State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 14 October 1974

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All Those Empty Pages

“There never was a greater tragedy than World War I” (Bill Gammage, The Broken Years).
In April of this year I told my friend Dan Webb of Channel 7 that I believed there were extant many letters and diaries of Victorians who had served in various wars and that we knew by our experience that the bulk of these papers would be eventually lost unless they were collected for preservation. I asked Dan to help me in any way he could to locate diaries and letters. However I didn't expect him to do so, so thoroughly and well. During his Anzac Day broadcast over channels 7, 9 and 2 he three times appealed for manuscripts and by the following day men were already beginning to phone us at the La Trobe Library and bring documents in. Those contacts have only now begun to fall away. Forty-eight “war” collections have been deposited since the appeal and a further thirty-two have been lent us for copying. As well, we have been told of the location of some eight more collections. Among our material are many diaries, some covering the landing at Gallipoli, some the evacuation; some were written in the mud-sea of French battle grounds, in P.O.W. camps, at sea — by both patients and nurses, some are from airmen, others register their impressions on returning home. Apart from telling the war from the combatant viewpoint, the diaries and letters are a source of information on the moral and social behaviour of the period. Above all, they tell of the tragedy, the waste, the stupidity of it all.
There are items from both world wars but for this article I have selected a few only from those of W.W.I.
Some kind of pattern emerges that gives us some idea of the reasons for these particular papers having survived. For instance, when there is one letter only it invariably is “his last letter”, having been kept not so much for its contents as for it being the end of contact. Many men depositing their diaries have thanked us — when we were trying to thank them. “I've been worried. I know it would have been burnt when I go,“ the old men say.
There are postcards and cigarette cards — it was the era of such, some very pretty, silk, needleworked and lacy with very sticky sentiments that at times crash into your awareness with their naive, blundering efforts to send home the love they cannot find words for. “The words on this card tell you how I am thinking,” is a common entry. There are photographs and odd ephemera including a letter written by a soldier on a piece of the wing of an aeroplane shot down over the Australian trenches in France. Looking at this piece of oiled cloth one knows what is meant in the letter from a young Flying Corps pilot which reads: “Raining today. Could not go up. Rain may damage parts of machine.” There is talk of a letter from “Hotel de Clinque”. We have found tucked in the envelopes of a collection sent home “Effects of deceased soldier” — pretty silk handkerchiefs, aprons and cloths he had bought to bring home when he came. There are, tucked away among other papers, souvenirs taken off the bodies of dead Turks and Germans. “War is an awful thing,” as one elderly man commented. “We were not ourselves at all. You try to forget it.”
Of course there is the lighter side — girls, travel and food. Some of the letters from France must have sent the women back home mad. “The French girls are awfully pretty.” “By jove the French girls are pretty.”
Nostalgia for mail and for home is the major theme of most collections. “Anniversary of 1st day in camp,” writes Pte. Rankin amid the carnage of Pozières. They record anniversaries of leaving Australia; some list the number of weeks away from home, some the days.
Cpl. D. L. Stewart of Signals recorded:
Days in Action 334
Days in Advance 91
Days in France 357
Days from Melbourne 581
Days on Somme 120
Nurse Alice Kitchen, AANS, wrote on 19 Oct 1919, “5 years today since I left home. It seems many centuries.”
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There is not much humour. Overall is the deepest sorrow and despair a researcher could ache in. Collecting, sorting, reading them these past few months, it has been impossible to remain remote. These ingenuous figures of what we once were in this country walk out of their writing, dig us in the ribs with their artless humour and as suddenly as we turn the page it has ended, they have crossed the gap, not the step all pass from boyhood to manhood, but a gap no man who was not with them can ever span. And so, to the end of their story, when those who did come home realize a quite chilling thing: that that moment in time when they swept across the gap was in reality an eternity, the extent of which their loved ones could never understand, and they, the men, could never forget.
The worst of working with the diaries is all those empty pages. You turn back one page from the one you find empty and re-read: “Flanders, Fri. 22 Sept: stand-to. Usual rum issue. Fritz lively. Wrote letter home. Received Bulletin, Table Talk, Punch. Best morning's rest we've had for a long time.” And then nothing.
Or, at Gallipoli: “All round me have been killed or wounded. I've been lucky so far.” And there is no more. He is aged 23. Many are prepared:
“O, on some morning dateless yet
I shall steal out in the sweet dark
And find my ship with sails all set
By the dim quay-side — and embark.”
Pte. R. Smith copied the above in the front of his diary.
When the donor of the Charles Bruce Laugher collection presented this material she asked if she could have the two photographs back. “They are the only ones taken of Bruce.” One was of the boy, the other was of his grave in France. He was aged nineteen. “He'll be in good company then,” the donor said when I told her of the other deposits.
“O comfort, Lord, Australia's Sons Tonight”. “Written by one of our boys at the front”, is copied into an album. “Sons are now dying, tis the cost of war. Remember Lord, Australia's sons tonight. Be thou their refuge in the darkest hour, O comfort, Lord, Australia's sons tonight”.
There are the seemingly incredible meetings, thousands of miles from home. Pte. Vic Graham of Terang in his diary writes of arriving in France. “Here at Neuve Eglise I was at last to meet a very great friend of mine from the 5th Btn for whom I carried a letter from his parents since leaving Melbourne.” (Graham was then aged 17. At 18 he was taken prisoner at Mouquet Farm.) Bruce Laugher met his brother Stan in Egypt, and later on during the “push” before he met his death at Pozières he wrote “Saw Stan”. Letters continually send news back to Australia of neighbours and friends met in and out of action.
Of bravado there is little. Of fear, some. Pte. T. Oliver, 7th Btn, a young boy on Gallipoli, wounded, knowing his brother had previously been killed, wrote as the shells fell, “I know I must try to come home to you. It would have been nice if your two boys had come home but that was not to be. However, I am not out of danger yet. The Turks are working close to my sap.” (He was invalided home and lived until recent years.)
Annie Riddell wrote of seeing Walter Hackett of the 13th Light Horse ride off to war.
“My dear Helen,
We saw the boy off on Friday. Perhaps I had better begin at the beginning of our farewell — on Thursday afternoon I met Ella at the tram terminus and we went by the horse tram to Coburg and started from there to walk the five miles to the camp — it was a lovely afternoon so we didn't mind the prospect of walking 5 miles at all — but after walking for 40 minutes, a taxi came along & called out to know if we were going to the camp — & pulled up — so in we got & did the rest of the journey in style (all for nothing). We saw Walter very soon — & walked along to where the new band were playing — & after about ten minutes a bugle sounded & Walter as well as the whole of the regiment had to go on parade — that lasted 3/4
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It was the hey-day of picture postcards and most of the La Trobe WW1 collections have their packet of silken, painted cards.

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of an hour — but Ella & I waited till it was over — All the time Walter kept squinting round to see if we were still there — he was in one of the back lines — then it grew so dark we couldn't see him at all — but the minute it was over, he came bounding over to us — he couldn't possibly see us — so we were glad we had kept in the same place all the time — we walked over to the road together & said Good bye — & started once more to walk back to Coburg. We had intended to get the train at Fawkner Cemetery — but of course by waiting till the parade was over — we missed the train — Walter was in the highest of spirits & a whole new uniform — more green in it than the others and no end of straps & things about it.
Well Ella & I walked for half an hour along Sydney Rd. in the bright moonlight — when a bread waggon came along & hailed us — so up we got — & were driven right to the very door of the mission. Ella came here to tea.
Next morning a friend of Miss Courtney's rang up from Coburg & said the troops were just passing them, so we jumped up from breakfast, & ran up to the top of Albion St — but it was only the A squadron — so we came home & finished breakfast — then I rang up head quarters at the Camp & asked if Private W. Hackett were still in camp — & if I had been Lady Ferguson I could not have had better treatment — so he asked if I would mind waiting a minute! while he went to find out — he came back to the ‘phone & told me his squadron was just leaving the camp at that moment — so we calculated how long they would take to get down — then I rang up the store & told Tom & Geo. — Mrs. P., Miss C., Miss Fraser, Esther & I all went up to the Rd. & saw them come along — they did look splendid — with their waving black ostrich plumes — As Walter got near I handed him your letter. He gaily waved his hand & we waved & cheered him. Then I came home changed my dress & started off again to town to meet Ella at 11 a.m. As we neared the Hay Market I saw the squadron disappearing round the corner to the back streets — so when I met Ella we started off for the Queen's bridge thinking to see them there — sure enough we only waited a few minutes & on they came — we handed Walter his bible — though his horse swerved very much at our approach.
