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Did you know the ideal solider during the First World War was aged between 18 and 35 years, was 168cm tall with a chest measurement of 86cm? Test your knowledge and learn other interesting facts about the First World War.

The ADCC Queensland initiates Anzac Day commemorations

One hundred years ago on 10 January 1916, the Mayor of Brisbane called for a public meeting where the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland (ADCC) was formed. It is suggested that Thomas Augustine Ryan, a Brisbane auctioneer, put forward the suggestion that 25 April (landing at Gallipoli) be allocated as a day of solemn remembrance. Once approved, the meeting elected Anglican Chaplain Canon David John Garland to convene an Anzac Day Commemoration Committee and devise a structure for the day. On the 25 April 1916 church services, a combined veterans and military parade through Brisbane, and evening gatherings were held in honour of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. This was the birth of Anzac Day in Queensland and further abroad.

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A faster response for the wounded

The first ever motorized ambulances (PDF, 132KB) were used during the First World War to transport the wounded. Thousands of men and women volunteered as ambulance drivers including the famous animator Walt Disney at the age of 16 (being underage he found employment through the Red Cross and was sent to France in late 1918, but arrived just after the Armistice).

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The inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh

In 1914 Harry Colebourne from Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) purchased a female black bear cub from a hunter at White River, Ontario while en route to England to serve in the First World War. He named the bear 'Winnipeg' after his hometown, 'Winnie' for short. Winnie soon gained recognition as the Fort Garry Horse regimental mascot. She travelled to Britain with the Brigade, but was left with the London Zoo while Harry and his unit were posted to the battlefields in France. In 1919 Harry formally donated Winnie to the zoo where she was a very popular attraction. One of her most frequent visitors was Christopher Milne, son of author English A. A Milne who named his teddy bear after her. This served as the inspiration for A. A Milne's classic children's book Winnie-the-Pooh, published in 1926.

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The birth of Dr Dolittle

During the outbreak of the First World War, Hugh Lofting's writing career was put on hold as he enlisted in the Irish Guards regiment of the British Army. Not wishing to write to his children at home about the brutality of war he instead wrote imaginative letters with hand-drawn pictures. Out of his disgust for the lack of respect for war animals, Lofting created a character in his letters who had a unique gift of being able to talk to animals and who preferred to treat animals instead of humans. These letters later became the foundation of the successful Dr Dolittle novels for children, published in 1920.

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French orphan smuggled back to Queensland

Henri, a five year old French orphan during the First World War, was well known by the No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps based near Cologne and was eventually nicknamed 'Digger' by the airmen. Digger ultimately became the Squadron's mascot on 25 December 1918 and it was agreed that he should come back to Australia with the unit. Queenslander Private Tim Tovell, who in particular had bonded with Digger, arranged a specially prepared oat sack to smuggle him aboard the troop ship home. Upon his arrival to Brisbane in 1919 the Queensland Government arranged papers for him to live in Australia permanently. Henri died in a car crash in 1928 when he was 18.

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Camouflage trees

During the First World War fake trees were one method used by the Germans for disguising observation posts on the Western Front. These observation posts allowed troops to watch enemy movements without being seen. Hidden among a group of real trees they were difficult to spot, especially at a distance. As the front was carefully watched by both sides, and to ensure the fake tree was not noticed, a real tree would be carefully studied, photographed and the replica made in German camouflage workshops behind the lines. During the night and under the cover of artillery fire, the real tree was felled and the fake tree erected in its place. The Australian War Memorial features the only observation post of its kind left in the world. Brought back from Oosttaverne Wood near Messines in Belgium (1917), it features the signatures of Australian soldiers serving at the time including Queenslander Private John Patrick Rochrig.

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Periscope rifle

Periscopes provided a less dangerous way of observing the Turks from the trenches of Gallipoli. The periscope rifle allowed a soldier standing in a trench to take accurate aim and fire without exposing himself to the enemy.

The rifles were produced in a makeshift workshop on the beach at Anzac Cove. Though less effective than conventional rifles, the periscope rifle proved to be a useful weapon, and it was soon in use in many frontline trenches.

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Drip rifle

Drip (or "pop off") rifles were self-firing rifles used at Gallipoli to deceive the Turkish soldiers during the evacuation of troops in December 1915. A rifle could be left to fire from the trenches 20 minutes after the device was set. Six rifles were left by 3rd Brigade to fire following the departure of the last party on 20 December 1915. The rifles sporadic firing helped convince the Turkish soldiers that the Anzac front line was occupied long after thousands of men had crept down to the beaches and evacuated. The deception worked so well that 80,000 men were evacuated with minimal casualties.

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Queensland's last surviving First World War veteran

Queenslander, Edward David (Ted) Smout enlisted at 17 in 1915 after lying about his age. As a regular participant in Anzac Day parades, Corporal Smout died aged 106 in 2004 and was one of the last six Australian survivors from the First World War. He was awarded France's highest honour, being made a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion d'Honneur in 1998 and also received the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community. The Ted Smout Memorial Bridge, named in honour of the First World War veteran, is 2.7km long and links Brisbane and Redcliffe. His biography, Three Centuries Spanned, was published when he was 103.

