Born in Richmond, Tasmania, 24-year-old Archie Barwick was managing a sheep station in northern New South Wales when war broke out. He set out from the Rutherglen property at Surveyor’s Creek, Woolbrook, to embark upon what he expected would be a great adventure. Barwick enlisted in the AIF at Randwick, New South Wales, on 24 August 1914. Having feared that his lack of height at 5 foot 4 inches might make him ineligible for recruitment, he was so pleased when he was accepted that he did a couple of somersaults.
Barwick underwent two months of basic training at Randwick Racecourse and Kensington before departing for war. He wrote:
I suppose there were 9 out of 10 who had never formed fours in their life before, and I was one of them. It was funny to see us trying to get though the most simple movements, and getting completely boxed up. It was about 3 weeks before I mastered the form fours properly – I could never remember whether it was the odd or even numbers who had to move.
Barwick departed Sydney in heavy rain aboard HMAT Afric on 18 October 1914. As the ship passed down the harbour, the men aboard could hear the crowds cheering and boat sirens blaring to farewell them. Six days later, they arrived in King George Sound, Albany.
Afric departed for Egypt in the First Convoy on 1 November 1914. The men aboard watched the Australian coastline fade away into darkness; the next morning, it was gone. Barwick enjoyed looking over the water at night.
The heat was very intense in the tropics – the [deck] pitch used to be nearly melting in the daytime. At night everyone slept on deck. I only slept down below till we reached Albany; after that I used to sling my hammock under one of our guns, & I can tell you I enjoyed the trip.
Troops travelling aboard the Afric arrived and disembarked at Alexandria, Egypt, on 9 December, 1914. They entrained to Cairo, and then marched to trams that transferred them to Mena Camp. On his first night there, Barwick slept in his overcoat and groundsheet: ‘I do believe that once or twice during that never-to-be-forgotten night that I was frozen absolutely stiff.’ He spent the next day exploring the pyramids, before settling into daily marches and training, which continued until he departed Mena Camp on 4 April.
The night we left Mena bonfires were burning, and concerts were in full swing all over the place. We … marched to Cairo a distance of 10 miles. The boys sang all the way down, and as we were going through the streets of Cairo early in the morning people waved and cheered us.
Barwick was on his way to the Dardanelles for service on Gallipoli.
The Australian 1st Division, including the 1st Battalion, landed in the second and third waves on Gallipoli. There was initial confusion with men separated from their companies, and after four days, the battalion withdrew to the beach to re-group. The next few weeks were mostly spent digging trenches and trying to consolidate their positions. Barwick wrote:
I never felt the slightest fear the first day or two; it was when we began to realise that bullets hurt when they hit you, that we knew what fear was. The first time that fear came to me was on the third day, when we were in a perfect Hell of bullets, and men were being killed all round me. I felt frightened, and I am not ashamed to say that I had a terrible fight with myself that day: one part of me wanted to run away and leave the rest of my mates to face it, and the other part said no, we would stop and see it out at any cost rather than show the white feather. This sort of thing went on for about an hour and a bayonet charge settled the argument for me. I was fairly right after that’.
The 1st Battalion helped repel the massive failed Ottoman attack on 19 May, and remove the dead from no man’s land during the armistice on 24 May. After some time on relief, the men were back in the front line by early July.
In June, the 1st Battalion was part of the offensive to take Lone Pine, planned as a diversion to engage the Ottomans and their reinforcements at this location, while a major offensive took place to take command of Chunuk Bair and Hill 971. While initially successful in its objective, it ultimately failed, and the Lone Pine operation cost the lives of many Australians. More than 2,000 casualties were incurred by the Australian 1st Division. Ottoman losses numbered closer to 7,000.
During four days of fighting at Lone Pine, from 6 to 9 August, Barwick and the 1st Battalion were engaged in constant close-quarters trench-fighting, involving desperate bombing and the use of rifle and bayonet. The narrow trenches quickly became congested with troops, and there was no escape from the constant rain of bombs. Entering an Ottoman trench, Barwick landed on a dead enemy soldier. The trenches were packed with corpses, making it almost impossible to get supplies of bombs forward. At one point, Barwick found himself one of only three men holding 30 metres of trench. He thought his time had come, but he made it through, although the battalion lost around 400 men in four days. The counter-attacks by the Ottomans ended by 10 August. The 1st Battalion was evacuated from Gallipoli on 19 November 1915.
The 1st Battalion embarked Egypt for France, arriving on 27 March 1916. They saw service in the trenches for the first time on 19 April at Laventie in the Fromelles sector, before enduring a baptism of fire at Fleurbaix. They then took part in the great Somme offensive.
The battle at Pozières in July 1916 was the first major operation in France for the 1st Battalion. It was the battalion’s most fiery ordeal, causing their greatest loss of casualties during the war. The tiny village of Pozières was the strongest point of the German defence at that time.
