Book – The Chipilly Six: Unsung Heroes of the Great War
Author: Lucas Jordan
Publisher: NewSouth Publishing
Reviewer: Brian Morgan
It seems, these days, that, just when we have our recent history sorted, we find that we are missing some important pieces.
This book reveals one such piece.
Don’t be confused by the name which presents as a teaser to the stories which the book reveals.
Imagine a hill which overlooks the Somme River and has, therefore, great strategic importance in the latter days of World War 1.
Then, overlay several thousand British troops trying, unsuccessfully, to capture it, and suffering frightful losses in the attempt.
Then, along come 6 Australians who might be described by the uninitiated as undisciplined larrikins.
Rather than pursuing the frontal assault which had failed so miserably, these six concentrated on the other three faces of that hill and quickly overwhelmed the German forces with no loss of Australian lives. Six Australians achieved what some thousands of British troops could not.
However their success, one might say, caused great embarrassment to the British. To assuage this, the credit for capturing the hill was given to the British and not to these six soldiers.
But this book goes beyond that battle to follow the lives of the six Australians and, perhaps more importantly, the appalling treatment they suffered on their return home when they sought compensation, medical treatment, etc for injuries caused during their time in Europe.
I suggest that anyone who reads this book may conclude that heroes who volunteered to fight and managed to return home with physical and mental injuries should not have been treated so poorly by the Repatriation authorities.
In one instance, an ongoing chest condition caused by a wounding in France was discounted, despite it having been treated in the United Kingdom and despite it having left physical signs on the body of the soldier. One might easily presume that the authorities would have had the soldier’s complete service history or could have obtained it, but alas, liability was denied for a war pension and health benefits.
None of the six gained financial security even though they were hard workers. Their inability to obtain free medical treatment and associated benefits also, largely, left them unable to obtain appropriate medical care.
Until this book was recently published, there has been complete silence as to what these six young men achieved and no explanation for why the British were applauded for taking the hill when they had nothing to do with it.
You, like me, will probably shake your head again at how poorly these six were treated by their own Country.
But their contribution to Australia extends beyond their War service, per se, as it is likely that they were responsible for commencing the dawn Service on Anzac Day when they happened upon a lady placing flowers on a memorial at dawn and thought that this event should be continued and promoted.
The six individual lives demonstrated their deep commitment to assist fellow returned soldiers as well as to provide ongoing support to the RSL as it is now known.
These six men are indeed true heroes whose success has been obscured by time and small minds.
But I think their story is more than this. It demonstrates, as we have seen in later campaigns, that our society does not sufficiently appreciate the sacrifice made by those who fought to save our Country and that the bureaucrats whose job, surely, extended to ensuring that returned soldiers were cared for, in mind and body, failed miserably so to perform.
It is no wonder that, after all this time, we are having a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran suicide. The stories told by this book suggest that it is many years overdue.