The assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, threw the world into chaos. It brought to a head simmering international tensions and precipitated a conflict that lasted for more than four years. By the time it ended with the Armistice on 11 November 1918, more than 70 million military personnel had been drawn into the fighting and more than 9 million of them had died. This conflict became known as The Great War, because it was thought to be the war to end all wars. History tells us that wasn't to be; just 21 years later Hitler's megalomania led to World War Two.
Many young British and Australian men (among those of many other nations) enlisted to do their bit for their respective countries, and, I suspect, for civilisation.
In 1914 Australia's population was about four million. More than 38% of the total male population aged between 18 and 44 enlisted for service. Nearly 60,000 (or 1.5% of the total population) died, 167,000 were wounded, and 4,000 were taken prisoner. The Australian casualty rate (proportionate to total embarkations) was the highest of the war.
The population of the United Kingdom was 42 million in 1911. At the peak of the war 4.2 million, or 10%, were members of the armed services. Of those who served, nearly 750,000 died. That figure represents 1.2% of the total population.
The Reality of War
This slideshow highlights the destruction caused in Belgium and Northern France by the First World War. It will play automatically, but the slides can also be changed manually by hovering the mouse over the image and clicking on one of the arrows. Right advances to the next image; left returns to the previous one.
The photos are a stark reminder that war is ugly and has untold effects on nations and their people; the statistics show the horrible toll the war took. However, both are cold and impersonal; they don't tell the countless stories of individual suffering and loss caused by the war. Among the young men who served in the armed services were several members of my extended family. This article is about them.
Relatives Who Served in The Great War
John Alfred Silby
Gunner John Silby was the third of Dad's older brothers. He enlisted in the British army and was serving with the Royal Field Artillery when he was killed on 26 April 1916, apparently at Salonika (Thessaloniki) in Greece. He was just 23 years old. He is buried in Amara War Cemetery, Iraq. John's name is one of those on a memorial in Bozeat, his home village. Complete and accurate information about his service is not available because army records were destroyed by German bombing during the Second World War.
Thomas Bertram Silby
Bert was the next oldest brother and the one closest in age to Dad. By then living in Australia, he joined the Australian Imperial Force in 1915 and first served with the Fourth Light Horse Regiment. In March 1916 he was transferred to the 2nd DAC (Divisional Ammunition Column) at Zeitoun, Egypt, and left almost immediately for France where he seems to have served with the DAC for the rest of the war. He returned to Australia in 1919.
Cecil Edward Silby
Ted was my father. He was only 14 when war broke out, and still at home in Bozeat. He enlisted six months before the war ended. He was in training in Belfast, Northern Ireland, when hostilities ceased, so never saw action. He came to Australia in 1920, after he was demobilised.
James Gardiner Daniel
Jim joined the 7th Battalion AIF in August 1914—just weeks after the war started—and was immediately promoted to Lance Corporal (possibly because he had previous service as a cadet). Two months later he left Australia. He took part in the Gallipoli campaign, where he was promoted to sergeant and later wounded. After nearly two months recovering in Hospital in Malta he returned to his unit on the Greek island of Lemnos. In March 1916 he was sent to France. After an incident on board the transport ship he was court-martialled, the charge being that he left his post while on submarine watch. Despite mitigating circumstances (he'd suffered an adverse reaction to inoculations and had sought help which was denied) and glowing references he was found guilty and stripped of his rank. The rest of Jim's war was served in northern France and Belgium. He regained his rank of sergeant, but on 26 February 1917 he received a gunshot wound to the thigh. He died two days later, and is buried in Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, France.
Samuel Dobinson Daniel
Sam was Mum's dad, my grandfather. He was a widower and 37 years old when he enlisted in March 1916.
Arthur Fairley Dobinson
Arthur was Sam's cousin. He had just been promoted to Lance Corporal and was serving with the 24th Battalion AIF in France when he was wounded and reported missing. Later he was reported killed in action but his body was either not found or not identified. His death is commemorated at Villers-Bretonneaux Memorial.
- Australian War Memorial: Enlistment statistics and standards First World War, http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/enlistment/ww1.asp, accessed 5 July 2012.
- Hicks, Joe & Grahame Allen.1999. A Century of Change: Trends in UK statistics since 1900, House of Commons Library, London, http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf, accessed 5 July 2012.