I have chosen to write about my Great Grandfather, William Ellis Kelty, who, along with his comrades who played a vital role in his existence throughout the First World War, exemplifies many of the qualities of the ANZAC spirit. Private Kelty, as he was known during his two years of service on the battlefields, particularly displayed bravery, sacrifice and, perhaps above all, determination. He had the determination to live, after being left for dead by the enemy, and later losing a leg (Green, quoted in Rowlands). Every person who has fought in any war, no matter how big, has displayed great courage just by standing up for their country or beliefs and fighting. But very few have shown greater courage, loyalty and mateship than Lieutenant S. Le Fevre, who ran into No Man's Land in Messines, Belgium, to save Private Kelty's life, and carry him back to Australia's trenches (Bean, p586).
William Ellis Kelty was twenty-five years old when he boarded the ship Berrima on July 1, 1916 in Hobart, alongside fellow members and reinforcements of the 40th Battalion of the Australian Infantry Forces. The ship departed Hobart for Belgium the next morning (Rowlands). Like most of the men going to fight in the first world war, Private Kelty was prepared to leave his family farm in Longford, Tasmania, and was willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of his country, Australia, and his mother country, England. But, like most of the men going to fight, he was unprepared for what was to come. The men looked on this as an adventure; most people were lucky if they ever left their home state, let alone went to the other side of the world. And they wanted to prove themselves as worthy men. But no one expected never to return. As it turned out, it was a miracle that Private Kelty ever returned home at all. Not everyone was so lucky though.
On May 31, 1917, a raiding party of the 40th Battalion, including Private William Kelty, was sent to attack the German trenches. Two soldiers were killed and eighteen wounded (Article, "Digger of Amazing Escapes Now Dead"). Private Kelty was missing, so was presumed dead, until he turned up in the most incredible manner. During the raid, Private Kelty had jumped into the enemy trench and was attacking with his bayonet, when a bomb burst behind him. He lost consciousness after feeling a strong blow on the head, which was a piece of the bomb. Several hours later he woke up in the enemy trench and realised that he was severely wounded. All of his weapons had been taken by the Germans, who must have thought he was dead. The trench in which he was lying was still being bombarded by his own comrades, so he was unable to escape without getting hit. While still lying there, he was hit by another bomb and again lost consciousness. A trench mortar officer and an officer of the 39th Battalion were watching from Australia's front line, and they saw the body of a man blown into the air and fall into No Man's Land. They thought it was one of the enemy, but as they were watching it, 'the body' appeared to move, then stood up and moved towards the Australian front line. The men watching then realised he was an Australian, so did not shoot him. He walked about twenty yards, then collapsed on the ground (Green, quoted in Rowlands). Then, Lieutenant S. Le Fevre, of the 39th Battalion, jumped over the parapet, ran into No Man's Land, picked Private Kelty up and carried him back to the Australian front line (Bean, p.586).
This heroic deed exemplifies very strongly the ANZAC spirit of mateship and courage. Although this man did not know William Kelty, and was from another Battalion, he still
risked his own life to save one of his comrades, who was likely to die anyway, from the condition he was in. As it turned out, Private Kelty was able to give a clear account of what he remembered, despite his several severe wounds (Green, in Rowlands). All of this happened only one week before the British victory at Messines, Belgium (Rowlands).
Amazingly, Kelty recovered from his wounds and rejoined the Battalion, only to lose his leg at Morlancourt on March 28, 1918 (Green, in Rowlands). Just to have returned to the battlefields after so many miraculous escapes from death shows how much courage and loyalty William Kelty had for his country. After losing his leg, he boarded a hospital ship to return to Australia, as even he could not survive on the battlefields with only one leg, but the ship he was on was torpedoed and sank. Hardly surprisingly now, he was rescued and finally, after two years of hardship and suffering, he deservedly returned to his home in Tasmania (Green, in Rowlands).
William Ellis Kelty was awarded the Military Medal and died in Hobart at sixty two years of age (Article, "Digger of …). The thing that perhaps exemplifies the ANZAC spirit more than anything, although the majority of men in the first world war were not Australians, is the mateship of every man who fought, no matter to what country or side he belonged. Although men were slaughtered by the thousands by each other, all of the men were equals, and they did not kill out of hatred for the soldiers themselves, but for the loyalty to their countries. And although they were enemies, every man who fought, no matter what side, deserves more than just a medal for bravery. There have been a lot of amazing escapes from death in all wars, but if there ever was a man with nine lives, it was my Great Grandfather, and to this I am eternally grateful, or I might not be here now.
Bean, C.E.W, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Vol. 1V. The A.I.F in France 1917, Angus and Robertson Ltd. (1939) Sydney.
Green, Capt. F.Q The Fortieth. (1922)
Rowlands, WA, "Tasmanian Returned From The Dead" in On Service (the official journal of the Tasmanian branch of R.S.S.A.I.L.A) VOL. 10 NO. 10, JUNE 1955
Unknown origin: "Digger Of Amazing Escapes Now Dead" (Newspaper article – possibly The Examiner, March 1953 – William Ellis Kelty died 14.3.53)
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