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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2490

Senator FARRELL (South Australia) (20:52): This is the fifth of six speeches I intend to give to the parliament regarding my grandfather's role on the Western Front during World War I. It is entitled 'France Again and the War Ends'. In my previous World War I serialisation my grandfather, Sergeant Edward Farrell, was stationed at the Overseas Training Battalion in Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire, in England. He still enjoyed occasional leave, often using this time to travel to London. In one letter to his fiancee, my grandmother Emily, Edward reported on an air raid. He wrote:

I was as scared as anything and my teeth played God Save the King. We had not long to wait. The anti-aircraft guns became louder and nearer until they had the barrage right above London. Hundreds of searchlights groped trying to pick up the Germans. When one would nail them several others would be on him quick and you could see a speck away up in the air. Above the terrible din and the whirring noise of whistles, the falling bombs could be heard and then it would become the explosion. Well, this kept up for about an hour or more. When the guns eased up a bit they sounded the all clear and my pulse gradually came down from 250.

Edward was about to embark for France for the second time, a posting that filled him with little joy. On 31 May Edward again found himself near the frontline and on 11 June he wrote to Emily:

Last night there were almost 30 Allied aeroplanes over our lines at once, including the little party of night bombers on their way across the Rhine. We camped on the fringe of a nice thick wood which the sun does not penetrate. A nice comfortable dugout but just now there is a summer shower on. All around us are some of our big guns going day and night. They make an awful row. At all times the buzz of the plane is in the air. The Germans drop shells in the vicinity intermittently during the day and a few bombs at night. High up can be heard the 15 inch shells on their 16 mile or so journey into deserted Amiens.

On 19 June he sounded very deflated in his regular letter to Emily:

Had painful news tonight as a mate was killed yesterday. Every day the sordid list comes through of the number of killed and wounded. It is just like an invoice or a letter that would go through your hands at the office. Isn't this business rotten? Often I think of the painful telegram at the other end to someone.

On 9 July Edward wrote from Amiens:

By joves, I saw a nice sight in the sky the other evening. Over 60 of our planes all visible all at once.

In early August Edward wrote to Emily:

Am in a bonzer dugout just now deep down in the bowels of the earth. It is just about bombproof, I think, and that's saying a lot. Quieter in the air lately as the weather has been too crook for flying. We get a thunderstorm nearly every day and plenty of rain and mud. The day before yesterday I saw one of our airmen bring down two German balloons in flames. I see some of our own treated the same too every now and then.

On 10 August Edward headed a letter to Emily with 'The Germans on the run'. It was, of course, the Battle of Amiens, and over four days Australians won five Victoria Crosses. 'I would like to drop into Glenelg very much and be able to tell you all about the two days of chasing the Germans as I could never describe it on paper,' he wrote to Emily. 'The grimness, the grandeur, the awful scenes of carnage and yet the queer fascination of it all.' After the battle had concluded the French President of the Allied War committee, George Clemenceau, visited the headquarters of the Australian 4th division near Corbie and he said: 'When the Australians came to France the French people expected a great deal of you. We knew that you would fight a real fight but we did not know from the beginning that you would astonish the whole continent. I shall go back tomorrow and say to my countrymen, "I have seen the Australians, I have looked in their faces. I know that these men will fight alongside us again until the cause for which we are all fighting is safe." '

On 31 August Edward wrote:

Strike, we have been kept well on the move lately. Don't know when I have slept in the same hole two nights running. We are in a crowd of hurrying Germans across the Somme. He is not lingering much as we are making it too warm for him on the flanks. It is very sickening, though. A few days ago and just as we got into the front line it was early hours of the morning. A few of us were going through the trench that the Germans were shelling. We had that 'hurry on' that is noticeable where the shells are and I am bothered if I do not stand on a stone or something and twist my ankle. Crawled along and stuck it out for about an hour but then had to go to the aid post and stop behind. It is not very bad but I won't be able to carry on for a couple of days yet.

He also wrote several days later:

We have had some severe storms and a couple of mornings ago in the early hours it was a trifle over the odds. Some lovely thunder and then came the gale that wrecked our happy home and we got washed out.

The next letter was dated 6 October:

Events are moving all right. You people probably know these things more fully and earlier than we do. What we do know and know very thoroughly is what is going on along the ridges and in the trenches in our own vicinity. The other night I know the Germans punctuated a Hail Mary from me with bombs—while I huddled close—very close—into a hole half full of cold water.

Later, when he left the front line:

Perhaps the nicest thing back here is that there are no air raids. And there are apple trees all around us, and of course they get plenty of attention. The Froggies don't seem to take much care of the gardens and leave the trees and ground to go wild as they please. All the same, they seem to bear fruit very well.

Mrs Froggy in the farmhouse is a dear old soul except when the boys pinch her apples—which is all the time.

We get milk and butter off her too, and it was tres bon having dinkum milk on porridge or Anzac pudding. Butter, too, and toast—yes, truly. We get the milk for about 5 pence a pint and the butter about 5 or 6 shillings a pound.

On 17 November Edward wrote joyfully to Em:

The war is over!

Have only one object in view now, and that is to get home and I'd like to hop on an aeroplane this minute labelled 72 Jetty Road.

Suppose it will be a few months yet, though, and we don't know anything definite yet except this—we're off this week to the Rhine garrison in Germany somewhere in the vicinity of Koblenz and will go through Belgium—and I suppose there'll be a bit of marching too.

But it was not to be. After marching and travelling by troop train around France and Belgium, he wrote on 13 December that he was heading back to England. In London on 22 December he wrote to Em describing the last days of the war:

As things warmed up—and at Bellincourt they did warm up too—I was able to shake off the horrible feeling of death. But I did get a piece of shell or a bullet—don't know which—through my water bottle that day.

He reported to Em:

I find London has altered very little as yet, except as regards the street lighting. The streets are now fairly bright at night and there is no more restriction on the windows being blacked out.

Everyone you meet is glad the war is finished—but they still retain vivid memories of air raids. No wonder the women folk here went mad on Armistice Day.

The last letter, from London, was dated 29 December—and it is now history that Sergeant Edward Farrell returned home and married his Em.