Battle of Fromelles, 100 years on, as told by an amateur war photographer


Thousands of Australians are in France to commemorate what's considered the deadliest battles in Australian military history.

A century on, thousands of Australians have flocked to France to commemorate what is considered one of the deadliest battles in Australian military history.

The Battle of Fromelles was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front.

In just a day, there were more than 5,500 Australian casualties, making it one of the worst 24 hours in Australian history.

Similarly, the Battle of Pozieres, which lasted just over two weeks, resulted in more than 12,000 casualties.

Armed with a camera he had won in a race, Lieutenant Robert Boese would go on to document life on the Western Front in hundreds of rare photos.

Lieutenant Boese, a 21-year-old from the 2nd Infantry Battalion, began taking photos on the ship, and would continue snapping for the duration of his service.

One of Lieutenant Boese's daughter Bobbie Wilde's earliest memories is looking through her father's photo album from the First World War.

Ms Wilde is particularly fond of one image her father took

"One of my favourites is one of the fellas playing footy in the middle of everything. You know, there are bombs coming and everything, but they are playing footy," Ms Wilde said.

Ms Wilde also reflected on some of the more challenging images.

"The ones I didn't like were people in gas masks, and bodies and skulls," she said.

But for her father, every photo was important, with each image labelled meticulously.

"He liked to put names with people," she said.

"He didn't want to think that they were just men."

And these images are all the more special because of their rarity, Professor Peter Stanley of the University of New South Wales in Canberra said.

"At the time in mid-1916, there were no Australian official photographers recording Australia's part in the battles. So in fact there are very few Australian photographs of Fromelles," Mr Stanley said.

"But the important thing is that these days people don't just want to read about these things in history, they want to see them. So Australians will be able to understand Fromelles and all the other battles Australians participated in on the Western Front through the medium of previously unseen photographs," he said.

Professor Stanley also said it reveals a more human side to the bloody battles.

"They enable us to imagine just what it was like and indeed to see the faces and understand the stories of those who were involved," he said.

Lieutenant Boese's granddaughter Kaylene was just a baby when her grandfather passed away. She grew up knowing him through the album.

"It's quite emotional. But yeah, it's good to go through them and know that Pop was special," she said.

One photo in the album also carries historical significance for a completely different reason.

Looking at a photograph Lieutenant Boese took of himself while using a stick to press the camera button, Ms Wilde and Kaylene realised he may just have pioneered what has become to be known as a 'selfie'.

"He could have been the first in history to take a selfie," Kaylene said.

Professor Peter Stanley is urging Australians to keep the legacy alive well beyond this centenary.

"My fear is that Australians will say well, we've done commemorations at the Western Front. We did Fromelles back in 2016. So I hope that commemorations of the Western Front begins here, but doesn't stop here."

Lieutenant Robert Boese's family has donated the original photo album to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Source SBS

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