Then we went by Port Melb tram & passed them again (they only walk). We lined up near the pier — & right in front of us there were Archie Hackett & his wife & Mabel — they were delighted to see us, & had been waiting there since 10.30 — by then it was 11.30 — of course I introduced & we went along the Rd to point out Walter at a more convenient place — Archie buzzed right up to him, caught his hand & shook it — & a minute after — the squadron came to a stand still so I managed an introduction.
Then the men rode along to the beach & stood in a single line all along the shore & at a given signal — they rode right into the sea — it was a sight for a cinematograph — then they came out & the men dismounted — they then led their horses toward the pier, so we lined up & kissed Walter — Mabel dashed forward & flung her arm round him. Good bye! Walter dear! she said. She also had a parcel for him. Archie pressed his wife forward & said Kiss your Auntie Bessie. He laughed & seemed thoroughly to enjoy it. We were so glad of those few minutes — we waited till 2.30 in the hope of getting on the pier — but found it impossible so we left.
With much love, Anne.”
In an almost epic-less land, the “Gallipoli diaries” are precious. With such a diary in our hand we experience the true headiness of an historian, that of the wisdom of hindsight. Now with this hindsight our mind slips back to that date which, as yet, to the diarist is of no significance, but is tattooed on our folk memory. There on April 25, 1915, we stand waiting, watching our writer on his fatal, irreverent progression to this point in time, and as he comes towards us it is not possible to be wholly objective. We know too much.
There is the tiny diary of: “Alfred M. Love; Corporal; No. 1375; Enlisted 13 Nov. 1914; Weight 12 st 10 Ib; Height 5 ft 9 1/2 ins; size of hat 6 7/8; Hosiary 8; Gloves — (Private); Collar 16”, Shirt 15 1/2; Shoes 9. Will made out in
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“They did look splendid. Walter … gaily waved his hand and we waved and cheered him… . And on they came — we handed Walter his bible — although his horse swerved very much at our approach”, wrote Annie Riddell on seeing the Light Horse ride off to war. (Picture taken in Collins Street, Melbourne.)

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favour of my wife.” On 22 Dec. 1914 he was leaving Broadmeadows Camp for the troopship that would take him overseas. “Had lead pencil thrown up from some young lady on leaving. Very rowdy on board tonight. Feeling well.”
“Wed 23rd. Weighed anchor 5 am. Submarine AE 2 in tow bound for duty in North Sea England.
Thurs 24th. On duty as ships orderly. Submarine broke away, picked her up again. Concert on board tonight. Xmas eve.
Friday 25th. Xmas day. Church parade at 9.30. Xmas greetings exchanged from crew of submarine and boat. Had good dinner. Thinking of home and wife and child
Sat 26th. Still feeling very well. Having good trip across the Bight. Have bayonet fighting every day from today. Vaccinated today.
Sun 27th. Church parade. A very nice sermon.
Mon 28th. Reached Albany breakfast time. Let the submarine go before going in to port. On special guard tonight.
Tues 29th. Finished on guard at 6 am. On parades all day. Not allowed on shore at all. Rotten luck I call it. Thinking of wife and child tonight.
Wed 30th. Still in Albany Harbour about a mile from shore. Think we are leaving tomorrow.
Thurs 31st. Left Albany today at 8.30 am. 17 ships, a very nice sight to see all of them steaming out together. Learning French 1st person. Concert on board tonight very nice. Seeing old year out and new one in. Thinking of my dear ones at home. May God bless them.
1 January 1915. Holiday on board. Burial at sea this morning at 11 am. All boats stopped for 5 minutes and flew flag at half mast.”
(And the researcher, knowing the fields these men were heading for is struck with the irony of time standing still for 5 minutes and a flag being flown at half mast for one man. And wonders if the man was on board who later wrote in France, “We ran out yesterday to the attack across the bodies of the dead we hadn't been able to bury and today we retreated back across those same bodies but now there were more of them.” Or the soldier who wrote in France, “It is hotter today. The smell of the dead is almost unbearable.”)
They cast off the submarine casually and headed for Colombo. (AE 2 like her sister submarine AE 1 was eventually to be lost at sea.)
On shore in Egypt he writes in the small space of each day's entry. “Thur 11 Feb 1915. My birthday and Jacks. We are going to have a blow out if we get paid.” Later he scrawls in the margin, “Got paid.”
He, like the other soldier diarists went touristing, seeing Heliopolis, Cairo, Alexandria, scaling the pyramids, touring the museums and sights. “Went out to the pyramids, inside the pyramids, on top of the big one; visited the sphinx and tombs. Finished up night in Cairo.”
“Sunday 27 Feb 1915. Jack Castle and McLeod and I went treasure hunting this morning. I found some heads and a small mummie in one grave. Very funny digging up skeletons hundreds of years old. Went to church parade. Thinking of my darling wife.” “Holiday today. Went to Cairo. Went in to some places where no Aust. soldier was before and my word the natives did come and look at us and all the kiddies followed.”
All the time they were having intensive training, on the rifle range, mock attacks, trench digging, pack drill, and route marching.
“Wed 3 March. Went 28 mile today. Very tired. Thinking of home and Glenora and Essie. Wish I was home with them tonight.”
As well as training, they were playing up. “On duty tonight rousing the drunks out of Cairo.” “On guard duty today. 35 prisoners in boob. Pretty busy tonight with drunks and absent-without leave men.”
He isn't above a bit of AWL himself as an earlier entry shows.
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“In one of your letters you remarked that a Sgt in my Btn, Kent Hughes, was the selected Rhodes scholar. The gentleman in question is on the same camel as I am; Can you find me? By-the-way, the camel? I am on is a dromedary, note the difference. The other two are camels.” Sgt S. James, 7th Btn. (before leaving Egypt for Gallipoli.) James is on centre “camel” with Kent Hughes holding reins.)

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“Wed 3 Feb. I went into Cairo tonight on French leave.” And the following day: “Went in to Cairo again today. Got home alright without getting caught.” Next night in Cairo “Saw the C—C—Dance”.
Sometimes he gives way to a little pride, as when there was “a march past The Brigadier of our Brigade. He said he was very proud of us all.” And at the rifle Butts, “I done very well today at shooting at the both targets.” But the most common entry concerns his wife and child.
“Thursday 4 March. 8 years married today — Glenora and Essies birthday today. Many happy returns of the day to them. May God bless them. On guard tonight. Very tired. Glenora … God bless her and keep her true to me until I can return to her.”
Day after day they trained, some days they “attacked” posts. After “a big march we attacked the NZ. Light Horse and beat them badly but we had a terrible time and drank all our water for dinner and had a very bad march home. Nearly done up.” Two days later, “Battle against the Tommies. Beat them hollow.” They slept on the desert before “attacking” at dawn. Faintly in the margin: “You are all the world to me.”
By 13 March the air was thrumming with anticipation: “Inspection of kit today ready for going at any time. Saw George and said goodby to him. He expected to sail tomorrow afternoon.”
“Wed 17 March. Feet and rifle inspection. The officers sold a dead man's kit today by auction and the sum of £27 was raised to send home to his people.
Sat 20 March: Packing all wagons today, beds and bags. Tents ready to strike and to march out of camp.”
The following day the troops were lined up and inspected by “the High Commissioner & Sultan. Between 20 and 30,000 troops. It was a fine sight to see.” In margin “Got letter from wife.”
Then, Alfred Love took ill and for a week suffered a temp of 103° and fever. At the hospital, “one of the largest palaces in the world”, that had been taken over by the army medical corps, he was cared for and well fed: “I will miss the chicken and pudding when I go.” And he had left by the following week, in time to embark. Perhaps now we could walk day by day with him for a little time for there is only a little time to go.
“Wednesday 7 April 1915: We are told we are going to the Dardanelles to fight the Turks and will have to land under fire so we will have all our equipment ready to throw off if the small boats we are to land in get hit. It looks like a hot time for us.” (The next page of the diary is missing.)
15 April. Still sailing along between the islands. 12 o'clock just reached Lemnos Island and it is full of shipping and activity. We are steaming up alongside the New Zealand boat A23 to tie alongside her.
16 April. The harbour has plenty of shelter for all kinds of boats. There are over 12 battleships, the old Queen Elizabeth and Lion and French and Russian and a lot of destroyers. It is only 3 hours sail to the Dardanelles where they are bombarding.”
