Life during the war for Private Patrick Joseph Bugden VC

Letter from Paddy Bugden to his mother Letter from Paddy Bugden to his mother, from"somewhere" in France, 9 January 1919.
Bugden Papers, Queensland Museum.
Winter in the trenches Winter in the trenches
Taking water from a frozen shell hole, January 1917, the month Private Patrick Bugden, VC, arrived in France.
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, No. E00158.
Polygon Wood Polygon Wood
Polygon Wood and the Buttes as it was the day 20-year-old Private Patrick Bugden, VC, died.
Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial, No. E01912.

Unit: 31st Battalion

Letters home

Paddy's letters home to his family, mostly to his mother, tell us about him, his family and his experiences of the war. His letters cover the time from his enlistment to just before his death. Extracts from some of Paddy Budgen's letters are referred to here.

His battalion embarked for England in September 1916 and upon arriving continued training:

"Dear Mother

... "I will tell you a day's work. Get up 6.30 (dark) breakfast 7 consisting of tea porridge and bread and drippen. Fall in at eight o'clock, practice bomb throwing. Physical exercises, squad drill. Dinner 1 o'clock soup, meat, potatoes, one piece bread. Fall in 2 o'clock. Trench digging and go for a route march. Tea 5 o'clock (dark). Tea some kind of a pudding and bread and drippen. We sleep in huts 25 in each and good coal stove in the middle. So you can guess we have plenty of tea and toast every night. After we come home from the pictures which are about half a mile away."

In January 1917, the battalion left for France, where they arrived midwinter. By April he was a seasoned veteran of the war:

"I am an old veteran now (or consider myself so) for I have seen a fair bit of scrapping. I don't think it will take us long to fix them now and I will be disappointed if I am not back for the New Year. There is one God since the weather is a lot warmer now. It was a holy terror a few months ago. I would sooner face Fritz any time than it. The wind is not so bad either it is only half way up your leg now whereas it used to reach your belt. We have some long marches to and fro from the line now for Fritz is on the move. Ten miles through mud with 112 on your back is no uncommon thing."

Not long afterwards, he wrote to his mother about his involvement in the Battle of Bullecourt. Fought between 3 and 17 May 1917, this battle was extremely costly with 7482 AIF casualties from three Australian Divisions.

He refers to this battle in his letter dated 11th June, where his efforts to minimise the horror of the experience fails to prevail over the facts he relates:

"I am back from the trenches for a short time. We had ten days in taking it all through. It wasn't so bad. The worst thing is the stink for the trenches that we were in is surrounded by dead bodies. A stiff fight taking place there about a month ago so the smell is just nice. It is impossible to bury all of them for Fritz is too lively in that sector."

Bullecourt probably also explains the macabre sense of humour he shows in writing to his sister Rose on 1 June about a football match which didn't turn out as expected:

"I had a funny game of football yesterday. Two of the players got wounded and were carried to hospital. Just as we started one chap happened to kick a bomb which exploded giving the two I mentioned some nasty wounds. We won the game. I was a picture by the time we had finished."

Bugden's rescuing of wounded men from No Man's Land is testimony to some of the most terrible aspects of the war, in which wounded men could be left stuck in the mud for over two days because of the dangers involved in rescuing them and the lack of stretcher bearers. Bugden in fact was finally killed by shell fire on one of these rescue missions.

In a letter written to Bugden's family by fellow Queenslander Alex Thomson, on 29 October 1917:

"Just then three 'Fritzes' jumped into the shell hole on top of me giving me no chance to put up a scrap. ...A moment or so after the above had occurred the Fritz who had just saved me from being shot made a jump into the next shell hole and got shot through the stomach. I looked up to see what was happening and saw a private named Paddy Bugden charging up with a few men to my rescue ... The whole of the above episode took place under very heavy shell, rifle and machine gun fire, so you can understand the debt I owe to Paddy Bugden for his bravery in rescuing me. I am exceedingly sorry to say that Bugden got killed by a shell a couple of nights later."