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France 1917: First and Second Bullecourt
Bullecourt, The Bullecourt Digger
Only a drop of blood – The ‘Bullecourt Digger’
Just outside Bullecourt, along the Rue des Australiens and along the side road to Reincourt–les–Cagnicourt, is the Australian Memorial Park with its statue of the bronze ‘Bullecourt Digger’. He gazes out over the fields of Bullecourt where in April and May 1917 the AIF lost 10,000 soldiers, killed or wounded, in their efforts to break into and hold part of the Hindenburg Line.
What might our digger have seen if he had gazed out over this scene in May 1917 at the height of the second Battle of Bullecourt? One young soldier, Private John Ambrose Ware, 3rd Battalion AIF, in writing to his mother in Derringullen, near Yass, used imagery she could understand to convey to her what a battlefield looked like:
… to try and describe a battlefield to you would be impossible, but if ever you saw a sheep camp in time of drought you will know how many sheep [died] in one night our men are lying about just the same only a drop of blood spilt to show where they are hit.
Private John Ware, letter, 8 July 1917, AWM 1DRL 593
The ‘Bullecourt Digger’ has stood here in Australian Memorial Park since April 1993. On Anzac Day 1992, the Australian Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Ben Humphreys, opened the Memorial Park in the middle of which was a large cairn. The Minister felt that the cairn lacked ‘a certain something’ and suggested that some sort of bronze sculpture be erected on top of it by Anzac Day 1993. The Office of Australian War Graves then commissioned Melbourne sculptor, Peter Corlett, to produce a work that reflected the character of the Australians soldiers who had fought at Bullecourt in 1917 and that would remain relevant into the future.
Corlett soon discovered a deep personal connection with Bullecourt. Before undertaking the commission he had not been aware that his father, Private Kenneth Corlett, 4th Field Ambulance, had actually fought at Bullecourt. At the memorial cairn Corlett was moved:
I stood in the field and touched the cairn upon which my sculpture will eventually rest and felt a wave of emotion run through me. I felt my dad’s presence and everything went quiet.
Peter Corlett, ‘Sculptor captures his father’s spirit’, unsourced and undated newspaper article, Office of Australian War Graves file
Using an old photograph of his father, Corlett sculpted his face for the features of his 1917 Australian ‘digger’ trying to capture in it the ‘fresh face of a young man about to set off on a great adventure’. Great care was also taken to replicate the AIF uniform and fighting kit. Corlett’s statue was unveiled on Anzac Day 1993 and the Director of the Office of Australian War Graves, Air Vice Marshal Alan Heggen, remarked:
While Mr Corlett’s artistry and creativeness convey many emotions, and may evoke many responses, we have named the sculpture, simply, ‘The Bullecourt Digger’. I feel certain that were he to be given life, the sculpture would be well satisfied with that title.
Director’s Address, The Bullecourt Digger, typescript, Office of Australian War Graves file
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - November 2011