The following day he trains: “not much room on boat though. Thinking of home.” Writes postcards home.
“18 Ap. Church pde. Sea plane flying about.
19 Ap. Still in the harbour. There are still a lot of transport boats to come on here. We were issued with 200 rounds of ball cartridges today and practised disembarking and embarking.
20 Ap. A lot of Tommies arrived today, also French and Aust. troopships. Feeling very well.”
On the next day he records: “120 days away from home now.”
“22 Ap. Still on board the Seanchoon in Lemnos Island. Nothing doing much only more boats coming in from Egypt. There is a terrible lot of boats here now and more to come. Still feeling well.
Friday 23 Ap. The warships are getting ready
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for the fray now, all getting steam up. 6 p.m.: Some transports (7) + 4 battleships have gone out tonight. Soon be our turn now I hope. Getting tired of the ship.
Saturday 24 Ap. A lot more troops left today. The battle starts tomorrow morning in earnest at daybreak.” He writes in margin. “Thinking a lot of home and wife and child.”
Sunday 25 Ap. We can hear the big guns firing this morning. 9.50 we are now moving ourselves. Reached the scene of action 5 pm and landed and dig ourselves in underfire.
Monday 26 Ap. Daylight now, the Turks are driven back a mile or two. Very heavy losses yesterday for the Australians. About 400 come on our boat last night. We are now ready in trenches to give them hell. We move right up to the firing line in the morning. The allies are having it pretty rough but we will win.
Tuesday 27 April: Arrived at firing line at 10 o'clock this morning. Having a very bad time of it so far. Machine guns played hell on our men for a start, they are getting hit and killed all around me but I escaped so far.”
And there is no more. You turn the pages quickly: perhaps he's only wounded, he'll write when he gets to hospital. But you are on to the back cover before you see his hand again: “In the event of my death I wish this book to be sent to my Dear Wife to let her know that my last thoughts were of her and Essie my darling daughter” — and here is her address. Quickly, turn back to his final entry and, yes, there it is in the margin, scrawled in the pencil that a girl threw to him as the troopship left Melbourne. “Thinking a lot of wife and child.”
Sister Alice Kitchen, AANS, in Egypt entered in her diary on 4 April 1915 that she saw the boys sail off for the Dardanelles,” … the band playing them off. The Brigadier told them that in a month's time most of them would probably be dead. God grant he may be much mistaken!”
“April 21st: Had a frightful sort of day moving patients and making room for the wounded who may sooner or later arrive from the Dardanelles.
April 29th: Some of the wounded arrived today. Our first real war heroes from Turkey and all ravenous for food. We hear rumors of their doing very well and also of very heavy casualties.”
And then the casualties began to flood in.
“There will be grief and sorrow in many a house & I am afraid few of the First AIF will return except as cripples. It is all too dreadful and every day we hear of someone we knew being killed or wounded.
May 5: The hospital ships provided were not nearly enough for the number of wounded. Some say we have 8,000, others 10,000.”
Her only light moment in the heavy load of work over the next months was to learn that “their war cry was ‘Imshi-Yallah!”.
By 9 June she was off on a hospital ship to the Dardanelles and from then until 19 October — “anniversary of the day we left home. It seems a long year in many ways” — she lived on hospital ships travelling in to Anzac Cove to pick up the wounded.
“Hundreds of wounded lying about everywhere on shore & some we got were wounded when the business began & had been lying about 3 or 4 days. All were frightfully dirty and dry & hungry. Kent Hughes came on board & is “fed up” with the way things are being done already. They are all so dirty & ragged, their uniforms stiff with blood, boots & socks caked with sand & all grateful for a wash. Truly this is a dreadful war. It is more like wholesale murder.”
Private Roy Rankin, 21st Btn, went to Gallipoli with reinforcements, from there to other battlefields, and like many who escaped death on the Peninsula did not survive France. The collection of his letters commences 29 April, 1915, as he was about to leave Melbourne — 4 days after the Australians had landed at Gallipoli.
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“Dear Mother,
The Toorak people presented Norm Guest and me with beautiful wrought silver wristlet watches at a social they held last Saturday evening. Mr. Booth drove me back to the camp in his motor. I have an invitation to go up to Stawell for a day or so, but it's impossible to get leave. That is because we are expecting to embark on the 5th May. I will be getting photographed as soon as possible now so as not to leave it too late and will send copies as soon as I get them.
With love from Roy.”
Four months later he wrote from Egypt.
Heliopolis.
“Dear Mother,
We are ready to go at last, and expect to leave Cairo tomorrow, though it may be some weeks before we get to the front. We are all keen to get there, and hope to be in the fun when the Turks are driven back to Constantinople. We struck tents yesterday, and got our bayonets sharpened. The Australians have made a name for themselves, and the Turks will not face their bayonets; though they will come at the British and French. That is what wounded Australians tell us, though it may be mostly ‘blow’.
His ship was torpedoed out from Alexandria and his next letter tells of his rescue.
“There was a crash and the ship seemed to stop dead. We all realized we had been torpedoed. When I reached the deck … fell in opposite our boat which was left swinging from one davit and was overturned in being lowered. The crews of 2 or 3 boats let the same thing happen. I was one of the first to strike the water and took a neat header with the rest on top of me. It was impossible to reach a boat being hindered by boots, belt, clothes & waves and was drifting away with dozens of others clinging to bits of wreckage until I saw a rope and grabbed it and hauled myself along to an overcrowded, sinking boat. Our concern was to keep our little boat from sinking.
Presently a streak of smoke was seen on the horizon, and very quickly a ship came into view; she was a hospital ship, and six others soon came after her, and began picking up the scattered boats. Three of them were destroyers, and it was a grand sight to see them streaking, yet sneaking through the water at their top speed. We were taken on a cruiser where the sailors fed us, dried our clothes, and gave us cigarettes. That night we were brought into port and put on board a troopship.”
A week later he is writing from “my little dug-out in the west” (Gallipoli).
“The country consists of little and deep gullies and everything, even water has to be carried up to the men. This is done by them in turns and is very hard work. As we have been under artillery, rifle and machine gun fire we can realize as no one else can what the first Australians did, and put up with, when they took these hills. Warships are scattered all along the coast, and the hospital ships floating safely where they could easily be shelled by the enemy if they wished to do so. At night time the hospital ship is a pretty sight with lights all over her and a row of green lanterns doing for a green stripe and the red cross illuminated.
It is just before and after sunset that the artillery is in action and shells can be heard whizzing from one hilltop to another. It is a pretty sight to see an aeroplane flying (always at a great height) across a blue sky, when suddenly a puff of white smoke, just like a tuft of cotton wool, appears near her and a report is heard a few seconds later. Sometimes a dozen shrapnel shells will be fired at an aeroplane, the puff of smoke making her off course, but none of them ever hit. Sometimes the aeroplane drops a bomb which explodes with a powerful explosion, but it is very hard for her to hit her mark.
I was very glad to receive a letter from Dulcie and Dorothy, and would like to receive more of them. Could you send an old book or novel, or any old thing except papers and war news? The ‘Sydney Mail’ is very welcome, but a book in which there is no war news would be even more acceptable, as I have not seen a book which had anything beside war news in it since I left Egypt.”
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Firing Line.
“Dear Mother,
Just a line to let you know I am still alive and well. Life in the trenches is very monotonous except when the shells are flying about. The Turks are great sports and in places where the trenches are only a few yards apart exchange cigarettes for tobacco with the Australians, by throwing them (the cigarettes) across the intervening space. And if the stuff falls short they do not shoot at one another as they reach up for it. At other times they are continually throwing bombs at one another's trenches. There is plenty to talk about in this sort of warfare but it is difficult to put anything in letters without its being censored.
At night time there is generally no artillery fire at all and machine guns, bombs and rifles do all the talking. It is a pretty sight to see rockets and flares go up when one side fears the other may be going to attack. They are of different colors and light up the whole place as bright as day. The brightest is a white light which would put an arc lamp in the shade. After the rocket is fired the flare is kept in the air by means of a little parachute which slowly descends and drifts away on the breeze carrying the flare with it.
Life in the trenches would be very sedentary but for the ‘fatigue work’ of carrying stores, etc. up the steep hills behind the firing line. We get plenty of that and other work which ought to keep us in condition.
We get news here in the form of telegrams, copies of which are posted up in the trenches. According to a telegram received yesterday the Germans are beginning to have a very bad time of it, we are all looking forward to a quick ending of the war.”
