Sunday marked the 98th anniversary of the Australian infantry's entry into the bloodiest and most controversial battle of World War I.
While Third Ypres, or Passchendaele, had been raging since July 31, 1 and 2 AIF did not enter the fray until the Battle of Menin Road.
By the time the muddy, bloody and largely inconclusive attempt to break out across the fields of Flanders through Ypres to the Belgian ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge ground to a halt in mid-November, 1917, more than 18,000 Australians had been killed. The bodies of 6169 were never found.
Harry Hockley, the Queanbeyan fire hero whose life Gang Gang has been trying to document over the past three weeks, was one of the dead.
The English-born cook was mourned by Martha J. Boyd of Queanbeyan who had been trying to contact him with "urgent news" shortly before he was killed. Our appeal for information on Martha has been successful.
She was born in 1894 and would have been 23 in 1917. Martha married Eric George 'Alick' Craft of Moss Vale in 1918.
The couple had two children, Lyall and Veronica. They lived in either Canberra or the ACT after the war and are both buried at Northwood Park. Eric died in 1969 and Martha died in 1972.
The "urgent news" may have been a "Dear John" letter.
Canberra's most prominent connection with Third Ypres are the two Menin Gate lions that guarded the Australian War Memorial entrance from 1991 to last September.
That was when they were shipped to Ottawa for the Canadian War Museum's Fighting in Flanders – Gas, Mud and Memory exhibition that ended in April.
William Longstaff's haunting Menin Gate at Midnight, which depicts the ghostly legions of the missing against the backdrop of the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium, accompanied the 193-year old lions.
The statues have arrived back in Australia and are expected to be reinstated at the entrance to the AWM in the next few weeks.
They will be sent to Belgium, to take up their original places alongside the Menin Road, for the centenary of the battle in 2017.
Menin Gate at Midnight has already been sent to the In Flanders Fields Museum in Belgium.
The lions, damaged almost beyond repair during the war, were given to Australia by the Burgomaster of Ypres in 1936.
Every Allied soldier who fought in Flanders in the summer and autumn of 1917 passed between the shattered lions near the ruined Ypres Cloth Hall on their way to the front.
The Third Battle of Ypres began on July 15, 1917, with a great Allied bombardment that dropped five tonnes of explosives on each square metre of earth along the German lines.
This churned the already friable loam up so much that when more than 76mm of rain fell in the first four days of the ground attack the fields of Flanders became a sea of mud, up to two metres deep, in which men and pack animals could drown and equipment was lost forever.
Conditions were made worse by the German's first use of mustard gas or 'Yperite'.
The infantry battle, effectively a war-within-the-war, was fought in stages.
The first began at 3.50am on July 31 when the British assaulted Pilckem Ridge.
1 and 2 Anzac did not enter the fray until the Battle of Menin Road on September 20.
This evolved into the Battle of Polygon Wood on September 26, a particularly bloody affair in which Australia lost 5770 men.
Polygon Wood paved the way for Broodseinde on October 4, the last significant success of Third Ypres. The Australian 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions lost 6432 men killed, captured, wounded or missing.
By the time Passchendaele Ridge was taken by the Canadians on November 12 more than 18,000 Australians had been killed or listed as missing.
While Field Marshal Douglas Haig's management of the battle has been criticised over many decades, Canberra's Dr Peter Pedersen, the Western Front Consulting Historian, Australian Government Commemoration Project, won't rush to judgement.
"[Was Third Ypres] a waste of soldiers' lives? It depends on your point of view. The first month was badly handled," he said.
"The plan didn't set enough value on seizing the high ground. It was not until the end of August and into September that the high ground is made an objective in its own right."
The fiercest fighting was at Broodseinde on October 4 when 1 and 3 Anzac and the New Zealand Division went over the top at 6am. A German attack was launched against the 1 Anzac front at almost exactly the same time.
"It became a bayonet fight, marked by hand-to-hand combat of the fiercest type at very close quarters," Dr Pedersen said. "Australian spirits were up, the diggers had been knocked around [in previous encounters] and had debts to pay."
Haig's determination to seize Passchendaele Ridge almost snatched defeat from the jaws of a not insignificant victory.
When the Australians and New Zealanders could do no more the Canadians were called in to finish the job at tremendous cost.
"Third Ypres started out as an attempt to break the cycle of attrition," Dr Pedersen said. "[But] it degenerates back into it. "It is Cambrai, where tanks break through, that points the way forward."
He cannot say whether or not the battle, which left more than 500,000 Allied and German soldiers dead, missing, wounded or captured, was `worth it'.
"I think there had to be an offensive," Dr Pedersen said. "But the planning was flawed and they were always going to lose men. This raises the question of whether or not the objectives justified the price paid in lives."
Fellow Canberra historian, Rear Admiral James Goldrick, the author of Before Jutland, agreed.
"The British naval blockade would have taken a long time, if ever, to force Germany to surrender," he said.
"[But] once America entered the war the blockade's effectiveness was magnified."
America's impact on the final outcome is as much from the reduction in the flow of goods to Germany as from the promise of troops.
"Was Third Ypres `worth it'? That's not really a yes or no proposition," Admiral Goldrick said.
"It kept up military pressure on Germany when it was already hard pressed in other quarters. The real question is `was the human price justified by the return?'.
"Because you cannot precisely calculate how much each element of the larger picture contributed to the German defeat there can be no right answer."
On this day 98 years ago Russia was in a state of chaos, on the cusp of the Bolshevik revolution and about to pull out of World War One.
The Melbourne Age reported: "It is announced from Petrograd, in messages received in New York, that the Provisional Government has formally proclaimed Russia a Republican State".
Take that Romanovs!
"A special commission under the presidency of M. Schablovsky, procurator of the army and navy, is inquiring into the Korniloff [aka Kornilov] affair."
If none of this seems to make any sense to readers labouring under the misapprehension the Russian Revolution was carried out by the Bolsheviks and that one of their first acts was to arrest and then massacre the royal family it is because 1917 was an incredibly complex period in Russia.
There were in fact two revolutions, two coup attempts – one Bolshevik and one military, a disastrous peace settlement with Germany and then a civil war which, for a space, became a proxy war against the British, and didn't end until 1922.
The first revolution, in February, saw the troops called in to quell rioting in Petrograd [formerly St Petersburg, then Leningrad and now St Petersburg again] side with the rioters.
The result was the abdication of the Czar on March 15 and the formation of a Provisional Government which was willing to continue the war against Germany.
This Government was seriously weakened by an unsuccessful Bolshevik uprising in July and then had to fight off a coup attempt by the commander of its military forces, General Kornilov, in September.
A state of confusion ensued as winter approached. Most ordinary Russians were already having to live with serious food shortages and dreaded the continuation of the war which had cost more than five million lives.
The Bolsheviks, made bold by the growing civil unrest, tried for power for a second time in October and November.
On this occasion they were successful with Lenin promising "Peace, Land and Bread".
None of these were to eventuate for a long, long, time.
A ceasefire was signed with the Germans on December 5 but Russia remained riven by civil war and attacks from without for the next five years.
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