Almost 100 years ago the First World War had barely started and the horrendous casualties we now remember had yet to be realised. The forces of the Commonwealth rallied to Britain's aid from across the World, including the Kiwis, with their immortal inscription “From the utmost ends of the Earth”, they were joined by the Australians, Canadians as well as Indians and many other Commonwealth nations.
Amongst those who volunteered were the Australian 3rd Division commanded by that very famous general General John Monash. He is still revered in Australia with a University named after him and his face on the AUS$ 50 bill. Would such a thing be possible with Field Marshal Haig?
The 3rd Australian Division were stationed at Larkhill and having joined up after the initial rush of patriotism and patriotic fervour avoided Gallipoli and the Dardenelles campaign. As a result they acquired many nicknames, amongst which were; “the Deep Thinkers, The Larkhill Lancers” and many others unsuitable for publication.
During their time at Larkhill they trained extensively and carried out training exercises on Salisbury Plain designed to replicate the life they were likely to face in the trenches. A letter home from an Australian on Salisbury Plain captures this evocative moment:
“Rain swept the open country and poured into the white-chalk trenches. When at night several companies entered the trenches to take up their positions, men floundered through pools of whitewash, and got covered with sticky white mud. Verey lights went hissing up through the driving rain, to illuminate a dreary landscape. Rifles cracked, and the dull detonations of hand grenades momentarily drowned the angry hissing of the rain” (Fairey, 1920, 7)
MONASH STUNT is a “War Walk” designed by Maj Jon Wort (a serving Reservist), Richard Osgood (DIO senior archaeologist and author of Digging Up Plugstreet: The Archaeology of a Great War Battlefield) and Richard Broadhead (Founder of Wiltshire Soldiers http://www.wiltshiresoldiers.co.uk/ and author of many books on soldiers from Wiltshire). The walk starts at the old Bustard Pub and proceeds on to Salisbury Plain to visit the tree carvings on a plantation of Beech trees from both the First and Second World War. Identified individuals have a story to tell behind the carvings and those are told in detail.
The next stop is the area of Salisbury Plain where the Australians carried out The Bustard Stunt, which was the most memorable training scheme in which the brigade took part in the occupation for three days of a system of trenches at the Bustard (which isn't how the troops pronounced it), a place a few miles from Larkhill.
We then proceed after an al fresco picnic lunch to the site of mining operations that were to stand the Division in good stead for the battle of Messines in 1917 where the ANZAC Corps distinguished themselves in such fine order.
After lunch the tour moves to Durrington Cemetery to examine the role of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and to hear about individuals from both wars buried in the cemetery. On route across the plain to Beacon Hill to see some more clearly defined trenches a brief stop is made to view the “Kiwi” and learn about its origins and upkeep.