After a sojourn in Egypt where the Australians prided themselves on their bargaining with the natives, the naivete of the following is surprising.
“We have received a pay of ten shillings each and can send to one of the islands for groceries. Most of us have ordered the full ten shillings worth and are looking forward to a great time when the goods arrive. I am getting tinned fruit, chocolate, biscuits and writing material among my lot and wont be happy till I get them.”
Later he writes:
“Very few of the groceries we ordered came though we will be able to get more later on. All I got was writing material which was so scarce before, but I have enough to last me till the end of the war now.”
But he does receive gifts from home.
“I have just received a couple of boshter pairs of socks from Aunt Alice. They are just what I wanted as the issued socks need washing and it is impossible to get water for that.”
(He later wrote his mother remarking that her advice to him in case of cold feet to put on two pairs of socks was “what the boys over here say about young men who won't enlist”.)
“Tell Dulcie that it is very good of her to make me cholera belts but I have a couple already. But if they come I will be able to use these I have now as rifle covers. A pair of gloves or mittens would be useful as I lost what I had in the wreck.”
(Later he writes Dulcie telling her that the belt she sent is “the best knitted belt I have seen but I do not think I will ever use one”.) Food interests him constantly. When on water picket guarding tanks behind the firing line for a week he is delighted. “We draw our rations raw and cook them ourselves so we can have roast meat instead of boiled and make ourselves dough cakes, etc. This climate gives one a powerful appetite, and as long as we are well fed we are happy.”
“I see by the papers that they are sending puddings to arrive here for us in time for Christmas. What a feed we will have if they come alright.
We have been ten weeks in the trenches now, and naturally are tired of the food supplied us and long for better tucker. The groceries never arrived except in small quantities, and we were disappointed by that investment. Therefore we are a bit sceptical as to whether we will receive the gifts safely or not.
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It would amuse you to see us cooking for ourselves whenever we get the materials. All we need are flour and fat and onions and we can cook anything from pancakes to grisoles. The grisoles are the best and are made by mixing bully-beef with minced onions and mixed with flour or bread crumbs, and then fried. Fat is the hardest thing to get as there is such a demand for it. We get plenty of jam to put on our pancakes and dough cakes, but bread is not too plentiful.
If all else fails we can always make porridge out of ground up biscuits, and fried biscuits are very good, though they require a lot of soaking first. So that you can see the only thing we have to occupy our minds is the question of tucker.”
“Most of the chaps here are getting thin on it but as I was always thin I remain the same, healthier than before I enlisted.”
“I have only seen one Turk since I've been here (except prisoners) but was not quick enough to get a shot at him. It is very seldom Abdullah shows himself and all we have to shoot at are periscopes. Needless to say we do not show ourselves, either.
We have been here three months now, which isn't a bad time to be in the trenches without a relief.
A chap is like a rabbit here, always digging himself holes called dug-outs to sleep in, and it is not hard to make oneself very comfortable in the coldest weather. A hole dug in the side of a trench makes a very snug nest if one has plenty of blanket and a water-proof sheet over the mouth to keep out the rain and the cold. But that is not the only reason we are like rabbits. We sometimes have to work down tunnels and saps, and my work for the last few days has been carrying sandbags out of them. Need to be a mule or mountaineer carrying stores up these hills.
This is a most wonderful place for rumors, as we get so little real news. Some of the rumors are founded on facts, but most of them are too ridiculous for one to be bothered listening to them, so we practically know nothing of what is going on or what is going to be done here.” (6.12.15)
Lemnos.
“Dear Mother,
I am writing now in camp a few miles out of Mudros. We have evacuated Anzac and believe that they will be sending us to Egypt for a rest in a few days time. The puddings and Christmas billies are here and we will be getting them today though the mail for which we have been waiting for several weeks has gone back to Egypt. Our company was out of the trenches and doing fatigue work when the evacuation started and, being handy to the beach, we could get any amount of clothing and food stuffs, as the reserve stores were being used up. For about a week we lived high with porridge, milk, sugar, cocoa, arrowroot, tinned vegetables and meat, cheese and jam, and other luxuries, to say nothing of plenty of wood to cook with. As for clothing, we all got a new rig-out from head to foot and threw away our old clothing. Mufflers and mittens and hand-knitted sox could be had in dozens, and I know I brought away about a dozen pairs of the last, as well as a pair of mits and two or three mufflers. Up till then I had been without mufflers or mittens, and was very glad to get them.
The reason for this sudden giving away of stuff was that the goods could not be shipped away and had to be given to us or destroyed. Every night we were digging trenches on the tops of hills behind the firing line for the use of the rearguard, should the Turks follow them up when they withdrew. As it turned out, however, they did not need them, and got off quietly as we did, without Abdul suspecting anything. Beachy Bill, the Turkish Battery which was in such a position as to be able to shell the beach and piers only fired her usual number of shots, that is one about every half-hour or quarter of an hour and had the Turks suspected anything it would have been firing like mad. We got away on the barge and were well out to sea before a shot was fired on to the beach, although three or four were fired just before we got there. Needless to say, everything was done at night, the rearguard getting off the night after we did. We were placed on board an auxiliary cruiser and next
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morning arrived here. The Navy men treat us splendidly every time they get a chance because a lot of them saw our boys at the landing and, to use their own expression, they opened their eyes.
As soon as we got on board some of the stokers asked half-a-dozen of us down into their quarter and supplied us with hot cocoa and salmon and bread and butter. Bread and butter was a luxury we had not been able to get and bread had not been brought on to the peninsula for weeks. At one time we used to get bread every other day, and there was not too much of it then. When we arrived at Mudros the cruiser brought up alongside a battleship, the officers and crew of which were drawn up to welcome us, with band playing and sandwiches, cocoa and cigarettes ready for us. It was easy to see that they think a lot of the Australians, and take every opportunity of showing it. We had a good time on board and were then taken on shore and had to march about three miles to this camp and were allotted about one tent to eighteen men, as the number of tents was limited. That meant that we were packed so tight that if one wanted to turn over everyone in the tent had to turn over at the same time.
Mudros is a wonderful harbor. The people in the villages are Greeks, and do a great trade with the soldiers by selling oranges, mandarines, nuts, figs, dates, chocolates, biscuits, groceries, etc., and those who are lucky enough to have money do well.”
“I am writing this on board a troopship bound, we believe, for Alexandria, and as we left this morning we ought to arrive there some time tomorrow night. But I must tell you about the Christmas billies, etc. On Christmas Day we got half a pudding each, but the next day the billies were given out and we actually got one each. Had we been in the trenches when we received them they would have been a Godsend, as they contained such a variety of useful articles, which a soldier cannot get. Every billy was different, but most of them contained a pipe and tobacco, cigarettes, chocolates, toffie, and tin of Christmas cake, as well as useful articles like needles and thread and safety pins and bootlaces.
A few days before New Year's Day we received our Christmas mail. My word it was a wopper, and so it ought to have been, since we had received none for about five weeks. A column of men a couple of miles long (practically the whole camp) marched into Mudros to bring it out rather than wait for it to be carted. I received your parcel with the abdominal belts, etc., for which I thank you very much. It was very good of Dulcie and Miss Craw to go to the trouble of knitting the belts which were beauties and so are the gloves. But I was much better pleased with the two letters from you, one dated the 6th and the other the 10th of October. You want to know who is my chum, but I can't tell you because whoever I was on post with, or whoever I shared a dugout with, was my mate. You see it is hard for any two to stick together and the whole platoon are mates.
During our stay at Lemnos we got plenty of drill, the old platoon and company drill, which we got rubbed into us in Egypt, and which we hate thoroughly. It seemed strange after the life in the trenches and we are very rusty on it. There were fourteen of us detailed for guard over Divisional Headquarters, and we had to be smart and neat in our dress to say nothing of saluting all officers, a thing we hadn't done since leaving Egypt! We got well fed there however, and got as much bread as we wanted, which is a thing that has not happened before or since.”
He spent the next six weeks in hospital with “bronchial catarrh” but was happy.
“The tucker is first class”, and other compensations.
“The sisters are splendid, and the boys think the world of them. It seemed strange at first to be looked after by them, after not having spoken to a woman for about eight months.
Many of the letters I wrote to you from Gallipoli were written to the sound of artillery, but I am writing this to the sound of a dulcaphone. There are several in the hospital sent
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from Societies in Australia as Christmas presents, and we have one in our room this morning. We had it going for hours last night, too, and still have about fifty records to put through.
