War Memorial and its paintings and photo collection, because I have not sought permission to use them on the site (as yet).

I've chosen the blog format, because I already know how to use it, and it means as I continue my adventures in Gargoo's story, I can update and change it.

8 comments:

Nathalie said...

So there we are; it's all up and running!

Congratulations Sally, it's a monster work! I'll need several repeat visits to go through it all, but I look forward to it.

GillesT said...

It's a great work, and something important to do for all these soldiers who came in Europe in such awful conditions and died long away from home.
I also try to work on WW1. I study the inscriptions left by these soldiers in underground shelters during WW1. Just have a look on this website :
http://souterrains.vestiges.free.fr/spip.php?article39
I'm sorry it's written in French, such a strange langage, but maybe some pictures can be of some interests for U.
Sincerely.
For instance, now U can find who was Truran (www.awn.gov.au)

Sally said...

Thanks for your wonderful comments

Winifred said...

What a great thing to do. I wish I had been able to talk to my grandad about his experiences in WW1 and my dad's in WW2 but like you say they didn't want to talk about it. I do remember my grandad talking about being in Salonika, now Thessalonika and my dad mentioned being in Malta as he was in the Royal Navy. He revisited it about thirty years ago, it must have been quite a trip. Again he didn't talk much about it.

In contrast I worked with a bloke about forty years ago and he was always talking about how he lived for months in the jungle of I think it was Malaysia to escape the Japanese. He had no lining left on his stomach so he said through eating the vegetation.

Hels said...

A very important task, for you to document your grandfather's and his mates' experiences. Formal war histories don't capture the personal elements that families want.

I note that you have visited Gallipoli and the Somme, and saw the Anzac Day commemorations at Villers-Bretonneux & Bullecourt. I didn't think I would be moved by Gallipoli, but it was an amazing place.

My grandfather spent 1916-18 in Palestine and Egypt, working as an soldier-interpreter. He spoke Russian, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, English and could make himself understood in French and Polish.

At the end of this month I have scheduled a post called Finding The Fallen. I will create a link to your blog.

Many thanks
Hels
Art and Architecture, mainly

Hels said...

Your writing is very impressive. I hope the family, and the wider public, appreciates the importance of getting this history published before it is lost forever.

Thanks for the link
Hels
Art and Architecture, mainly
Melbourne

Searcher said...

Thanks Sally for your work.

I am a descendant of the original Epping, Sydney Smith who moved to Diamond Creek. So I guess that makes us distant cousins. I visited Hazel Dell Broadford to meet the Lade's when I first started out doing family history. I have a tape recording of our conversations. Wonderful people.

Lorna

Pam Toom, Ballarat said...

Maud (REM Lade) was my Grandmother ( Percy my great Uncle but never met him)-so I was thrilled to find all these letters and will settle down to read them soon.

Would love to contact Lorna.