Western Front Commemorative Service, Brisbane, 23 July 2016

Western Front Memorial Service held in Brisbane 23 July 2016. Source: Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, photographer: Tony Phillips.

Western Front Memorial Service held in Brisbane 23 July 2016. Source: Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, photographer: Tony Phillips.

On Saturday, 23rd July 2016, a moving commemorative service, organised by the Queensland Government, was held at the Shrine of Remembrance in Anzac Square, Brisbane, to honour the Australian troops who served on the Western Front.

The ceremony marked the 100th anniversary of the first Australian soldiers entering France and Belgium in 1916.  295,000 Australians served on the Western Front in battles such as Fromelles and Pozieres.  Australian losses on these fields of battle were staggering with over 28,500 casualties in the first seven weeks and  8,800 Australian soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice.  In fact there were more casualties in the first six weeks of the Somme Offensive than the entire 8 month campaign at Gallipoli.

The service held a special significance for the John Oxley Library as one of our generous donors, Mr David Toohey, read out extracts from the diary of his father, James Toohey, who served on the Western Front.

Mr David Toohey speaking at the Western Front Memorial Service. Source: Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, Photographer: Tony Phillips.

Mr David Toohey speaking at the Western Front Memorial Service. Source: Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, Photographer: Tony Phillips.

Readers of our World War I blog will be familiar with the story of Gunner James Toohey from South Brisbane who served with the Field Artillery Brigade 3, Reinforcements 14.

James Toohey, ca. 1915. John Oxley Library, Image No: 28848-005-0001.

James Toohey, ca. 1915. John Oxley Library, Image No: 28848-005-0001.

The John Oxley Library is fortunate to hold two pocket diaries and other memorabilia from James Toohey's war service (Accession 28848) which were generously donated to us by his family.  At the commemorative service James Toohey's son, David, read out the diary entries describing the horrific conditions during the battle of Pozieres which took place 100 years ago in July and August 1916:

July 22 - Heavy bombarding all day and night, it was like hell let loose.  Our infantry charged and captured the village of Pozieres.

July 23 - I left with Mr. McDonald at 3am and went up to the O.P.  to try and observe by signal how far our infantry had reached.  I was on the lookout when a shell burst just handy and a piece of high explosive struck my steel helmet and knocked it flying.  There was intense fighting all day the Germans striving hard to regain their lost ground but our men too good for them.

July 24 - Intense fighting still continues but we have still got the village.

July 25 - The Hun has redoubled his efforts to regain his lost ground using every means conceivable, gas, shrapnel etc. but he has again been repulsed by the Anzacs who took advantage of securing another trench.  There were a couple of hundred prisoners taken today.  During the evening I was out in the "Valley of Death" watching for signalling from the "Chalk Pit". Pozieres and Contalmaison are razed to the ground.

James Toohey Diary. John Oxley Library, Accession 28848.

James Toohey Diary. John Oxley Library, Accession 28848.

David Toohey proudly wore his father's medals, including the Military Medal, which James was awarded in 1918 for the bravery and skill which he displayed in keeping the lines of communication open during a heavy artillery barrage near Merris in Northern France on the 28th June of that year.

Wreaths laid at the Shrine of Remembrance, Anzac Square, Brisbane. Source: Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, Photographer: Tony Phillips.

Wreaths laid at the Shrine of Remembrance, Anzac Square, Brisbane. Source: Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, Photographer: Tony Phillips.

This was a very special occasion as many members of the extended Toohey family were in attendance, including three of James Toohey's children, David, Peter and Mary, as well as several of their children and grandchildren.  David remarked during his speech that his father was a quiet, modest man who never spoke of the war or participated in Anzac Day services.  The scars of war were too deeply felt and he would truly have been amazed that he was being honoured in this way.

Members of the Toohey Family at the Western Front Commemoration Service. Source: Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, Photographer: Tony Phillips.

Members of the Toohey Family at the Western Front Commemoration Service. Source: Anzac Centenary Coordination Unit, Photographer: Tony Phillips.

Lynn Meyers, QANZAC100 Content Curator.

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