There are five of us in my room and we have some very excited arguments on all sorts of subjects. Three are married, and two of them are always arguing the point over politics, because one of them is a Queensland farmer and has a hard struggle it seems to make a do of it, but now owns 9,000 acres of land and he is, of course, a strong liberal. The other is a laborer from Melbourne and naturally is a laborite, and it is an education to hear them argue (which they do for hours sometimes) about politics, unions, taxes, trade, land and cost of living, etc. But when it comes to an argument about soldiers who have been to the front versus those who have not, these two join forces against the other three of us, because they have never seen the peninsula and we have. When I said that those who had only joined within the last few months had cold feet and only came because they were not game to stop home they nearly jumped down my throat.
Our room has always been the favorite — there are three sisters to the ward and ten rooms — with the sisters, and when one of them left our ward she told her sisters who was coming on night duty to look us up and treat us well if she values her life.”
This letter of 27 February was the last from Egypt. He had expected to go to a convalescent camp until his battalion needed reinforcements, but he wrote on 3 March, “Dear Mother, Here we are in France billetted in a French village.” He practised his French and admired the girls and the country “La belle France!”, and was sleeping in warm straw in a barn. But by 14 April he could write: “Just a line to let you know that I am still alive and well. We have been in the firing line for a few days. So far the life here is better than Anzac where we were 13 weeks in the trenches without a spell.”
In an estaminet the inn-keeper delighted him by stating, “Les Australian sont de bons soldiers, n'est-il-pas”, when he learnt he had been at the Dardanelles. “Vous voyagez beaucoup”. “It seems strange that the Australians should be so popular here when one remembers that the heads were doubtful as to whether it was safe to allow the Australians on the continent.”
This writer delighted in contact with the French and wrote many pages about them, their villages and the happy hours he spent with them. Each time he came out of the trenches for a “spell” he writes of France.
“What interests me most is trying to learn French, which is not easy for a slow thinker like me, especially as there are about three different languages spoken here; the French of the educated people, which is called Northern French; the patois of the farming people and a sort of Flemish, so you see that anyone that wants to learn it is up against something stiff.
“A few of us often go to have a yarn with a mademoiselle who keeps a post-card and confectionery shop. Her father is mayor of >
“None of my mates know more than a few words of French, and she and her sister know a little English and a few words of Arabic and Australian slang, which the Australians have taught them, so you can imagine what a ragtime conversation ours must be.”
“Dulcie's letter amused me when she warned me not to bring home a wife with me. A French girl would do me as they are always merry, bright and happy.” He speaks of “a mongrel language” he and his French friends use i.e. “beaucoup swank” for well dressed.
For four weeks, in between odd trips to the trenches, he lived perhaps the happiest days of his life. When he had to go on his last raid he wrote of leaving the French friends he had made — gendarmes, factory workers, children and old people, “It was quite a sad parting. We had made so many friends.”
He had been on several “raids”. “I suppose you have read all about these raids in the newspapers, and know that the object is to get as many prisoners as possible and kill the rest,
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bring back booty, information, etc. Coming back to the friends we have made is like going home.”
The next three letters, the last he wrote, were from England. He had not been back to his friends.
August 11
Ward 4,
Military Hospital Colchester Hospital England.
“Dear Mother,
I hope you received the letter, which I got the Chaplain to write for me. I suppose he told you that I was hit through the spine, and was as helpless as a baby, having only the use of my arms. The bullet passed through the spine, leaving hardly any wound at all, which healed up very quickly. Since I found it very awkward writing on my back, and the Sister was so kind as to ofter to write for me, she is finishing this letter for me.
I am treated very kindly here, and they cannot do enough for me.
The Doctor seems to think that I have a good chance of recovering the use of my limbs.
Well, that is all I have to say, dear mother, and will close with best love for all at home.
Roy.”
“Dear Mother,
Just a little note to let you know that I am getting stronger every day, and that the Dr will soon be able to make an X-ray exam, of my spine. The Doctor and Sisters are very good to me, and let me have anything I fancy. When I have recovered sufficiently, I am pretty certain of being sent to Australia, and it will be much better there among friends, than here where I have none. The Sister wanted to write this for me, but I thought you would prefer to see it in my own handwriting.
Well'mother, I have nothing more to say, so will close with best love for all at home.
I forgot to say that, although I cannot move my lower limbs, they are always warm and have a certain amount of sensitiveness in them, especially the feet, which are very touchy.
The last letter of this collection.
Roy.”
“Dear Mother,
Just a line to let you know I am still progressing favorably, although not yet strong enough for the Doctor's examination of the spine.
I have not received any back letters yet, but am going to get the ‘Australian Lady’ to shake up Headquarters again for me.
There are well-to-do ladies comes round every week, and will get anything a chap asks for.
I hope you were not anxious when I missed last mail.
With best love, Roy.”
Pte. Rankin died five days later on 10 Sept. 1916.
Coming sometime later to Pozières as stretcher bearer, Pte Vic Graham asked what was the peculiar odour in the air. The French answered, “Beaucoup Australie. Fini Pozières.” His group went on up through the dead, both Australian and British. “Into this inferno of galloping mules bearing wagons of wounded, past the tram lines carrying wounded to capacity we picked our way.” Pozières, the town, had disappeared. “Rubble desolates its site, trenches and the remains of their attackers and defenders are littered as far as the eye can see. We are asked to help bring in wounded who have been laying out in the field for two nights. It is by the dark hours we toil yet most times it seems a charmed life for though Fritz flares light everything as day and his shells burst about us we continue to bring our mates in. For two nights we thus work and complete the assignment with the loss of only 2 of the 6 bearers. We rejoin our company in the line and hold off against a projected counter-attack for the remaining period in the remnants of a trench bearing many dead of a
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previous attack, … burying bodies up to 2 weeks dead.”
He met a mate from another battalion who had survived the second attack at Pozières and this man advised him to go AWL if he got a chance, as he said there was little chance of returning if one went in a second time. Well, he went on to the battle at Mouquet Farm on 26 August 1916, and here was wounded and taken prisoner.
Sgt. G. E. James, from Pozières:
“Early this morning the Hun put a lucky 4.2 right in the centre of our blithering cook-house (our officers cook-house). That's one I owe him. (He blew it to blazes).
Ern.”
“My Dear Howard,
Your last was a bright & breezy letter if ever there was one and I enjoyed every word of it.
Am glad old ‘Curly Locks’ was out to tea with you. I had a good long letter from him last week or so ago & wrote to him at once.
Am glad to get all those good wishes from ‘Old Brunswick’. I know he continually remembers us all.
Its about time old Tom Armstrong enlisted. I'd like to see him carking up his tucker ‘BISCUIT — HARD, DRY’ — with 5.9s & 8 inch all round him. That would take the bend out of his legs. Remember me to old Tom & to his sister too.
How did you like James’ tale of all he saw? The morning he was wounded I took a stroll down to see his Battn., & found that he had been hit.
Tell George Ingles that a couple of weeks ago when I was dodging round sand bags & in & out of dug-outs — side stepping Hun 70 lb bombs — who should I find up to the same caper but Joe Arundel. Joe is in the trench mortars or rather I should say, was, because trench mortar men never last longer than a week. I said, ‘What O Joe, You're in the suicide corps, are you?’ ‘My b—–oath,’ said Joe, ‘Dont I know it. I ought to have been dead & buried three times today already.’ ‘Well, that's right enough,’ I said, ‘you always get three cracks: You never go UP until the fourth time: You'll probably stop one in tonights hate.’ Here the sgt shouted ‘Come out of that Arundel & get hold of some of these b—–bombs.’ (They weigh 60 lbs each — Real loves — you should see the smooging way they nestle up alongside the Hun parapet before bursting). Joe at once left — rather unwillingly, I could see. A great smile came over my face as I said to Joe ‘So long, Joe! I'll probably see you tomorrow.’ ‘Yes,’ said Joe, ‘but only probably.’ But when ‘tomorrow’ came I had moved, so I do not know if Joe went ‘UP’ that night or not.
And yesterday I was in a certain place which vies with Verdun for intensity. I was in a deep, stuffy, ill-lit underground cellar, where I had managed to scramble to after the worst 20 minutes run (through huge craters & over dead men) I have ever been in my life.
I was lucky to have got across that 400 yds stretch and arrived at this place feeling as hot as I have ever felt in my life. I was one unsightly lather of perspiration for yesterday was terribly hot & the smell of the dead was the worst I have ever experienced.
