Fred Farrall (Service Number 1647)

This audio recording contains excerpts from Fred Farrall’s interview with historian Alistair Thomson (in 1983 and 1987), when Fred was around the age of 86 and 90, where he is asked about his interactions with the Germans and about the behaviour of Australian soldiers during the war. The full interview recordings are available on the Australian War Memorial Website.

Fred Farrell – Introduction by Patricia Ansell Dodds

“In the British Army base at Etaples, there the hatred was conveyed to us day after day in what was called the bullring, and where bayonet fighting was taught; The sergeant, would say the only good Germans are dead ones and that’s your job to see that they’re good ones.

The killing of Germans wouldn’t be any different to them to the killing of rabbits

And furthermore, you’ve got to always remember what we were told that it was a case of kill or be killed, and you don’t want to be killed, do you? So, you, you kill the other bloke. Now this was the sort of hatred that was engendered into the minds of everyone that passed through that training place. So, hatred was a weapon, really, of the war. Unless you could hate really well, well you wasn’t going to be all that good as a soldier, and possibly this is where, why I wasn’t much good.

As a matter of fact, I suppose as a soldier I would rank very poorly, because I never seemed to be able to do what was expected; If I saw a dead German well I had the same thoughts about him as I had about our own that somewhere or other in Germany, there would be a lot of sadness.

I’d seen something about what our fellows did to the poor unfortunate Egyptians who were growing watermelons and tomatoes and some eggs in order to get a living, and they’d bring them down on a bit of a trolley thing to the camp to sell and our smart alecs would engage the man in an argument as to the price of these things, while two or three or half a dozen would be ready to tip the cart over, scatter it all, all over the place and help themselves and leave him with nothing.They got a watermelon for nothing. They got some tomatoes or eggs for nothing.

Well, this impressed me of the unjust way in which we, the British, had behaved”

Fred Farrall was born in 1897 and grew up on a smallholding farm on the New South Wales Riverina. He served as a runner on the Western Front, fighting in the battle of the Somme, notable for its difficult environment and high casualties on both sides. During the war Fred was shot in the leg, an injury he mostly recovered from, and struck by a nervous condition that continued to plague him long after he returned to Australia in 1919. 

Returning from the war, Fred worked as a coach builder, struggling unsuccessfully to be given a pension for the psychological damage he had incurred in battle. This came to a head when he had a nervous breakdown in 1926. The lack of support he received from the government as a returned serviceman led him to see soldiers as ‘pawns in a capitalist game of chess’ and radicalised him.  He became a politically outspoken trade unionist and pacifist and in 1930 joined the Australian Communist Party.  

Fred avoided Anzac Day marches and soldiers’ reunions, and packed away his discharge certificate and other objects relating to his involvement in the war and avoided talking about the war. 

Throughout this time, however, he was still haunted by the war. He became the New South Wales Secretary of the Friends of the Soviet Union before moving to Melbourne where he was elected an official in the Federated Clerks’ Union in the 1940s. Fred remained a prominent union organiser until the union came to be controlled by the less leftist National Civic Council/Industrial Groups in the 1950s. He also became Mayor of Prahran, serving between 1973-1974. 

Changing public narratives of war in the 1960s helped Fred find a broader audience for his war experience and the radical perspective it had brought him to and he shared this at marches and with audiences of university students, and documentary makers. Fred Farrall died in 1991.

(SOURCE: Website   Copyright: AWM Licensed copyright, Accession Number SO1311)


Portrait of F T Farrall copied for the Cobram Honour Roll. The soldier is probably 1647 Private (Pte) Frederick Theodore Farrall, born at Cobram, and a farm hand from Ganmain
Australian War Memorial AWM DAC SO263 /Darge Photographic Company, Copyright expired – public domain

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