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posted: 6/28/2014 8:24 AM

Soldier's story shows tragedy of World War I

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  • In this undated illustration provided by the family, an image of Australian soldier John Payne from Brisbane, Australia. Australian soldier Andrew Bayne was not the only son to go to war, he enlisted along with his three brothers, John, Adam and Bill. John enlisted in the Australian Light Horse, fought in Gallipoli in Turkey and in Beersheba in current-day Israel.

      In this undated illustration provided by the family, an image of Australian soldier John Payne from Brisbane, Australia. Australian soldier Andrew Bayne was not the only son to go to war, he enlisted along with his three brothers, John, Adam and Bill. John enlisted in the Australian Light Horse, fought in Gallipoli in Turkey and in Beersheba in current-day Israel.
    Biggs Family/Associated Press

  • In this photo of an undated letter provided by the family, World War I Australian soldier Andrew Bayne's words to his wife in Brisbane, Australia. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917. The letter was carried for more than 50 years in his wife Catherine's purse in the hopes that the news of his death was untrue and that he would eventually return home.

      In this photo of an undated letter provided by the family, World War I Australian soldier Andrew Bayne's words to his wife in Brisbane, Australia. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917. The letter was carried for more than 50 years in his wife Catherine's purse in the hopes that the news of his death was untrue and that he would eventually return home.
    Biggs Family/Associated Press

  • In this June 5, 1917 photo provided by the Australian War Memorial, an Australian officer, in a well constructed trench on Hill 63, looks through a periscope near Messines Ridge in Messines, Belgium. The photograph was taken twelve hours prior to the opening of the long prepared battle, which was eventually to win the position from the enemy.

      In this June 5, 1917 photo provided by the Australian War Memorial, an Australian officer, in a well constructed trench on Hill 63, looks through a periscope near Messines Ridge in Messines, Belgium. The photograph was taken twelve hours prior to the opening of the long prepared battle, which was eventually to win the position from the enemy.
    Associated Press

  • In this June 7, 1917 photo provided by the Australian War Memorial, Australian soldiers man two tanks in action during the attack on Messines Ridge in Messines, Belgium.

      In this June 7, 1917 photo provided by the Australian War Memorial, Australian soldiers man two tanks in action during the attack on Messines Ridge in Messines, Belgium.
    Associated Press

  • In this undated photo provided by Stad Mesen, shows the destruction on the road from Chateau de la Hutte to the Messines Ridge in Messines, Belgium. The area surrounding Messines ridge was bitterly fought over during the Battle of Messines in June 1917. At the end of four years of war the region was completely devastated.

      In this undated photo provided by Stad Mesen, shows the destruction on the road from Chateau de la Hutte to the Messines Ridge in Messines, Belgium. The area surrounding Messines ridge was bitterly fought over during the Battle of Messines in June 1917. At the end of four years of war the region was completely devastated.
    Associated Press

  • In this combination photo of the front and back of an undated card provided by the family, a daughter writes words to her father, World War I Australian soldier Andrew Bayne, from Brisbane, Australia. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917.

      In this combination photo of the front and back of an undated card provided by the family, a daughter writes words to her father, World War I Australian soldier Andrew Bayne, from Brisbane, Australia. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917.
    Associated Press

  • In this photo of a Sept. 26, 1918 letter from the Australian Red Cross, provided by the family, some clarity is made regarding World War I Australian soldier Andrew Bayne. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917. Bayne's wife, who received a letter from him after his death, questioned whether her husband had actually been killed. In the years that followed she continued to believe that he was still alive and that he would eventually return home.

      In this photo of a Sept. 26, 1918 letter from the Australian Red Cross, provided by the family, some clarity is made regarding World War I Australian soldier Andrew Bayne. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917. Bayne's wife, who received a letter from him after his death, questioned whether her husband had actually been killed. In the years that followed she continued to believe that he was still alive and that he would eventually return home.
    Associated Press

  • In this Thursday, April 24, 2014 photo, a barbed wire fence encloses a field around the World War One Torreken Farm area in Heuvelland, Belgium. Researchers in Belgium have marked Torreken Farm as the area where Australian soldier Andrew Bayne was killed in action on Aug. 19, 1917. Before his death Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete and finally Messines Ridge.

      In this Thursday, April 24, 2014 photo, a barbed wire fence encloses a field around the World War One Torreken Farm area in Heuvelland, Belgium. Researchers in Belgium have marked Torreken Farm as the area where Australian soldier Andrew Bayne was killed in action on Aug. 19, 1917. Before his death Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete and finally Messines Ridge.
    Associated Press

  • In this undated photo provided by the family, Australian soldier Andrew Bayne, rear left, poses with his wife and children in Brisbane, Australia, before leaving for the Western Front. Andrew Bayne, along with his brothers, enlisted for service in World War I. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917.