The worst part of the run was yet to come, so I stayed a while to get breath. Among the din of voices I heard an old familiar one, and knew it at once. So I bowled up ‘How are you Freddie, old sport, what the Hell are you doing here.’ ‘Well, I'll be dammed, he replied, ‘but hang on a minute, I'll deal with you later.’ Who should it be but Freddie Forbes. Tell old Fairy I met Forbes. However, I had my job & Forbes had his, so I could not wait to have another word with him & I have not seen him since.
I tightened up my gear & set off to find the man I was to relieve. Remember I had never been in this place before & the place I was to find was pointed out to me this way — ‘He's in one of those shell holes over there, Sir, about 4 or 5 hundred yards away. You'll need to be
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“There are well-to-do ladies comes around every week and will get anything a chap asks for”, Pte Roy Rankin, with a bullet through his spine wrote in his final letter home from an English hospital. (Picture taken at Harefield military hospital, England, after Gallipoli.)

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pretty slick & waste no time getting there: its a pretty hot spot over there: you can be seen all the way.’ That was the way I was directed, ‘You'll pass some dead horses, he's not far from them,’ he shouted, as I set off. I had hardly gone 20 yds when thud — an eight inch a few yards away. ‘Right O Mr. Hun’ I shouted, ‘Have another.’ And he did. This shot sent the two telephonists with us flying. It was only a small shell, but you would have laughed if you had seen what happened. Naturally we all ducked. The shell actually hit one of the men at the eye — grazed him & knocked him down. That was all right, but the funniest thing I ever saw in my life was, on looking round — to see the second man taking a nose-dive to earth — he looked all arms. He picked himself up, looked dreamily around for a second or two, then as if it had suddenly dawned on him that if he stayed there another second he'd stop another such shell, he off for his life in the required direction like a streak of lightning: through leafless trees, over demolished brick houses, over shell holes — down into craters, over dead men and dead Hun horses, he went sailing — all arms and legs and bandy legs at that — until he reached the vicinity of the spot he was to come to. Oh, I'm laughing as I write this; it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life. To make a long story short, we all at length arrived safely in the position we were to take up. It was an advanced post with the Huns only a couple of hundred yards away. I could write jokes on the fun we have had lately, but you'd get tired of it and then again it takes too long to write.
You ask me to write about nothing but French girls. Dam the French girls. The girls in England will do me.
Another man I met the other day was Gerald Carr. He's had a pretty rocky time and can tell you what war is. I bet he's had enough. They told me Mrs. Lines was not too well. I feel like calling on her but remembered I had never met her in Melbourne.
I'm so glad Jack Maggs got my letter. I think a lot of Jack Maggs.
You should be here to see & hear our heavies going over now. They roar like an endless train going through a long tunnel, & when any of them hit, they obliterate the skyline completely.
The poor old Hun is getting What O! He's no match for our boys with the shells.
Best of Wishes to all at the office & at home. We are all in great spirits here.
A letter James received in answer to a gift he had sent the surgeon who attended his wound received at Gallipoli speaks for itself.
Yours Ern.”
Hospital Ship
“Dear Sergeant James,
I very greatly appreciate the feeling which prompted you to send me the beautiful silver cigarette case, and I know you will believe me when I tell you that it will always remain one of the possessions I shall cherish and be proud of.
It is indeed pleasant & gratifying to me as a doctor to know that my work was appreciated, but I can answer you that I always feel it not only a pleasure but an honour to be able to do anything for our splendid men.
I have always said & will continue to do so, that I could not wish to deal with finer men in every way than the wounded Australian & New Zealand men; never once have I heard anything approaching a complaint & never have I met a shirker.
It is good news to know that you are almost convalescent & I shall always be glad to hear how you are getting on.
Yes, Dr. Ramussy is a 1st class chap in every way, quiet, kind, efficient & unassuming.
His full name, rank &c. is.
Dr. Narikutta Ramussui,
1st class sub assistant surgeon
Indian subordinate medical department Hospital Ship‘ ‘
I gave him your last message which he much appreciated.
Yours sincerely, H. Ross.”
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With the “indelible” pencil that many of the war diarists used, Charles Bruce Laugher of Wandiligong left a diary and letters and “the only two photos taken of him”, the one in uniform and the other of the wooden cross over his grave. From Flanders he writes in Sept. 1916: “We all got our rum issue this morning. Of course it is not nearly enough to get drunk on so don't start to worry about yours truly. I don't like it enough if I could get enough to get ‘zig-zag’ as the Frenchies say. But it certainly does a chap a lot of good. It livens him up a bit and gives him a certain amount of warmth. It is one of the best institutions the army ever made when he made a rum issue. I am a strict teetotaler, as I am only a boy yet, but I will always take an issue of rum in the trenches. When you come in off a ‘ticklish’ job out on the wire entanglement and get wet through pretty well it is then that you feel its good effects.”
As he said, he was only a boy. The previous year, 1915, he had written in his diary, “3 March, my birthday (18th) Dust storm all day.” He was then in Egypt and had met up with his brother Stanley — who later sent home the letter written on the oiled cloth wing of a shot-down plane (the brothers met again in France during battle of Pozières). In the few months between his arrival in France, early April, until his death in mid September he was on “stand to” almost every day. His diary, faint, hard to decipher, speaks of “Hop overs”, for going over the top, “hop over as Australians call it”.
“Sat. 22 July. Received instruction re ‘hopping over’ tonight. Bombing practice, bayonet fighting all morning. Observation balloon and aeroplane up frequently. Issued with 2 bandoliers of ammunition, 2 bombs. Mail in. One from Mother, Floss and Ethyl. Very welcome. First Brigade are to attack tonight and try to take Pozieres. We move out 9 p.m. to what used to be Fritz front line. Each man carries 220 rounds of ammunition. 2 bombs, 2 sand bags, pick, shovel or water tin. Glorious sight to see all the flashes coming from our guns (bombarding enemy).
Sunday 23 July. Nothing to eat. Passed 1st Brigade wounded coming down Black Watch Alley. Met Stan (his brother) was well. Bombers did not turn up. (Many diaries speak of heavy casualty rate of these men.) Ration arrived and was issued usual rum issue. Bread short. Overcoats brought up from dump. Monday 24 July. Gas and tear shells over all morning. Several men sent away gassed. Our artillery opened about 9 a.m. and made one nearly deaf. Hardly hear a chap speak. Prepare to move off in single file. Don't know who are supports or who are flanks. Move off 10 p.m. Very slow. Loaded with 10 cartridges. Trenches very much knocked about and smell awful. Arrived front line about midnight. Tues. 25th July. At 1.30 a.m. we filed over the top and opened out into skirmishing order. It came very suddenly. One just hopped over as a matter of course. I just hopped out with a bag of 12 bombs in one hand and rifle, in other. Hopped in a shell hole when a big H.E. (high-explosive) shell lobbed 10 yards away covering us with lumps of stone and dirt. More burst in front and got some of our chaps. Our artillery opened up and then all of a sudden star shells and flares shot up into the air and the Battalion made one yell scarcely audible above the thunder of the guns and all of us went in to the attack. I did not mind the machine guns or rifles or anything. Went on like one in a trance. Stopped once in a crater to fix my bayonet. Fritz gave us some trouble on the left. Bombers were almost wiped out and bombs needed all morning. Aeroplane came over and took our position. Gave the artillery range. Opened up and started to shell us. Hung on. Fritz shelled us and counter attacked. The artillery fixed him up and we picked off the stragglers. It was hellish while it lasted. 9th & 10th Btn. Bombers also cut up. But all did good work. Held on all day. Will not write a full account. In night the 17th relieved us also the 6th who got a rough time Got no sleep. Gas shells sent over. Only about 250 of us left out of about 750. Wed. 26 July. Anniversary of 1st day in camp. Stood to a couple of times. Shelled continuously all day. 17th Btn Bombers on left, Welsh Fusiliers on right bombed Fritz out of his possi just as we were leaving at about 4 p.m. Shelled with HE shrapnel all along the communication trenches. Had to run and keep down.”
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By August they were moving up again to the front. “5th Btn parade. March past. Reinforcements got severely roared up. Only 600 strong yet going in right soon again.” So they march and camp, march and camp, meet other battalions and old friends from home, “met Tom Willoughby and stayed up all night talking”. And swapped notes of mates killed and wounded. Were told the King would visit the area “tomorrow”.
