REMEMBERING OUR DIGGERS: Christine Thomson, right, a grand-daughter of Bullah Vardy (pictured inset), at the Mawson Park Anzac Day ceremony with her daughter, Cheryl, and grandson, Harry Polglasse.AtPozieresin 1916, local soldier William ‘Bullah’ Vardy slumped in a muddy trench and scribbled in his pocket diary:‘‘Our men are making their attempt to take the German trenches. My God what a terrible bombardment. The sky is lit up for miles and the roar of the big guns would nearly deafen you. God pity the fallen tonight, it is terrible. This is a war of wars.’’
Going by the huge Anzac Day crowds on Monday, I’d say Bullah’s horrific experiences a century ago still resonate with us today.
There is no generation gap on April 25. Banners held high, school blazers on, I reckon students made up almost half the crowd at the Campbelltown service, and I’m sure it was similar at Camden and Wollondilly.
At Mawson Park I bumped into Harry Polglasse, the captain of John Therry Catholic High School at Rosemeadow. He’s also the great-great grandson of Bullah Vardy.
Harry was there with mum, Cheryl, and his nan, Christine Thomson (Vardy), who well remembers her grandfather, who died in 1971.But typical of many Diggers, Bullah wasn’t one to talk a lot about the horrors he had seen. “He never talked about the war,” Christine told me, “we only know things about Pa’s experiences from his diaries.”
Some of the people at the Anzac Day ceremonies held framed photographs of their Digger forebears, and wore their medals, as young and old mixed as one, remembering sacrifices of the past.
World War I has a special place in our national psyche because ofthe massive impact it had on our tiny nation: more than 60,000 killed and 150,000 wounded. That is staggering. In 1914, for example, less than 2000 men, women and children lived in the rural valley between Glenfield and Menangle Park. Yet 250 Campbelltonians served, 40 of them left in war graves.
If you want to get a picture of the impact, let’s translate it into the present population of Campbelltown: that would mean about 20,000 of our young men and women marching off and 4000 of them being killed. The maths are probably similar for Camden, and I can only imagine the wrench those sorts of figures had on the tiny villages of Wollondilly Shire.
As far Bullah Vardy, a bank teller from Allman Street in civilian life, he served with the 1st Field Artillery at Pozieres, which saw the heaviest artillery bombardment of the war. Few diggers emerged unaffected. ‘‘The shelling of Pozieres,’’ wrote war correspondent Charles Bean, ‘‘did not merely probe character and nerve; it laid them stark naked as no other experience ever did.’’
Here are just a few of Bullah’s 1916diary entries:
July 24:‘‘All our chaps have taken the village of Pozieres and dug themselves in. Four of us had to visit the front line, so here I am. By gum, it’s hot. Germans only a few hundred yards away. I have been in the front line all day.’’
July 25:‘‘Had a very rough night last night. I am running dispatches from the trenches to the battery with heavy shellfire. My officer wounded. Day before, three men from the battery wounded.’’
July 26:‘‘Last night was hell. Our boys again attacking and the casualties were heavy. Was buried by a big shell in my dugout. Men close by killed. While observing a number of bomb throwers through the glasses a sniper had shot at me and only missed by a few inches, but got poor chap behind me. Trenches full of dead and wounded.’’
Lest we forget them.
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