      In this undated photo provided by the family, Australian soldier Andrew Bayne, rear left, poses with his wife and children in Brisbane, Australia, before leaving for the Western Front. Andrew Bayne, along with his brothers, enlisted for service in World War I. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917.
    Associated Press

  • In this undated photo provided by the family, Australian soldier Andrew Bayne poses for a photo before leaving for the Western Front in Brisbane, Australia. Andrew Bayne, along with his brothers, enlisted for service in World War I. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917.

      In this undated photo provided by the family, Australian soldier Andrew Bayne poses for a photo before leaving for the Western Front in Brisbane, Australia. Andrew Bayne, along with his brothers, enlisted for service in World War I. Andrew Bayne's journey took him to the battlefields of Bullecourt, Wytschaete, and Ypres before he was killed in action near Messines Ridge, Belgium on Aug. 19, 1917.
    Associated Press

 
By Raf Casert, Associated Press

NIEUWKERKE, Belgium -- In a neatly clipped corner of the Westhof Farm Cemetery, an Australian family huddled around Pvt. Andrew Bayne's grave. One century after the start of World War I, the family found closure in homage to a forebear who had traveled half the world to meet his death, his stomach ripped open by an exploding shell, in the horrors of Flanders Fields.

Bayne left his wife, Katie, with four young children in Brisbane and a prescient letter of regret: "What a dammed fool I was to ever have enlisted."

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Bayne lies alongside other Commonwealth victims and a handful of German dead, the rows of pristine white tombstones stretching over rich, undulating pastures. Belgium and France are still scarred by over 1,000 graveyards, countless bomb craters, rusting gas shells, bunkers and trenches that tore apart the Western Front for four years.

The front line of death and destruction burned through the Alps, Central Europe and beyond. It claimed some 14 million lives -- 5 million civilians and 9 million soldiers, sailors and airmen from 28 countries. The 1914-18 conflict was so unprecedented in its scope and savagery that it became known simply as "The Great War." At least 7 million troops were left permanently disabled and families across the globe, much like Bayne's, were wrecked.

Despite the vows of "never again" across a shellshocked world, the outcome of the conflict only sowed the bitter seeds that led to World War II and more slaughter. And the nationalist tensions that set off the killing never really died, most recently resurfacing in Ukraine and Russia.

For Kaylene Biggs, misty-eyed after finally facing the grave of her great-grandfather, the war's far-reaching legacy makes remembrance all the more important. "It isn't until you do visit the battlefields that you realize the huge amount of loss and sacrifice."

"Now, it seems so peaceful," she said amid the twitter of birds and the faraway galloping of a horse.

The early summer of 1914 seemed just as tranquil to most Europeans. By that time, the Bayne family had already been in Australia for two years, hoping to build a richer life after toiling for meager rewards on a Scottish farm.

Little did they know that Europe wouldn't let them go so easily.

Both sides had initially expected a quick war, but it soon became a deadly stalemate the likes of which had never been seen. Sometimes tens of thousands would die in a single day. Artillery was relentless. Toxic gas was introduced in modern warfare with devastating effect. Because of it, the need for fresh manpower was enormous -- and the reach of the British Empire was global.

It was only a matter of time for the war to turn up at Andrew Bayne's doorstep in Brisbane.

Bayne was hardly gung-ho about the war. What turned things around, Biggs said, was that "one day in the street, he was handed a white feather," at the time a universal sign for cowardice. "So he went and joined up." He enlisted in June 1916, left Australia four months later -- and arrived in France from England in March of the following year, just one indication of the pace of war a century ago.

Family archives showed Bayne fought at Bullecourt in northern France, where two battles cost Australia 10,000 casualties and hardly moved the front line.

Bayne, like so many millions of soldiers, long remained hopeful as the war stretched into its fourth year. The Germans, he wrote home, "are about starved out and they can't last much longer." He added, "Cheer up. I will be with you yet."

On Aug. 19, 1917, a German shell burst close to him as he was on the Ypres front holding the line close to Messines Ridge, little more than a molehill but a killer of thousands on both sides. The pain and agony were recorded matter-of-factly in a witness report: "The wounds were left arm, right of face and stomach -- the latter a bad one."

Bayne could still call for a stretcher and, before losing consciousness, utter: "They have got me." He died soon afterward at age 32.

Like the hundreds of thousands expected to come to Europe from across the world over the next four years, the Baynes' pilgrimage has been multigenerational. Kaylene and her husband Peter also brought their three children.

"His children and his wife weren't able to come," said Kaylene's daughter Jaleesa, 18. "They, in a sense, didn't get closure but we are able to come here and able to see what they always wanted to see."

For Biggs and her family, a trip across the globe to a simple grave in a small cemetery has meant the world.

"With all this sadness, I am so thankful that he actually does have a grave, somewhere for his descendants to go to pay their respects," she said. "I feel comforted that his sacrifice has not been forgotten through time."

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