“Thurs. 10 Aug. Heavy bombardment last night. Fell in 1 p.m. and marched down and lined road. At 3 p.m. King arrived accompanied by staff. He looked ill. Prince of Wales and Birdwood with him. Cheered him.
Sat. 11 Aug.: 6th played 5th cricket, 6th won by 10 runs. Very exciting.
Friday 15 Aug.: Stand to 4.30 a.m. Building up parapet, on wiring party, 5 p.m. on Patrol over to Fritz wire to take notice of anything we see and hear. Got within a few yards and listened. Came on to rain and our artillery opened up and bombarded Fritz. Came in about midnight, wet, our machine gun nearly got us once or twice. A chap imagines all sort of things when he is lying out there for a while.”
On Sunday 17, six days before he was killed he opened a parcel from his mother. “We had for dinner rice and fruit and condensed milk, also a bit of plum pudding. Wiring party until 12 p.m. Wet.” Each night he is out, “wired a bit in front of line”. No man's land, under cover of darkness. Then stand to at 6 a.m. Then he wrote home. In that last letter of 18 September 1916 he apologizes for finding nothing interesting to write about.
“I am not troubled with corns now. I have some of that plaster so am not troubled with corns now. I have some of that plaster so am fixed up in that direction. I have taken a ‘tumble’ to carrying old letters about with me as soon as we got moving about over here. Doing 10 to 14 miles a day with our packs on. ‘Dinkum’ Mother it has got me beaten how I have kept going so long. Of course there were times that I could hardly pull one leg after the other and have been just on the point of ‘pulling out’ but somehow I managed to find myself still in with the crowd at the ‘home turn’. There is not much of me and I can't get any finer without falling to pieces so I suppose I will just ‘stick’ the same until something turns up and makes me fill out a bit. My foot took a good while to get better. It used to give me a pretty rough time when we were moving from place to place. But it gradually got right again with iodine and rubbing it constantly and it is right-o again now. I have not received the ‘Bulletin’ yet, but am keeping a look out for it. The papers don't come until often after the letters and the letter just came yesterday. Yes, it would be O.K. if I could see Stan.”
A girl, “young Queenie” had written asking for his photograph. “I will get one taken again as soon as we get into a place where there is more than 3 or 4 houses, a dog and a horse and cart. Just a minute, Mother the water is coming into the dug out so I must go and drain it off. The other 3 chaps are dozing off a bit. Now then here we are again. It is alright for the present anyway. We have had it wet and muddy off and on now for the last week or two. The chaps we relieved in the line here had it pretty dry for their trip in here but there is one advantage in having it wet and that is Fritz can't use his gas on us to any advantage and I know which is the worst. I have only had a little taste of gas but it turned me up for a couple of days so give me the mud and rain every time.
Tuesday 19th I wrote to you yesterday but I evidently put something in that I should not have put in! and consequently had it handed back to me. A chap often forgets he is writing home and goes on just as if he was talking to one of his mates. He can say what he wishes to his mate but cannot do so when writing home. That's how I sometimes overstep the mark I think. It is only the last page (5) that I have to re-write so here goes. Has Mr. Longy left Aust. yet? I don't think he will last long over here if he comes.”
Here he describes the short life expectancy for whatever branch of the army “Longy” belonged to but the censor has slashed lines out. We then pick him up: “It gets very cool
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at nights now and we will soon be having frosts I suppose and will want scarfs and gloves etc. We all have been issued with long boots on a/c of the mud and water being so deep in places. They are O.K. for keeping out the water.”
He fills up the page with news of boys they know, wounded, dead.
“Poor old Eddie Pearce. I saw him just a few days ago for the first time since leaving Australia. And the last, so it seems. However, its just a chaps luck of course. Providence. With very best love and heaps of kisses to all. Your very affectionate and loving son, Bruce.”
That is the final letter.
The final entries in his diary are laconic.
Pozieres stunt in them. Fritz began to strafe lively. Most likely a new crowd in. Received Bulletin, Table Talk and Punch. News of Pozieres stunt in them. Fritz began to strafe us with trench mortars. 2 killed, 4 wounded. Poor old Jack Rose was missing but later we found he had been blown into pieces poor old chap. Wired in front tonight.”
And the final entry:
“Saturday 23 Sept; Stand to. Usual rum issue. Great morning. Best we have had for some time. Planes active. Slept all morning. Had wash etc. in afternoon.”
They cut out and pasted in, and laboriously copied by hand poems about Australia, Australians and the war and although a rough pattern of their selection is repeated in the collections almost all the poems are at variance with their own modest written records and with their often stated denigration of war. An exception is the original poem of Pte. Vic Graham of the 21st Btn. who survived Mouquet Farm. He was to write:
But of war, when all is torn or rent,
When life is finished and blood is spent,
Is there no better brighter way
Than forfeit lives as devilish pay?
For devil he must surely be
To claim lives of our heroes to pay the fee.
A favourite copied into albums was:
(FROM GALLIPOLI).
REMEMBER, LORD.
Tune — “Lead, Kindly Light”.
Sons are now dying, 'tis the cost of war,
Have mercy, Lord;
Wilt Thou prepare them ere they cross the bar?
Burst Thou Death's gloom by Heaven's celestial light —
Remember, Lord, Australia's sons to-night.
Be Thou their refuge in the darkest hour,
Be Thou their stay;
Stretch forth Thy hand, show Thine almighty power
In Thine own way;
Thou didst on Galilee reveal Thy might —
Oh! comfort, Lord, Australia's sons to-night.
These lines were written by ONE OF OUR BOYS at the front.
Others repeated in several collections are “A Hero's Sleep” by “Mona Marie” and Frank Dyson's “Our Pals in Gallipoli”, a recruiting type verse that obviously pleased the boys “over there”.
OUR PALS IN GALLIPOLI.
Well, mates, I've joined the colours,
I've finished with football;
My God! I must 'abin asleep
Not to 'ear the call.
So mates, just come along o' me
And 'elp our pals in Gallipoli.
Who troubles what wins the 'urdle,
I'm going to plug the Turk.
Now I knows the strength o' things,
I aint the one to shirk.
So mates, just come along o' me,
And 'elp our pals in Gallipoli.
Farewell to pool and snooker;
What a cad I've bin.
I didn't just quite understand
What we was up agin'.
So mates, just come along o' me,
And 'elp our pals in Gallipoli.
I've tossed aside the 'ammer,
The boss 'as shook me 'and.
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I'm going to grip a deadlier tool
Now that I understand.
So mates, just come along o'me,
And'elp our pals in Gallipoli.
I've said good-bye to mother.
To little Sis and Lil;
They'll be as right as rain at'ome,
With good old brother Bill.
So mates, just come along o'me,
And'elp our pals in Gallipoli.
F. DYSON.
Some had copied out ‘The Australian’, the poem published in London Punch, Dec. 1915, referring to the statement, “ ‘The bravest thing God ever made’, a British officer's opinion.” One of the four verses reads:
We know — it is our deathless pride —
The splendour of his first fierce blow;
How, reckless, glorious, undenied,
He stormed those steel-lined cliffs we know!
And none who saw him scale the height
Behind his reeking bayonet-blade
Would rob him of his title right —
“The bravest thing God ever made!”
Here are excerpts from the 7th Battalion Song Book, a little pink-covered, dog-eared booklet in the James Collection. (The 7th Btn. served at the landing on Gallipoli, and in France won 4 V.C.'s.)
REGIMENTAL ANTHEM.
Tune: “Men of Harlech”
Tramp along lads, march together,
Coats of khaki, boots of leather;
Never mind the dirty weather,
While Seven leads the van.
Get the step and the beginning,
Victory over Germans winning;
What matter tho' the ranks be thinning.
While Seven leads the van.
None our ranks shall sunder,
Who will shirk or blunder,
While Seven's there we have no care,
Our foemen must go under.
Honour ye, old England's story,
Those who fought and won before ye,
Bear Australia's flag to glory,
Seven to the fore.
“B” COY. (CARLTON).
Tune: “British Grenadiers.”
Some talk of “A” Company, and some will praise up C,
But none of them at all compare with “B” Company.
We lead the whole battalion in everything we do —
In marching, drilling, fighting, and in the football, too.
We most of us are Carlton boys, the same brand as the beer;
We're sunburnt, tanned Australians, and therefore know no fear.
And when we come to face the foe,
I'll lay the largest odds,
They'll drop, drop, drop, drop, drop
before the fire of “B” Squad.
We're going to fight for England and do the best we can,
And leave the Germans far behind amongst the “also ran.”
