"Truly we are objects of interest to the Jerries we meet on the road, and especially in the villages. Taunts are hurled at us; epithets are numerous, and souvenir hunters molest us, but so far not violently. After passing through the village of Villers, we come across some British prisoners who are clearing the road, and they present a sorry spectacle, unshaven and dirty looking... Some offered some appeal for food, but we have none to give. In fact we are ourselves hungry... Their predicament does not create in us a very favourable impression, although I like others, do not realise the seriousness of what is in store for us. The future is a blank, as no-one knows what it holds."
So wrote an Australian prisoner-of-war, Corporal Lancelot Davies, only recently taken prisoner at the first battle of Bullecourt, on 11 April 1917. For him - like another 1,200 Australians captured at Bullecourt - the future was indeed `blank' and unpredictable. The experiences of Australian prisoners of war (POWs) or Kriegsgefangeners held captive in Germany has been largely forgotten or ignored- overshadowed by the terrible stories of Australians imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II. Yet, as David Coombes makes known, the stories are interesting and significant - not only providing an account of what those young Australian soldiers experienced, and the spirit they showed in responding to captivity - but also for the insight it provides into Germany in the last eighteen months of the war. Drawing on previous inaccessible records, Coombes focuses on one Australian brigade, the 4th Infantry, from its formation in 1914, through Gallipoli to its baptism of fire on the Western Front, culminating in the first battle of Bullecourt - which, in turn, leads to the prisoner of war experience.
Dr. David Coombes is a Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland. A graduate of the Flinders University of South Australia and the University of Adelaide, David received his PhD from the University of Sydney. He is the author of three other books including Crossing the Wire: the untold stories of Australian POWs in battle and captivity during WWI (Big Sky Publishing, 2011) - a book which stimulated his further interest in the battles of Bullecourt. David is now researching and writing Bravery Was Not Enough: how the AIF responded to technological changes on the Western Front, with the assistance of a grant from the Australian Army History Unit. Dr Coombes currently lives in Queensland with his beloved cross kelpie "Tally".
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