Approaching the front line at Pozières on the night of 19–20 July 1916, the 1st Battalion suffered casualties from gas shells. The advance began on 23 July, and although conditions were difficult, Pozières Trench was captured with little resistance. Positions were consolidated along the main road through the devastated village. The German response began with heavy artillery fire, and casualties soon mounted among the Australians digging communication trenches. Barwick counted 75 large-calibre shells that landed in one five-minute period. A further advance was decided upon, but on 25 July the German shelling became devastating: the trenches were obliterated and losses were appalling.
Listen to Barwick’s description of the battle:
Barwick and the 1st Battalion were relieved on 26 July. The battalion recorded 107 killed, 375 wounded and 48 missing.
On 1 August 1916, ten new officers, including Corporal Archie Barwick, were appointed after the heavy losses at Pozières. After receiving reinforcements to make up numbers in their shattered force, the 1st Battalion returned to the front line. On 18 August, the battalion took up part of the line opposite Mouquet Farm. Fortunately the battalion was engaged in night patrols and extending saps, and did not see heavy action.
By the end of October persistent heavy rain was making life miserable, and the mud in the trenches and surrounding fields was deep and clinging. The Somme winter had begun, and the bitter cold and soggy trenches caused a prevalence of trench feet. At a muddy and unsheltered camp at Mametz Wood on 26 October 1916, Barwick was promoted to sergeant ‘in the field’.
On 5 November 1916 at Gueudecourt, the 1st Battalion’s objective was to attack Fritz’s Folly and Hilt and Bayonet Trenches. Up against the strongly prepared Germans, this was the first and last time the battalion failed to reach their objective. Casualties were heavy: nine officers and 161 other ranks were reported killed, wounded or missing.
Barwick’s diary entry recounts the events:
I was the first one of my platoon (as I should be) to hop over and I gave a few more a helping hand, for the sides of the trench were steep and slippery. As soon as we showed up the flares went up in batches which lit everything up like day, and showed us men falling everywhere and the boys struggling through the mud bogged nearly to the knees, for the ground was as soft as a well-fallowed paddock after a storm of rain. I was forcing my way as fast as I could and calling for my men to keep up and box on.
Just before we reached the German wire…I got a terrible buster, fell fair into a big shell hole full of mud. A nice state I was in to be sure but I scrambled out as soon as I could and made a rush for the wire. Having no wire cutters I had to force my way through as best I could and the consequences was that I got badly cut all over & ended up getting hung in the stuff for all the world like a sack of wood chucked on to a heap of barb wire, but I felt nothing at the time for my blood was running hot and we only thought of getting in their trench.
The fighting by this time was very fierce. Shells, bombs, mortars and worse than all liquid fire bombs were falling among us like hail. They used to go off with a terrific bang, nearly stunning one with the concussion and splashing one all over with this burning scorching liquid – it was awful.
Shortly after this I had one of the most thrilling minutes of my life. I was rushing as fast as the wet and slippery ground would allow me down a shallow trench towards the German parapet, where I could see their trench mortars and bombers in action. When I was about 7 yards off them or so a Hun rushed out at me and made a desperate lunge at my body. I must have parried as quick as lightning and more by luck than anything else I was in time and his bayonet slid down my rifle and stuck in the fleshy part of my leg – went straight through my puttee and thick trousers. My didn’t it sting. I thought it was right through my leg, for a sharp pain went through my body and it was with difficulty that I kept from yelling out, but kept my block. Before he could draw his rifle back for another attempt I shot him dead and he fell at my feet. Quick as I could I let fly two more bullets at the bombers and I’m certain that I got another one, for I saw him fall down among his mates and they at once scattered.
The remnants of the Batt[alion] charged gamely but we had not the ghost of a chance for the machine guns mowed us down in rows. I could have cried with disappointment and rage when we got the order to get back to our own trenches. It was the first time we ever had to acknowledge defeat and I can tell you it hurt some. The worst of it all was that in spite of the bravery displayed by the boys all our losses were in vain. Our casualties were about 75% of the men engaged. It was the hottest engagement as ever I have been in and how I escaped is a mystery for the air was stiff with bullets...
Allied battle plans changed with news of German retreat. At the start of April 1917, the 1st Battalion took over the front line near Doignies, with the famed Hindenburg Line only two or three miles away. Hermies fell and Demicourt was the next object of capture. There, Barwick was wounded in action for the second time.
Barwick’s diary entry on 8 April 1917:
We were supposed to go over the top tonight, but for some reason or other it was postponed. I had been working all night getting my men water and one thing and another, and about 3 o’clock I went over to see if our cooks had our hot meal ready. I had scarce got out in the road when all of a sudden every machine gun and rifle within miles seemed to burst out firing, and bullets flew thick as hailstones. I could see I was not in one of the pleasantest places so I just started to make a dash for our trench when ‘whack’ a thrill shot through my shoulder like a thrust from a red-hot needle and I stopped in my track. I realized … I was hit and I about-turned and made for the safety of the cook-house and there got my wound dressed.
