Men of the Australian 1st Division were now in Picardy, and preparing to go into action. The following entries from the 1916 diary which inspired my novel, Liam’s Story:
Monday July 17th: Very wet all night, have to get up for a roll call at 7.0am. Breakfast tea and bacon, I have hard biscuits owing to a short issue of bread, we cannot buy any in the villages. We have parade on working in the open, in afternoon helmet (gas) inspection. In evening we go on guard, mounting at 8pm, mainly gas guard, hear heavy bomb by our guns in distance.
Tuesday July 18th: Heavy rain during early hours of morning, receive orders to move by 8am and have everything packed up. Have a parade in morning of feet, in afternoon clean guns also have a lecture. In evening I take a walk around and watch Fritz bursting shrapnel in a wood held by us.
Wednesday July 19th: Again have orders to be ready to move. Get a lecture on how to put our kit on for fighting order and do away with our packs. In afternoon we have to put them as ordered, and afterwards dismissed. Later I go to view German prisoners captured in the advance, many boys amongst them, and visit the YMCA in the village of Lealvilles [Léalvillers] the band of the 29th Division is playing and I stay until nearly 9pm then return home and turn in.
Thursday July 20th: Pack up ready for a move, after a lot of messing about we get a start, we also mark our packs and give them in, leaving billet in fighting order, carrying overcoat and washing and shaving outfit also pair of socks. The day is sunny and hot. We march through several villages [possibly Varennes, Hedoucourt, and Bouzincourt] finally arriving in a field outside of Albert where we stay for dinner. There was an observation balloon which I visited after camping down. I saw our plane bring down a Fokker plane (German). Over 20 of our balloons up, and many planes. Heavy shelling all night, camp out and very cold and damp.
Here is an extract from my novel:
The English newspaper he had bought in Bailleul claimed the battle was going well, although as they came closer to the action, the sight of so many exhausted and dispirited troops made him wonder at the truth of it. Next day, with his first letter from Georgina in more than three weeks, he knew that much was being withheld. Her note was little more than an apology for its brevity. There was no time to write more, she said, little time to breathe with the convoys of wounded coming in almost faster than they could be dealt with…
Liam’s Story, a bestseller when first published in 1991, is now available in both eBook and print format, from Amazon and other online boosktores.
Photos: State Library of NSW Aus