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Queenslanders first ashore at Gallipoli

The 9th Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the Australian Imperial Force and was formed at Enoggera Military Barracks on 18 August 1914. It was the first battalion who recruited in Queensland, and with the 10th, 11th and 12th Battalions it formed the 3rd Brigade. The 3rd Brigade was the covering force for the Anzac landing on 25 April 1915 with the 9th Battalion first ashore as dawn broke around 4.30am. The 3rd Australian Field Ambulance were close behind, landing in an area known still to this day as Queensland Point. The 3rd Field Ambulance was part of the 3rd Brigade and featured men and women from Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The medical unit’s commanding officer at Gallipoli was Queenslander Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Sutton.

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Families to pay for loved ones graves

The Imperial War Graves Commission was formed in 1917 and charged families three pence halfpenny for every letter and every space between each letter for epitaph engravings on First World War head stones. Vigilant officials pursued families into the 1920s for failure to pay. They also reserved the right to veto any epitaph it deemed inappropriate, too long, cumbersome, inartistic, or even too sentimental.

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The Christmas billy tin

One of the most popular care parcels Australian soldiers received for Christmas in 1915 was the humble billy tin. Known as the Christmas billy, they were put together by families back home and contained items such as tobacco/cigarettes, razor blades, coffee, tinned fruit, knitted socks, writing paper, sauces and cake. Socks were particularly welcomed due to the cold, wet winters. Almost 50,000 billies and a plum pudding were issued to soldiers to share between two.

Find out more.

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ANZAC the acronym

ANZAC is the acronym formed from the initial letters of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. This was the formation in which Australian and New Zealand soldiers in Egypt were grouped before the landing on Gallipoli in April 1915. The acronym was first written as “A & NZ Army Corps”. However, clerks in the corps headquarters soon shortened it to ANZAC as a convenient telegraphic code name for addressing telegram messages. One of the earliest appearances of “Anzac” as a word was an appendix to the 1st Australian Division War Diary, dated 24 April 1915. Read more about the term ‘Anzac’ and its use online at the Australian War Memorial website.

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The first Queensland troops departed 11 August 1914

When war was declared 4 August 1914, the most immediate military threats lay to Australia’s north in German New Guinea and on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait where Germany had wireless (radio) stations on islands in the Pacific region. In the few short weeks that followed, about one thousand brave men from North and Far North Queensland rifle clubs left their lives and family behind, stepping into action. Departing from Cairns 11 August, they joined the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) bound north towards German New Guinea and ultimately travelling onto Rabaul.

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The first Queenslander awarded the VC

Private John Leak was the first Queenslander to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) in 1916 for extraordinary courage at Pozieres, France. In a battle notorious for its scale and intensity, Leak's solo attack with bombs and bayonet on a German post stood out. Though he was not Australian-born, records show he enlisted in the AIF on 28 January 1915 in Rockhampton, Queensland.

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Queensland's contribution

In 1914, with Australia's population standing at fewer than five million, 416,809 Australian men enlisted. Of these men, over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded or taken prisoner. That’s about 38.7% of the total Australian adult male population. It’s estimated that 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force during First World War. There were 57,705 Queensland men and women who enlisted for the First World War.

State Total Enlistments Percentage of Population Percentage of males aged 18 to 44
Western Australia 32,231 9.9 37.5
New South Wales 164,030 8.8 39.8
Queensland 57,705 8.5 37.7
South Australia 34,959 8.0 37.6
Tasmania 15,485 7.9 37.8
Victoria 112,399 7.9 38.6
Total 416,809    
Source: The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 Vol XI

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Queensland nurses contribution to the war effort

Matron Grace Wilson and Dorothy Frances Webb from Brisbane were among 22 Queensland nurses awarded the Royal Red Cross during the First World War. The Royal Red Cross is a military decoration awarded in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth for exceptional services in military nursing. This decoration also had the distinction of being conferred exclusively to females until 1976.

Over 3,000 Australian nurses volunteered for active service during the First World War. One of the first operations involved Queensland sisters in German New Guinea in September 1914. In the first nursing team to serve overseas were Brisbane nurses Matron Robertson, Sisters McLean, Nelson, Leatherbridge and Gibbon.

Find out more.

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Anzac biscuits were hard tack

The original Anzac biscuit, the Anzac 'tile', was part of army rations given to Anzac soldiers during the First World War. Unlike the popular Anzac biscuits of today, Anzac 'tiles' were hard tack, a simple cracker made mainly from flour and water. Sarcastically dubbed Anzac 'wafers' by New Zealand soldiers, the original Anzac biscuit had a long shelf life and was very hard.

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In memory of animals

Most people are aware of the red poppy worn to mark the Armistice of 11 November 1918, and also increasingly being used as part of Anzac Day observances. Many though may not be aware of the purple poppy. Started in 2007 by Animal Aid in Britain, the purple poppy has been created to commemorate all the animal deeds and sacrifices in war. People are encouraged to wear the purple poppy alongside the red traditional red poppy as a reminder that both humans and animals have and continue to serve. Purple poppies are now available for $2 at Greencross Vets, selected RSL’s and online at Purple Poppies—Talking Stories.

