Listen to Sergeant Wilson’s Story
If I had to pick a bit of kit that any digger really valued more than any other it would probably be our heavy woollen Greatcoats. Not only is it a good coat, it comes in handy as an extra blanket or even a shelter. But most of all it’s good protection from the cold, and even the officers wear them.
I’ve been lugging my old Greatcoat about since I left Australia in 1915. It came in handy when I got to Gallipoli because in November we had a rotten snow storm and everything froze. I’d never seen snow before that.
But sometimes it gets so cold over here on the Western Front that even these coats make no difference and these Brodie helmets are no use at all against cold. Winter here happens when it’s summer at home and in late 1916 and early 1917 we had the bitterest winter anyone could remember. It was so cold that some diggers got frostbite and had to have fingers and toes cut off. Struth! The trenches don’t provide much shelter or warmth either, especially at night. When everything gets drenched by rain even our clothes and blankets freeze solid and the muddy walls turn to slimy stone. The water in our trenches and out in No Man’s Land – that’s the open ground between the German trenches and ours – turns to ice as well and it makes moving about really hard. Probably the only good thing about winter here is that it’s just as bad for the Germans, and when it gets that cold and wet we’re all kept busy trying to get warm and dry so we don’t do much fighting.
Blokes who wear the same black and blue colour patch as me are in the 25th Battalion and we reckon we feel the cold more than most – we’re mainly Queenslanders and don’t see much snow up there.
Even though it’s bitterly cold in the trenches I’m not looking forward to spring. We all know that as soon as the weather fines up the war will be back on in full swing.
In early March 1918 Germany launched a massive attack on the Allied lines. We call it the Spring Offensive and it was one of the biggest in the war. German Stormtroopers recaptured ground lost to the Allies so quickly in the opening days that the Kaiser declared a national holiday in Germany and many thought the war was won. Australia’s diggers played a big role in stopping the German advance.