“The ordeal of the night was plainly visible on all faces, ghastly white showing through masks of grim and dried sweat, eyes glassy, protruding, and full of horror seen only upon men who have lived through a heavy bombardment.” So wrote Harold Roy Williams of his time in the Battle of Fromelles in July 1916.
Having enlisted in 1915 and serving in the 56th Battalion Australian Imperial Force, Williams had only arrived in France, from Egypt, on 30 June 1916. He describes the horrors of the Fromelles battlefield in shocking clarity and the conditions the troops had to endure are revealed in disturbing detail.
Surviving a later gas attack, Harold Williams’ subsequent postings read like a tour of the Western Front. Following the Somme
there was the mud and squalor of the line south of Ypres, the German Spring Offensive of 1918, the Battle of Amiens – frequently described as the most decisive battle against the Germans in France and Flanders – the capture of Villers-Bretonneux and, finally, the assault on Péronne.
Injured at Péronne and invalided back to the United Kingdom, Williams survived the war to return to Australia in 1919. An Anzac
on the Western Front is his graphic description of his service in the First World War – an account that was described as “the best soldier’s story … yet read in Australia” when it was first published.
AN ANZAC ON THE WESTERN FRONT The Personal Reflections of an Australian Infantryman from 1916 to 1918
Harold Williams was an Anzac volunteer who enlisted in 1915, and arrived in France in June 1916 – just in time for the disastrous battle of Fromelles, a catastrophic prelude to the Somme which Williams describes in truly shocking clarity. Surviving Fromelles, the Somme itself, and a subsequent gas attack Williams went through the mud of the Ypres salient; the German Spring offensives of 1918 – and the Australian-led Allied counter-attack before Amiens. Wounded at Peronne, he was invalided to Britain and returned to Australia in 1919. His account of his horrific experiences is both well-written and utterly terrifying.