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Fake Paris—voila

During the First World War, the French planned to create a dummy version of Paris to the city's immediate north. The idea was to fool German planes flying over the area into thinking this was the real thing, leaving the real ‘City of Lights’ intact. Viewed from above there were electric lights, replica buildings, a fake Gare du Nord, and a faux Champs‑Elysées. Fake trains and railroad tracks could be lit up as well. Would it have worked? The plan never reached fruition, so we’ll never know.

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Khaki kangaroo

Some resourceful Australian soldiers smuggled living reminders of home to the First World War arena—including a kangaroo from Queensland which became the regimental mascot for the 9th and 10th Infantry Battalions stationed in Mena, Egypt. Many of these contraband native animals went on to be donated to the Cairo Zoological Gardens when the Australian units were sent off to Gallipoli.

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The ideal solider

During the First World War the ideal soldier was aged between 18 and 35 years, 168cm tall, with a chest measurement of 86cm. The oldest age Australian men were allowed to enlist in the First World War was 35. However, as time passed regulations were relaxed, with the oldest Australian known to have enlisted being aged 70. The youngest known Australian boy to enlist in the First World War was 14 years old. Many of Queensland’s 'boy soldiers' made the ultimate sacrifice. Among them:

  • Private Sidney James Joseph Pelin (6072, 15th Battalion) from Mount Morgan, died aged 17.
  • Private Ernest Wilson Pinches (296, 5th MG Company) from Brisbane, died aged 17.
  • Private Walter James Missingham (5184, 47th Battalion) born in Townsville, died aged 17.
  • Private Albert Stanley Scott (949, 15th Battalion) from Gympie, died aged 17 years and 8 months.

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Queensland in the highest ranks

Born and raised in Queensland, Major General Sir William Glasgow enlisted in the Queensland Mounted Infantry while still a teenager and served in the South African War. By 1912 he had achieved the rank of Major in the Australian Military Forces (Militia) and had just bought a cattle station in Queensland when the First World War broke out. He immediately enlisted with three of his six brothers and left for Egypt in September 1914, landing at Gallipoli in May 1915 as a Major in the 2nd Light Horse Brigade. Eventually, as commandant of Pope's Post, he gained notice for leading a deadly Light Horse attack on Dead Man's Ridge. He was among the last to retire that day, carrying with him one of his wounded troopers, and gaining promotion to Lieutenant Colonel the next day. In France he rose to command the 1st Division and was instrumental with 'Pompey' Elliott in leading the recapture of Villers-Bretonneux. He was once quoted to say in response to German demand to surrender “Tell them to go to hell”. By the end of the war, Glasgow was highly decorated and became a senator post-war and led the Brisbane Anzac Day parade for twenty-odd years.

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Brave indigenous soldiers

Indigenous Australians were present in almost every Australian campaign of the First World War and some were decorated for outstanding actions. Corporal Albert Knight, 43rd Battalion, and Private William Irwin, 33rd Battalion, were each awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal—second only to the Victoria Cross for men in their ranks. Other Indigenous the Military Medal. Private William Rawlings, 29th Battalion, was awarded his Military Medal for ‘rare bravery in the performance of his duty’ in July 1917. He was killed in action the following year.

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Women flying high

Women were flying planes before and during the Great War. Some taught fighter pilots, while a handful of Russian women and one Belgian actually flew combat missions. French aviatrix Marie Marvingt, also known as the ‘La fiancée du danger’, was the first woman in the world to fly combat missions. A world-class athlete who won multiple prizes in skiing, cycling, fencing, shooting and luge, she initially disguised herself as a man and joined the infantry. In the US, Marjorie and Katherine Stinson trained over 100 Canadian cadet pilots at their San Antonio flying school. At the time, Katherine (pictured in 1915) was 24, while Marjorie was 18 years old.

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Conscription and enlistment

Twice during the First World War, a referendum was called for the Australian people to vote on the issue of military conscription. Each time, the majority of Australia voted no. Australia and South Africa were the only participating countries not to introduce conscription during the First World War.

The recruitment of the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War has been called ‘the greatest effort that Australia ever made as a nation’. Special trains decorated with flags, bunting and posters were organised by the Queensland Recruiting Committee to travel around Queensland to increase enlistments. July 1915 was the highest enlistment month of the First World War.

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Life in the trenches

First World War German trenches were in stark contrast to British trenches. German trenches were built to last and included bunk beds, furniture, cupboards, water tanks with faucets, electric lights, and even doorbells in some instances.

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Australian Light Horse

During the First World War, the feathers on the Queensland Light Horse Regiment headdress were emu feathers and were worn on the left hand side. The 2nd 14th Light Horse regiment (Queensland Mounted Infantry) still wear emu feathers on their hats today. Horses recruited for the Light Horse Brigades had to be a minimum of 14.5 hands high and of a solid colour.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia (CC BY-ND 3.0)
Last updated
13 September, 2016

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