October 1917 was a catastrophic month for the Australians as they pushed towards Passchendaele. With gale force winds and heavy unrelenting rain, moving forward was almost impossible and with hindsight, murderous. Exploding artillery had created huge craters and many men drowned in mud before mates or stretcher bearers could get to them. Trapped horses were shot but nothing could be done for the dying men and the sounds as they died were horrific. 38,000 Australians were killed or seriously wounded by the end of the campaign. Nearly half a million men from both sides were killed fighting for Passchendaele.
Survivors were deeply traumatised by what they had experienced. Injuries from bullets, heavy artillery and gas presented new challenges for doctors and nurses who pioneered surgeries and healing techniques. Emotional trauma was often left untreated.
Fortunately, by the end of October the Australians were pulled out of the line and rested. Away from the carnage men were desperate to connect with family and hundreds wrote to Annie Wheeler. They wanted her to know where they were so she could forward mail and parcels. Many asked her to cable their mothers to let them know they were well or their wounds were not serious. Sister Poslar from the Second Australian General Hospital told Annie they were all very busy and “after seven weeks of the push are beginning to feel fagged out”. Mothers in Australia were incredibly grateful Annie was able to look after their boys. On the 26th October 1917 Mrs Rendell wrote to Annie to express her gratitude.
At the end of October William Glasgow wrote to his wife Belle that the weather was the worst he had ever seen and that he was fit and well but concerned about his men who were having a “trying time”.
But relief was in sight for Glasgow and his men. The Australians were to be rested out of the lines for the winter months.
Annie Wheeler’s correspondence is held by the State Library of Queensland.
William and Belle Glasgow’s letters are part of the State Library of Queensland.
Annie Wheeler’s letters to Mary Trotman have been digitised by the National Library of Australia and are available via trove.
The Australian War Memorial has information and statistics about the Passchendaele campaign.