By the time Barwick rejoined his battalion on 22 April they had driven off a strong enemy attack and were preparing to move forward to Bullecourt.
From 3 May, in the second battle of Bullecourt, the battalion faced some of the heaviest fighting it had ever experienced. Under continual bombing and counter-attacks, and a heavy rain of shells and sniping, the 1st Battalion managed to extend their line through the aid of Stokes mortars. The Germans were unable to dislodge them. While many of the enemy were captured and killed, the battalion also sustained heavy casualties. Five officers and 44 other ranks were killed, and 240 wounded.
Barwick’s diary entry for 5 May 1917:
We have had some terrific bombardments and the one today is very severe…at 7 o’clock it reached a climax. I’m hanged if you could see ten yards in front for the dust and earth raised by the bursting shells and this combined with the fumes, smoke and stinking irritating tear gas, of which they put over huge quantities, made life almost unbearable and almost certainly very precious.
[The German counter-attack] only added to the dreadful layer of dead in No Man’s Land. I am not overestimating things when I say that there are three Germans killed to every Australian in this fiercely contested sector. A trip up the trench we have just captured is an eye-opener, but a terrible sight even to one so hardened to horrible sights as myself, for it is nothing more than a shambles. It is absolutely packed with dead Germans and there they are, lying in all attitudes, as many as three deep in places and heads and arms all over the place, showing the effect of our bombs. It is an awful sight and I jolly soon got out of it, for I felt quite sick.
Just a day after this account, Barwick heard he was being transferred to the 1st Training Battalion at Tidworth, England. He undertook training at the Officers’ Instruction School and then worked as an instructor, training new reinforcements as they arrived from Australia. He remained there until he rejoined his battalion in mid-October 1917.
The next serious engagement for the battalion came in mid-April 1918, with the defence of Hazebrouck, the location of an important railhead. Barwick received a severe wound during enemy shelling, while defending the hill of Strazelle and trying to prevent the German capture of Hazebrouck. Writing from his hospital bed at Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham, Barwick’s diary entry of 25 April 1918 read:
Shells, big ones at that, were falling thick and fast and quite a number were getting knocked. I remember hearing the screech and howl of a big shell coming towards me. I stood quite still and waited to see what would happen. The next thing I remember was a frightful red-hot searing pass across my right side and I staggered from the blow. I knew I was hit but I did not know how badly; I thought at first that my stomach was hanging out when the warm blood started to run down my body. The funniest part of all is that I never heard the explosion of the shell.
I had got it in almost the thinnest part of my body on the right side and it had cut a great gash, almost showing the ribs. Oh she looked a beauty. The crack did not trouble me in the slightest once I saw it was bad enough to get me to Blighty.
During Barwick’s months of recovery from injury and influenza, it was announced in the London Gazette that he had been awarded the Croix de Guerre, a battle honour awarded by the King of Belgium for valour in battle. Barwick had seen the end of fighting and returned to Australia on 3 December 1918.
On the ship heading home to Australia in January 1919, Barwick reflected on the fact that he had been away from home for just on seven years. Upon his return to Tasmania he sought a quiet life on the land, the war having cured him of the desire to ramble further afield. His initial foray into business, selling farm machinery, was disastrous, when his partner left him with a large amount of debt. Barwick worked hard to pay back the creditors before returning to work in northern New South Wales.
Barwick managed a sheep farming property for several years before marrying Nurse Mona Carroll in 1930. They purchased their own property east of Armidale in 1935, naming it ‘Talgai’. They raised three children while introducing the ‘improved pasture’ system to the region, an achievement of which they were both proud.
Mona was an able partner in life and Barwick was happy and settled. He loved to fish, read, and tend his vegetable garden as well as run the property. He rarely drank, however, he could occasionally be seen enjoying smoking an old pipe. Though he suffered from lung and shoulder problems after the war, he never received any benefits for this. He kept in touch with old war mates, some of whom did not fare so well after the war.
Barwick became a pillar of his community. He was a Justice of the Peace, ran the local polling booth at election time, and commanded the local Volunteer Defence Corps during the Second World War. His long and rewarding life came to an end when he died in Armidale in 1966, aged 76 years.
Barwick’s colourful and honest account of his experiences during the First World War, In Great Spirits, was published by Harper and Collins in 2013. His numerous original war diaries had been lodged with the Mitchell Library, Sydney in 1920.
1st Battalion A.I.F. History Committee 1931, The History of the First Battalion A.I.F. 1914-1919, 1st Battalion, A.I.F. History Committee, Sydney
Australian War Memorial, Embarkation, Honour and Nominal Rolls, http://www.awm.gov.au/
Barwick, A 2013, In Great Spirits: The WWI Diary of Archie Barwick, Harper Collins, Sydney
Bean, CEW 1939, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 -18 Vol. II: The Story of ANZAC from 4 May, 1915 to the Evacuation, 9th Edition, Angus and Robertson, Sydney
National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, Sergeant Archie Barwick’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1920; BARWICK A A, 1914-1920