No doubt everyone in Australia and our good neighbor, New Zealand is aware, or should be, ANZAC Day, 25th April falls on Monday. This, of course, means this weekend is a long weekend.
Let’s not forget the important reason for it being a long weekend. ANZAC Day.
A favourite book of mine is A.B. Facey’s “A Fortunate Life”. It’s not what one would call a “big” book, but it is a big story of a simple, good man’s life; a life filled with a wealth of experiences; a life that wasn’t always easy. The autobiography was published in 1981, nine months before Albert Facey’s death at the age of 88.
Born in Victoria, at the age of five years, after the death of his father, Albert (Bert) Facey, along with three of his older siblings, was sent to Western Australia where the brothers were raised in the care of their grandmother.
Facey began working when he was eight. With little education he could neither read nor write. By the age of 14 he was an experienced bushman. Aged 18, he was a professional boxer.
In August 1914, when Albert was nearly 20 years old news came through Britain was at war with Germany. Facey was in New South Wales at the time with his boxing troupe. The air was rife with talk Australia was sending a force of 20,000 troops to aid the British. Knowing he was fit, and lured by the thought of travelling overseas, Facey, like thousands of other young men, decided to volunteer. He travelled back to his home state of Western Australia to enlist.
In early February, 1915, along with his battalion, on board the troopship “Itonus” Facey headed for the Middle East. One of his older brothers, Joseph had set sail five days earlier. Roy, another brother had also enlisted.
Bert Facey lost a lot of his mates and had witnessed many men perish.
On 28th June, 1915 Roy was blown apart in an explosion. When Roy was killed Bert went through the harrowing experience of helping bury his brother, side by side in a grave with fifteen of his mates; something none of us could ever imagine having to do; should never have to do. The clearing where the bodies were interred was named “Shell Green”.
A.B. Facey was badly injured at Gallipoli on 19th August, 1915, when a shell, lobbed into the parapet of his trench, exploded. His mate was killed.
Facey suffered internal injuries and a crushed right leg. A bullet also struck him in the shoulder. He’d been at Gallipoli six days short of four months.
During his recuperation in a converted sports arena in Cairo the Aussies called “Luna Park” Facey turned 21. He told no one. It wasn’t a time for celebration.
While convalescing he was told his brother Joseph had been killed. Joseph was bayoneted while on guard duty at an outpost.
In November 1915, Bert arrived in Fremantle. He returned to hospital. His injuries caused him severe problems for the rest of his life. He was discharged from the Army in June, 1916. During his rehabilitation in Perth Bert met his future wife. After marrying in 1916 they had seven children, the eldest of whom was killed in the Second World War. Bert and his wife had 28 grandchildren.
One Sunday afternoon in 1989 a couple of friends and I visited the Mountain View Hotel at Gordonvale, south of Cairns; a wonderful old country pub. My interest was alerted when I learned the groundsman/barman’s surname was “Facey”. He and I had a lengthy conversation. A. B. Facey had been his great-uncle.
I’ve always been grateful I asked the question of the fellow…”You might think this a silly question, but are you related to A.B. Facey, the author of “A Fortunate Life?”
Australia’s 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions having withdrawn from the horrors of Gallipoli were sent to the French countryside…at the Western Front to help the French who were suffering badly. If they thought the eight months of the horrific battle at Gallipoli were bad, worse lay ahead with the Battle of Fromelles and the Battle of Pozieres during 1916.
In one night alone there were more than 5500 Australian casualties. In six weeks of battle around Pozieres the casualty count was equivalent to hellish eight months of Gallipoli.
1917 arrived. The Australians were again heavily engaged: at Bapaume; at Bullecourt and Messines and in the latter part of the year, in the Ypres offensive – Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poelcapelle and Passchendaele.
In 1918 the Aussies and the Brits reclaimed Villers-Bretonneux from the Germans. The fighting that commenced in 1914 finally ended in November, 1918.
Few of the original ANZACS of 1915 remained. Australia and New Zealand lost far too many of their young men. And, a great number returned home bearing injuries, both physical and mental; injuries and disturbing, unimaginable images that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Ghosts of the conflicts tormented…..
Sadly, wars have continued – they didn’t end with the “Great War”. We look back on history, and too often we discover humans haven’t learned a thing.....
LEST WE FORGET….