Guest post by Matt Smith, historian at Australian War Graves Photographic Archive
Family and Military Historians and Genealogists alike, will continue to trawl archive websites such as Ancestry.com on the eve of the Centenary of ANZAC Day in April 2015; and beyond. They are hoping to make sense of the enormous service commitment delivered by Australian Anzac personnel, and the unimaginable sacrifices made by so many individuals and their families.
The Gallipoli Campaign in April 1915 saw the first major Australian commitment in warfare as a newly federated nation. The Australian Imperial Force, composed mainly of volunteers, were landed on the rugged coastline of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. The ten-month campaign saw an evolution in Australian ingenuity, endurance and fighting ability. Such traits would stand them in good stead during the three years campaigning in France and Belgium.
To assist with understanding of individual Australian service and sacrifice it is essential to better know the men and women who were there. The National Archives of Australia (NAA) Service Dossiers (B2455) are essential sources of information and insight into the movements of personnel. The dossiers are now available on Ancestry, click here to search. The Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files, housed within the collections of the Australian War Memorial, provide accounts of how a soldier died, was wounded, or was recorded missing.
One of the most significant insights into the WWI Anzac condition is the ability to now trawl vast collections of relevant digital images of Anzac personnel. These unique primary sources, until the development of digitized archives, lay accessible only to those researchers able to visit official institutions to view hardcopy material. Digitisation through on-line repositories such as Ancestry.com, has ensured that such images have been preserved and are readily available to the general public. In order to interpret digital images of A.I.F. personnel for greater understanding the following breakdown of Australian Anzac ‘Kit’ has been prepared.
The soldier in Figure 1 represents a typical Australian infantryman from the First World War. He is standing on-guard duty, most probably in London towards the end of the war. Although not in combat conditions, he is wearing the uniform of full fighting order. Figure 2 is an early studio portrait of an Australian 8th Light Horse Trooper. He is also wearing uniform and equipment of fighting order, although the webbing is leather. This is a Gallipoli era image due to the headware displayed. The usual Australian fur slouch hat is complemented by the more formal peaked cap, common at the initial Gallipoli landings. The soldier in figure one possesses a Brodie Helmet, which entered service in 1916. It is slung behind his left shoulder.
In order to interpret these particular images for understanding there are a number points for consideration that will inform the researcher.
The soldiers in Figures 1 and 2 wear a British Pattern 1908 webbing arrangement in leather and/or heavy canvas. Although the exception, rather than the rule, it was common for the first Gallipoli landers to utilize the leather material versions. Developed for the British Army, this pattern was the most advance arrangement at the outbreak of the war and utilized by most Commonwealth armies. It was also probably one of the most comfortable and functional sets of any nationality, having the one main advantage that it could be taken off and on in one piece without the probability of losing any pieces.
The basic arrangement consisted of the following components:
- 3 inch wide waist belt, with two angled 2 inch buckles at the rear
- 2 inch wide shoulder straps, attached to the aforementioned buckles
- left and right hand ammunition pouches, consisting of five individual pockets, three underneath and two above.
- Haversack – this could be worn in a variety of positions and methods from middle of the back to below waist belt.
- water bottle and carrier
- entrenching tool and helve carrier – a two piece device and the handle of which is carried strapped to the bayonet scabbard, and attached to the bayonet frog
- a large pack was also carried, almost always on the back. Valise straps attached the pack to the wearer.
The large pack was made to carry a soldier’s greatcoat, which was essential in colder regions. However, the amount of equipment that soldiers were required to carry usually meant that the greatcoat or blankets were often carried outside of the pack. Although a frontline soldier would try to keep his gear to a minimum, the pack contained the essentials for a soldier’s survival. According to Australian Imperial Force Orders, No. 2, 26 August 1914, a prescribed set of uniform, kit, and necessaries were officially issued to each infantry member of the AIF.
The individual AIF infantryman was issued with a universal kit or duffle bag. Into which he packed the following:
- 2 Pairs of brown leather hob-nail-soled ankle boots, with one psare pair of laces.
- 1 pair of braces
- 2 pairs of woollen cord Commonwealth Pattern breeches.
- Field Service Cap or Slouch Hat, with 2 spare chin straps
- Jacket – Service Dress
- 1 pair of Puttees -. Fabric strapping for lower legs.
- Dungaree jacket and trousers
Other pieces of kit included insignia and rank badges, and training garments including white canvas plimsolls and hat.
The Australian infantryman was not without some simple, essential comforts, despite the hardships of war.
He was assigned three brushes: hair, shaving and tooth. A comb, razor in a case and soap were his allotted toiletries. Underclothes were essential and each man was given two pairs of cotton drawers (underwear), 2 singlets, 2 flannel shirts and 3 pairs of socks. To keep out the chill he was allotted a jersey and khaki cap comforter. Essentially a woolen hat, this was often worn under helmets or during trench raids. All of the essential smaller items were contained in a ‘holdall’ and supplemented by a ‘housewife’, The Housewife was a holdall/pouch contained all that a soldier would require to carry out any repairs to his clothing when necessary. Inside it would contain a thimble, two balls of grey darning wool (for socks), 50 yards of linen thread wound around card, needles, brass dish buttons and plastic buttons for shirts.
The personal kit it would be finished off with the essentials of a knife, fork and spoon, that could be used with the D-shaped mess tin It consisted of two portions, a lid and a base and allowed for both a meal and hot drink to be served. Additionally a service knife was issued, which contained a marline splicing spike, a tin opener and lanyard.
As the Australian infantryman evolved as a fighting entity, especially into the main Western Front European theatre, the essential kit also contained a gas mask, personalized cold weather accessories and preferred trench fighting weaponry, such as knuckle-dusters, clubs and pistols. Unlike some other allied nationalities which supplied such equipment, the Australian infantryman sought out his own ingenuity for survival. Officers might privately purchase trench periscopes, binoculars and personal accessories that could more readily be stored in dug-outs.
Despite preconceived ideas, the Australian infantryman did not carry regular ‘K’ Rations as we known them today. He was often fed at the front by portable cooking stoves and rations were transported into the frontline trenches. However, he was assigned ‘emergency rations’, only to be used as a last resort and consisted of corned or ‘bully’ beef, hard tack biscuits, tea, salt and matches. In situations like that of the Gallipoli campaign, such rations were regularly called upon.
The Australian Infantryman of World War I was a resourceful individual who made the best of a situation and endured, often existing in horrendous battlefield conditions. Official kit was supplemented by personally acquired ‘unofficial’ kit, which, if withdrawn during official inspections, was tolerated. Souvenirs often found on prisoners, collected from the battlefield or bought from local merchants, regularly found their way into a soldiers pack. The life of an Australian infantryman during WWI was one of resourcefulness, acceptance and tolerance.