History Week was initiated by the History Council of New South Wales (HCNSW) in 1997 to showcase the rich, diverse history being produced by organisations and individuals across the state. With over 100 events across NSW, History Week is about celebrating the best in community and professional history, highlighting its role in our cultural life and inviting people to get involved.
During History Week, community groups, local councils, libraries, archives, museums, universities, cultural institutions, professional and amateur historians across NSW open their doors to present the latest in today’s historical research – fascinating stories, artifacts and experiences about both our past and ourselves today. History Week will explore the impact of World War One abroad and at home. Visit the website at www.historycouncilnsw.org.au/history-week/
Albert Victor Fisher’s account of the Great War
“I was overtaken with an illness that no one could diagnose. I was paralyzed to my shoulders, with no feeling in my body and was eventually sent home from hospital as incurable. Something happened after that which would not perhaps interest you here and I was able to get myself right again, although it took some time.
By 1916 I felt fairly well again and things were looking very black overseas. The tragedy of Gallipoli, then Fromelles and Pozieres, our Prime Minister Billy Hughes sent an appeal to every man, married or single to offer their services. Now I had a friend in the same district who had served many years in a Scottish Regiment but his wife was against him going to the war but he was breaking his heart to think he had all that training and could not take part. But he often said to me – ”I will never refuse if the country asks me, I could not live it down”. He was a patriotic man indeed, Robert Forsyth, a good Scotch name too. We both received the appeal on the same day. He put “yes” to the question would he go and posted it before he had his evening meal without consulting his wife.
I explained it to my wife and told her that I felt I should offer, but wished her to think it over for a week and at the week end she said she could do her part if I would do mine. And so Bob and I were called up on the same day. We went to the Sydney Cricket Ground where we were given dungarees, an overcoat and a white hat. Soldiers indeed! The kids around Surry Hills used to call out “marmalade” to us.
I had been a soldier about eight hours when my friend Bob was made Corporal of the Guard and he was asked to choose six men. Of course I was one of them and I was some soldier I can assure you for I did not know the first thing about it. However I was put on the turnstile about 8 pm and told not to let anyone through without a pass. I had been on duty about an hour when a man appeared in uniform to go through the turnstile so I said “have you got a pass”? “Have I got what”? he said, “I am the Orderly Officer” “I can’t help that”, I said , “my instructions were not to let anyone through without a pass”. “How long have you been a soldier”? he asked, “about ten hours”, I said, “Well, he said “you have a lot to learn”, “I have no doubt about that”, I said. However, we had a good laugh about it and then he said “do you like prawns” ?, “of course”, I said I did, so he handed me a paper parcel and told me to hang on to it and he would get some bread. So we sat down and had supper together and had a good old yarn. He was a fine chap and had returned from Gallipoli, so it didn’t look like being a bad war after all.”
It was to be “the war that will end war” as H. G . Wells commented in August 1914. From the heights of hope to the horror of the trenches, the Great War changed the world irrevocably.
Albert joined up at Smithfield, NSW, on 30th March 1916, and by 13th April he had arrived for duty. He was 5’ 5” in height, of dark complexion and brown eyes, with a receding hair line. He was 31 years of age. On the 30th June he was in Kiama at the Depot signal training company and just 11 days later departed Sydney on the troop ship HMAT Vestalia with 149 others who were to make up the 4th reinforcements of the 53rd battalion.
Trench warfare was the name of the game in WWI and included a huge loss of life. Albert Fisher’s 53rd Battalion comprised approximately 1000 men, half of whom had already survived Gallipoli and the other half were new recruits. Just before he arrived, Albert’s battalion had lost 600 men, killed or wounded at Fromelles, in the first battle of the Somme in 1916.
This photo of Albert Victor Fisher (1884 – 1966), was taken with his family at their home in Sackville St, Fairfield, on the 20th July 1919, one day after he returned from fighting in WWI. Albert was indeed fortunate to return to his family in Fairfield on the 19th July 1919. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 Australian men enlisted in WW1, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.
[Excerpt from “Autobiography of an ordinary man” by Albert Fisher].