AN INCREDIBLE discovery involving Melbourne and Richmond great Frank 'Checker' Hughes has surfaced prior to the ANZAC Day Eve match, where a medal is to be awarded in his honour for the best player on the ground.
A letter written by 'Checker' from the trenches of World War I, and sent to the local paper the Richmond Guardian, has surfaced after nearly 104 years.
Its contents had been hidden away on microfilm for over a century, until Richmond Football Club Historian Rhett Bartlett financed the newspapers' digitisation for the Trove website.
Written over the course of a week, the letter was published on November 24, 1917 under the heading “Suppose It Was A Success – Richmond Footballer Describes Raid in Vivid Story.”
Rising to the rank of company quartermaster sergeant (responsible for his unit’s clothing, food and supplies), Checker’s 800-word letter sharply details the tragedy and mayhem of the World War 1 campaign and the day to day struggle he and his soldiers experienced in France.
Checker's letter is printed below, complete and unedited, for the first time since 1917.
Last Saturday was a raid and Fritz pasted our trenches pretty hot. One of our chaps got hit in the leg, and there he was on the 'floor' of the trench getting bound up. One held his leg in position, one was looking on, another was holding his head up, and an officer held an electric torch to show them what they were about, and a sergeant (just returned from the rail) was bandaging it. Shell from Fritz 'lobbed' in the trench, killed the already wounded man, also the ones holding his foot and head, the officer had his arm shattered and the looker-on was also wounded, while the bandaging sergeant never got a scratch.
To-day is Monday and ten minutes ago there started a fierce bombardment. Just at the back of our billet there are two big guns, 9.2 each, and they kick up a hell of a row and shake the house and the surroundings.
Even as I write the dust from the ceiling falls on the paper. There is a rumor that it is going to be a fierce bombardment, but I hardly think so. We don't have this affair on our own; Fritz is playing and puts over a fair share.
I am lucky to be down here, as they will be knocking at the door of our trenches and some poor fellows will get knocked out. I have been out to have a look at an enemy aeroplane, a Taube; he was well up and was looking for our guns. It appeared to be just like a silver fish. Our anti-aircraft guns fired numerous shots at him, and it was easy to see where they burst by the little puffs of smoke, but they failed to hit him.
Today is Wednesday. It has been raining very nearly all day, and last night it poured. I don't mind the wet, as I have plenty of clothes, and our room is a dry as a bone; and, I might tell, we don't sleep on the floor, either. I have a bit of a stretcher made of my waterproof sheet and rest each end on a biscuit-box. I am not in the least cold at night, as I have three blankets, a horse rug, an overcoat and a mackintosh to put over my feet so I won't get cold feet. My battalion is still in the trenches, but about three weeks ago some of them were brought out to train for a raid. They trained all right, and it came off Saturday night. The next day the General congratulated the men on their successful raid, and if he were satisfied I suppose it was a success, but we lost eight killed and 10 wounded. Two out of the three officers were killed. The party got into the German front line. The casualties were caused coming back as Fritz shelled No Man's Land. Coming back from these raids it is every man for himself, and you can use your own discretion whether -you lay out there or come straight back. Next morning our commander was found just outside our parapet, lying with one of our best corporals on his back. He had evidently been carrying the corporal in when a shell got the both of them. He was a fine man. He left Australia as a private and had climbed the ladder as far to captain. The other officer was on the Peninsula with the Light Horse. They were both good fellows.
I went to the pictures this evening, and the pianist won me completely by the playing of the 'Norwegian Cradle Song’.
It is here that one gets an idea where the £5,000,000 a day goes. It is simply marvellous to see the traffic. For instance, I had never previously seen so many motors. The general service wagons, limbers, etc., are here in thousands. There has been a good deal of rain, and consequently everything is mud and - such mud.
To-day 16 mules could not shift a water-cart with about 100 gallons of water in it; the donks were up to their bellies in mud. The main roads are hard, and a lot of men are kept employed repairing them, but they are only for loaded traffic going towards the trenches, and when you come back towards Albert it is the muddy road that has to be used.
At present we are camped in about 300 yards of mud, about a foot deep, off the main road and between a former wood and an old-time village. There is practically no wood now, only bare trees. All that is left of many villages are heaps of bricks. In the place where we are there are myriads of shell holes, some big enough to start a reservoir.