Friday, April 25, 2008

ANZAC Day : "90,000 Men Never Came Back Here"

The following are quotes from an interview with Peter Casserly, by the Australians At War Film Archive. Casserly was the last surviving Australian veteran of WW1's Western Front. Casserly served with the 2nd, 5th and 16th Railway Transport Units in France and Belgium, transporting ammunition, working almost constantly within range of German heavy artillery. He also spent many dangerous days with British forces fighting German forces in Amiens and Ypres :

Peter Casserly : The (ship) I was on...I was only two miles away from Melbourne, my mother...and I couldn't see her so as soon as we pulled anchor off, I went down below and wrote a letter to my mother. I put it in a bottle. I put it over the side and my mother got it again. It was washed ashore down around Esperance somewhere so I called it ocean post.

Q: How important were your mates during the war?

A: We were all like brothers together, all like brothers together.

Q: Was a good sense of humour important?

A: Well you really needed it, you really needed it but we were a crowd together. I never knew of any trouble in between us at all. All good mates right through. If you went out somewhere, if you had twenty francs and the other bloke never had any, you'd give him half of it.

Q: What did you think of the Germans?

A: Well just the same as our own blokes. Whatever you were, that's what you were but I had no great grudge against the Germans or anyone else. We were there to do that job and that's what we did and they were doing the same thing for their country, only they got sick of it at the finish.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A : Look, I don't think you could understand really what a warfare frontage looked like. I don't think you could quite understand it, no matter what I told you, about all I told you.

Q: How did you wash, did you wash?

A: Well sometimes you might chuck your shirt into something or hang it out somewhere... Had the same clothes when we come home as when we went there I think but it's very hard, very, very hard to explain to anybody what warfare's really like unless you see some of it, unless you see some of it.

Q: You were singing a cheery song earlier...

A: I was singing one about the warfare.

"Up to your waist in water, up to your waist in slush,
Using the sort of language that makes the Sergeant blush.
Who wouldn't be a soldier, tiddly I- di-i.
Pity the poor civilian, sitting beside their fire.
Oh oh oh it's a lovely war.
What do you want with eggs and ham,
When you've got plum and apple jam?
As soon as reveille has gone, you feel just as heavy as lead,
Until the Sergeant brings your breakfast up to bed".

Q: That's a beauty. Is there another one that you can sing?

A: There's plenty of them man, plenty of them. Like that one I sang here earlier, the French Tattooed Lady.

"I paid ten francs to see a French tattooed lady.
She was a sight to see, tattooed from end to knee.
On her left jaw was the Anzac Flying Corps,
Down her back was the Union Jack and a good old kangaroo
And right across her bits was a fleet of battle ships
And on her deaf and dumb was the digger's rising sun.
Right on her kidney was a bird's eye view of Sydney.
Around the corner, the jolly lorner, was my home in Tennessee".

Q: What did you do on Armistice Day, Peter?

A: Armistice Day? I've got a good one about that. We got on the bus. We had a night, a real night out round, just around our camp area and I seen a feller named Dave Thomas. He was a New South Wales feller, sitting down with his legs stretched out in front of him and I thought "What the hell's wrong with Dave?" and I went over to see him. I said, "What's wrong Dave?" He said "Don't stand on them Cass, don't stand on them." I looked down and he had a return of the swallows. He coughed up his teeth on the ground. Yeah, "Don't stand on them Cass." Anyhow, I had the nice job of sorting them out and cleaning them up and giving them back to him, yeah. That's on the night the Armistice was on...

Q: What does Anzac Day mean to you, Peter?

A: Nothing any different, only that I've never been to any Anzac Day turnout. I've never been to any but they're just their parades and everything just the same, their parades and everything just the same.

Q: It's not an important day?

A: Well it gives you a bit of back thinking to what went on and all the bloody millions of bloody men. There's 90,000 men, Australian men are still in France. They're the things you've got to think about...between there and Gallipoli, 90,000 men never come back here...

Casserly died in 2005. Here's his obituary.

You can read the rest of the interview with Casserly, completed shortly before he died, at the Australians At War Film Archive.