Australia post issued third set of stamps in a series marking the Centenary of World War I, focusing on events of 1916 as they affected Australians on the frontline and at home.
The stamps in this latest issue portray the Australian troops’ arrival at the Western Front (the event), the Somme offensive (the conflict), Matron Grace Wilson of the Australian Army Nursing Service (the individual) and the 1916 public vote on conscription (the home front).
The photographs used in the designs are from the collections of the Australian War Memorial, Museum Victoria and the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.
Designer Andrew Hogg has taken a contemporary approach that is sympathetic to the previous two issues in this series of five.
There are other aspects of the Great War that are highlighted along the way as stand-alone Complementary stamp issues other main stamp series Commemorate Centenary of World war I.
These have been chosen because they were significant events that required a different approach. The most recent complementary stamp issued is Animals in War and the ANZAC: Australia – New Zealand Joint Issue.
Centenary of World war I : 1916
Arrival on the Western Front
In March 1916, the troops joined allied forces on the Western Front, a system of trenches that stretched 750 kilometres from the Belgian coast through France to the Swiss border. British and French troops had been engaged there since late 1914.
The first Australian troops were sent to the comparatively quiet Armentieres area, in the north, where they were introduced to trench warfare – represented in the stamp “Arrival on the Western Front”.
The Somme offensive
Their first major battles were the costly conflicts at Fromelles, in French Flanders, and, soon after, at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm, in the Somme valley. “The Somme offensive” stamp shows Australian machine gunners returning from the frontline near Pozieres.
Referendum on conscription
On the home front, news of the massive number of casualties on the frontline led to a decline in voluntary enlistment. Labour Prime Minister Billy Hughes believed more troops was the only way to win the war, and Britain pressured him to commit 5,500 men per month.
The vexed question of conscription proved divisive politically, socially and religiously. The first of two referenda was held on 28 October 1916, the second on 20 December 1917. The “no” vote won by a narrow margin in 1916.
Matron Grace Wilson
During 1916, Grace Wilson – matron on Lemnos in 1915, in Egypt and Britain in 1916, and in Abbeville, France, in 1917 – was awarded the Royal Red Cross, First Class for “distinguished service in the field”. She was also awarded three “Mentioned in Despatches” that year for her outstanding service, and a fourth time in 1918. She was one of around 3,000 Australian nurses to volunteer.
Ties to home
Soldiers keenly awaited news from the home front. Messages of love, family news, provisions and small luxuries were sent through the post.
Taken in late November 1916, the powerful photograph featured in this stamp shows a soldier of the Australian 2nd Battalion writing a letter home from the French town of Flesselles, in the Somme. Visible are the notoriously horrendous, muddy conditions.
Title: Centenary of World war I
Date of Issue: 12 April 2016
Denominations: $1 x 5
Source: Australia Stamps