Fromelles Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery

Bringing in the wounded at Fromelles

The scene out on the battlefield was dreadful, particularly opposite the 'Sugar Loaf' where the wounded could be seen moving about. One Australian, 'blinded and distraught', kept walking in circles, falling and walking on again. Eventually the enemy shot him dead.

Cobbers Fromelles

The Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles.

For three days and nights following the battle many of the surviving Australian soldiers ventured into no-man's-land, despite potential enemy fire, to bring in the wounded. They mainly went out during the darkness and many were rescued during the night. A man's position would be marked in the daylight and when night came he would be fetched in under cover of the darkness. Charles Bean wrote, "that magnificent tribute of devotion which the Australian soldier never failed to pay to his mates".

In the official history Charles Bean listed a string of men who "went out boldly by day". One such was Private Edgar Williams, 58th Battalion, of Ouyen, Victoria. His endeavours to help his fellows, was to cost his life. He had gone out at 08.00 hrs on 22nd July 1916, nearly three days after the attack, and brought in three wounded and five unwounded men. Later that day whilst venturing again into no-man's-land he was wounded. His body was never recovered and he is one of those commemorated on Panel 14 at VC Corner.

Prominent in his efforts to save the wounded was Sergeant Simon Fraser, 57th Battalion, of Byaduk, Victoria. In a letter, a lengthy extract of which Charles Bean quoted in his official history, Fraser described something of the process of bringing in the wounded in the face of the enemy at Fromelles. The Germans, he felt, treated them fairly well although "a few were shot at the work". It was no easy task picking up and carrying a man on one's back particularly if he had a serious wound or a broken limb. Where no stretcher was available to hoist a man up it was necessary to lie down, manoeuvre him onto your shoulders and then stand up in full view of the enemy and possible flying bullets. Fraser described the cries of the wounded and how impossible it was for those who heard them not to respond despite the danger to the rescuers' own lives. One man he heard calling was 14 stone [88 kilos] in weight. Frazer recalled that he could not lift him on my back; but managed to get him into an old trench and told him to lie quiet while he got a stretcher. Then another man … sang out "Don't forget me cobber". Frazer went back to his own trench and got four volunteers with stretchers and they got both men back safely.

The bravery of the men who went out to rescue the wounded of Fromelles is commemorated at the Australian Memorial Park. In the middle of the Park is a statue, sculpted by Peter Corlett of Melbourne, and erected in 1998. It depicts Sergeant Simon Fraser with a wounded man of the 60th Battalion on his shoulders, carrying him to safety. The memorial is entitled 'Cobbers'. It cannot be the soldier who Fraser heard calling out 'Don't forget me, cobber' as that man, Fraser said, was fetched in on a stretcher. Nonetheless, 'Cobbers' is a fitting tribute to all those Australians who scoured no-man's-land in the aftermath of the Battle of Fromelles, a battle which cost the Fifth Australian Division 5,553 dead and wounded in its first operation on the Western Front.

Enquire About Your IN THE FOOTSTEPS Tour

Last updated: 14th December 2018