Gunnedah Between the Crosses: The beginning of the end of the Great War

Joseph Morris: An enthusiastic welcome home at the Wandobah shearing shed.

Joseph Morris: An enthusiastic welcome home at the Wandobah shearing shed.

Day one of the end of the Great War was August 8, 1918. It was the first day of the Hundred Days Offensive that led to the defeat of Germany and its allies.

The name of the place which began the end was Amiens.

Amiens had seen a lot during the course of the war since the British Expeditionary Force had established its headquarters there almost four years before. The Germans had only ever briefly held the town, and General Ludendorff coveted it dearly, nearly reaching it a few months prior, in the Spring Offensive of 1918.

But the Allies had held on, and the Germans were fated to never get back there, at least in this war.

Now Ludendorff was really regretting his army’s failure – because the first day of the Battle of Amiens was the beginning of the final defeat. As the Allies advanced 11km on the first day, those in German High Command began to call the day “the black day of the German Army”.

The Sydney Morning Herald of August 12, 1918 told of 25,000 prisoners taken in those first few days, with the enemy’s line being “severely shaken”.

Albert and Paddy Kelly.

Albert and Paddy Kelly.

It was shaken so badly as to be broken – broken beyond repair, meaning that the end was in sight and the boys, the men, would be coming home.

The boys come home

Some soldiers were already home though. These were those that had carried wounds from Passchendaele, Villers Bretonneux and Third Ypres who been declared unfit for duty, with the army giving them a “free pass” home, ahead of what would be a logistical quagmire at the end of the war.

Just how “free” the experience would be would only be determined in time, but on  August 8, 1918 at Carroll, young Private Patrick (Paddy) Kelly of Carroll, invalided home with a gunshot wound to both legs, was “extended a most enthusiastic welcome at the Carroll Hall with the Gunnedah Band in attendance”. The Tamworth Daily Observer further added that Private Kelly was presented with a “substantial wallet of banknotes” raised by a community who wanted to say thank you in some tangible form.

Albert Corliss.

Albert Corliss.

Later in the month, at the other end of Gunnedah Shire out near the locale of Milroy, another group of young men was also being enthusiastically being welcomed home.

The Tamworth Daily Observer of August 31 reported: “A welcome home was given to Privates Fred Church, Joe Morris and Albert Corliss in Mr D. Nowland’s grain shed … those present included a number of returned soldiers from Wandobah shearing shed with the function taking the form of a banquet.”

After a round of speeches by dignitaries, the three young men were presented “with gold medals which were suitably inscribed”.

Full wallets and gold medals, dances and banquets would be the order of the day for the next year or so as returned servicemen finally came back to those that loved them.

But the men that returned were not the boys that had gone away, and they struggled. Their families did also as they desperately tried to comprehend how the man in front of them which carried the same face as “their Jack” or “their Jim”, was not their son, their husband, or their brother that they had waved goodbye to just a few short years before.

Understanding was going to be hard … on both sides.

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