Layout and cover design of Who Wouldn’t Be A Soldier. The WWI Diaries of Sgt Thomas Arthur Dykes DCM – 23rd Battalion, AIF
August 2nd, 1916 –
‘I won’t forget last night as long as I live. The Hun’s barrage of shell fire was worse than ever, Dante’s Inferno was nothing compared to it, and we had to go through it….The place where once was the village of Pozieres was nothing but a rubbish heap with big shell holes everywhere. Shells were exploding everywhere causing our clothes to be torn. Some of the chaps would get half buried, scramble out or be pulled out by their mates and run on again. It was hell, we never expected to get out of it alive but we kept going and got through it and went out in front crawling on hands and knees … stumbling over dead bodies’.
So wrote Sgt Thomas Arthur Dykes in one of the nine small, pocket sized diaries that he used to detail all of the harrowing experiences he went through in the service of the AIF’s 23rd Battalion in the First World War. Recorded here for the first time are the raw, uncensored and sometimes graphic account of an infantryman’s daily struggle to survive the Gallipoli campaign and the horrors of the Western Front.
This memoir chronicles Thomas Arthur Dykes story, from his childhood growing up in country Wangaratta to the working class streets of Abbotsford. At the age of thirty-two, married with four children, he volunteered to serve his country in its hour of need. An original member of the 23rd Battalion, he travelled with his unit from Broadmeadows to Egypt and on to the shores of Gallipoli. His personal narrative in these diaries doesn’t hold back and in typical Digger style he tells it how it was; surviving the sinking of the troopship ‘Southland’ and the harsh conditions and constant dangers in the trenches at Lone Pine until he was evacuated wounded only weeks before the campaign was given up.
From here he is thrown into the horrors of the Western Front; from Fleurbaix to the Somme, from Ypres to Flers, until he fell victim to the winter of 1916/1917 and trench feet. A year out of the line, he returned for the final push of 1918 and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his courage and bravery at Mont St Quentin. But his war wouldn’t end for him with the armistice; it just set him up for the struggles he would have to endure in those decades that followed.
If ever you wanted to know what a soldier of the AIF had to endure in the First World War – this will tell you.
Foreword by Major-General (rtd) Michael O’Brien CSC