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Groaning Wounded – “Fromelles” – Patrick Lindsay

January 16th, 2012 · No Comments · Anzac, Australian, Australiana, History, Humanism, Philosophy, War, WW1

The reality was that, from midnight on the day of the battle, the flow of casualties had swamped the capacity of the medical staff and the stretcher-bearers and the front-line trenches were chock full of the wounded and dying… While the front lines were a confusion of wounded and dying, many more still lay exposed in no-man’s land. … Bean, who had rushed to Fromelles from the Somme when he heard about the battle, was greatly moved:

“Especially in front of the 15th Brigade, around the Laies, the wounded could be seen raising their limbs in pain or turning hopelessly, hour after hour, from one side to the other …

There followed a stillness never again experienced by the 5th Division in the front trenches. The sight of the wounded lying tortured and helpless in no-man’s land, within a stone’s throw of safety but apparently without hope of it, made so strong an appeal that more than one Australian, taking his life in his hands, went out to tend them.”

The Diggers organised rescue parties, and once darkness fell they crept out on their hands and knees and scoured no-man’s land to try to find and bring back those who were still alive. The sheer numbers of the wounded mean that they quickly ran out of stretchers and were forced to carry the rescued on their backs. Hugh Knyvett was one of them:

“One lad, who looked about fifteen, called to me: ‘Don’t leave me sir’. I said: ‘I will come back for you sonny’, as I had a man on my back at the time. In that waste of dead one wounded man was like a gem in sawdust – just as hard to find.

Four trips I made before I found him, then it was as if I had found my young brother. Both of his legs had been broken, and he was only a schoolboy, one of those overgrown lads who had added a couple of years in declaring his age to get into the army. But the circumstances brought out his youth, and he clung to me as though I were his father. Nothing I have ever done has given me the joy that the rescuing of that lad did, and I do not even know his name.”

At one stage Knyvett heard a groan. Unbelievably, he claimed this was a rarity. For, despite their terrible injuries, the wounded tried everything they could not to cry out:

“Why. Some had gritted teeth on bayonets, others had stuffed their tunics in their mouths, lest they should groan. Someone had written of the Australian soldier, in the early part of thw war, that, ‘they never groan’ and these men who had read that would rather die than not live up to the reputation that some newspaper correspondent had given them.”

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