We're going to bear Australia's flag in far-off foreign lands,
And may it never be disgraced while it is in our hands.
“G”COY. (BENDIGO).
Tune: “Oh Take Me Back to Bendigo”
One day in a far-off distant land,
I thought of my dear old home,
Where the bright sun shines o'er the deep gold mines,
Far across the ocean's foam,
I pictured the face of mother, dear,
That beamed with a love untold,
And longed for the day I would sail right away
Back to the land of gold.
Chorus.
Take me back, oh won't you take me back,
Back once again to Bendigo;
Where the men are digging up the golden ground,
In the land that I love so,
And won't we have a time — yes, we'll have a happy time,
With the dear old pals I know.
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Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, ting, you can hear the shovels ring,
Oh! take me back to Bendigo.
I still can recall that old homestead.
The scene of my childhood's joys,
Where we'd romp and play'mong the new mown hay,
How I miss those girls and boys,
And now as I brush sad tears away,
My heart fills with longing pain,
And fondly I yearn for the day I'll return,
Back to that land again.
“H” COY. (MURRAY RIVER VALLEY)
Tune: “Come to the Army”
Come to the army,
Make no delay,
Front seats a shilling,
Back seats a tray;
Plenty of music,
Plenty of fun,
Plenty of war-cries to wipe your dirty hide.
Chorus —
(Private and confidential to H Coy.)
An undated, unidentified newspaper clipping records the service history of an Australian serving with the Royal Flying Corps, WWI.
“Gallant airman killed Died on active service, July 14,1917
Lieut. G.W. Foreman, 23 years of age. Enlisted February 12, 1915. Left Melbourne in charge of reinforcements for the 5th Battalion. After serving in Egypt was transferred to Salisbury Plain where he was engaged in training fresh troops.
Transferred to Royal Flying Corps. Received 3 months instructional training course. Learning the mechanism of 12 different machines he obtained his commission. He left England for France on May 2. His machine was hit several times in France and he was twice compelled to land. Born at Poowong Lieut-Foreman was well known in that district.”
The letters to his sister “Lizzie” are packed with detail. The ties of Empire are strong as he finds when he visits English relatives. “Aunt Louisa, who knows more about our relatives in Australia than I do. I have been told a lot of funny things about various people in Australia. She is always so pleased to see me and thinks that the Australians are so good to come and fight for them.”
His letters invariably mention girls. From France he complains “but I only took her out a few times!” about an English girl writing him of marriage. Later: “It does not matter where one may go, London, Bournmouth, Plymouth, South Hampton or any other place there are girls to burn. As a parson preached on one Sunday sermon he said “The girls are suffering from hysteria” of course we giggled. I mean the men in the ranks did.”
When his sister sent him a snapshot taken with a girl friend he quickly asks, “That girl friend of yours I have never seen her have I? What's her name again, Day or Kay? I can hardly understand your writing. Anyway whatever her name be remember me to her. I might come back and see her one of these dark nights.”
And he sent pages of news of what he saw, heard and did.
“I am sending you the latest and most popular song in London at present time. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if you already have it in Melb. It is from the best show in London the “Bing Boys”. I am greatly impressed with it. The name “If you were the only girl in the world”. Let me know if it is already out in Melb.”
“London is no small place. You cannot imagine the size of London city; it is simply grand. Wherever one likes to go he sees terrific business. It is like cities in a city, each has its own corner, such as west end, east end etc. Men connected with business in West end may never visit East end. It strikes me in this way. Take the city of Sydney and place it where North Carlton is and Melb city where it is and Adelaide city where South Melb is with a few more on yet, then you may have an idea of London.”
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C/o Thos Cook & Son Tourist Agents Ludgate Circus London 23/1/17
“My Dear Lizzie,
I am so pleased to relate that I did my solo flight today. That means, of course, that I went up in a machine alone & flew about. The first flight like this is generally sensational for one feels quite lonely so far up in the air among the clouds. The instructor said before he got out that I flew the machine without assistance so he said, he would let me take it up. I immediately took off, not thinking of danger etc. It did not take me long to climb up to 1000 feet. The thing kept on going up and up so I thought the best I could do was to cut out engine. My first thoughts were “I am up a long way, how the dickens am I to get down”, however, I glided down to 500 feet and I discovered that there were too many machines in the way for it was necessary to land on top of one of them so I then put on the engine & circled round again. By the time I got round all was clear, so I said to myself “here goes”. Cut off the engine dropped the nose & got my correct gliding angle. The ground seemed as if it were coming up to bump me so I flattened out and hit the ground nice & lightly. Hardly felt it. I suppose you will wonder why I thought all these things. Well this is it; lately people have been playing circuses with machines and crashing them also bumping themselves a little. Monday being an exceptional good day for flying this is what happened. A lot were passed to take their solo. First one officer did a silly thing he landed on his nose (nose of machine I mean) result crashed machine and ambulance took him away. Next just in front of us he started to climb too steep, result engine slowed down and machine lost flying speed and he tried to turn in this state and machine side slipped coming to ground wing tip first. Machine came to pieces like paper. I will never forget sight. The officer walked out of debris as if nothing happened. The instr in my machine called him over & roused the very life of him out, let alone the shock he may have got from crash. He was made to get into overalls and clean up mess. This officer is my friend and lives with me here. So far so good. Later on another man was landing too flat and also crashed. He walked home all right and went up in another machine. Now imagine me with instructor sitting in this machine ready to take off. I might say I had the “wind” up slightly. “Wind” we say in this country for being a little nervous. Of course I did not take my solo this day. I even thought I was going to break an undercarriage for I started to drift while landing. This is because I did not land right into the wind however I corrected it before touching the ground. Today another crash machine tripped over some stones before taking off and turned right over. Now since I have told you so much I must explain reasons for mother might want to read this letter and feel rather anxious. In first place they are men on their first solos and get the “wind” up when in the air. I don't, but always feel calm. These crashes are silly mistakes, so don't worry. It is quite safe if one is careful. It is quite as safe as infantry in trenches. This job is much more exciting and more interesting than the foot sloggers.
Well Lizzie I hope you wont mind my writing all this shop but this is my ordinary routine and thought you would like to hear.”
In February:
“Flying very slack lately on account of wind you see. I must fly a very light machine before I finish and this cannot go up in rough weather like the heavy fighting buses. The heavy machines go up in all weathers except wet for it spoils various parts. However, I think I will be in France for April and seeing the battles from the air. Don't imagine it is a cold foot job for it is far from it. There are more decorations won in Flying Corp than any others.
One has not only Archies to contend with but opposing machines with Machine Guns. Of course engine troubles and other accidents are thrown in. We call the and aircraft guns “archies”. It is rather awkward when engine blows out when a few hundred miles over enemy line.
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The last few days we have been without machines. All been crashed by learners, none killed though. If one is going to kill himself it is when learning. Of course this does not mean to say he does not have accidents afterwards for some of best pilots meet these at times.”
Within a few months he was in France.
“Tomorrow I expect to fly right alone over front for many miles to get used to the country etc. before actually going across the enemies lines. The enemy are now rather good with their anti aircraft guns so must avoid them if possible.”
Then, writing to Lizzie, using her full name, and as usual cramming a PS in on top of the page.
C/o Thos Cook & Son Tourist Agents Ludgate Circus, London 10/5/17
22 Sqdn
R.F.C.
B.E.F.
France
P.S.
Excuse the candle grease as
this fell on after I started
to write. (One can't help all
these things on active service??)
“Dear Eliza Jane,
Was so pleased to be the recipient of your long looked for letter. I think this is the second letter I have written to you from France. The date your letter was 18th March, 1917.
You say you would like to come for a joy ride in an aeroplane with me. I would be delighted to take you up for it is a beautiful sight up above the clouds, especially just as one is breaking through them after being down below in the rain. It is just like a sea of gold & silver for the sun is shining up above as if it were a bright day down below. I am sure you would find it so strange at first. You would look down & wonder what was keeping us up. One has very little sensation of forward movement since there is no ground to be rushing by. No wind is felt when behind the wind screen but as soon as one puts his head or arm over the side he wonders what has struck him. Of course we get used to all these things.
Last night we received orders to go over the lines and while climbing to get our height clouds came up so then no earth could be seen. It pleases one greatly when a coloured light goes out from leading machine — wash out. That means to go home and land. These clouds that came over looked beautiful from above as the sun was then just going down.
Nearly everytime we go over the lines generally “Archie” puts a few holes through our plane or shoots off a few wires. “Archie” anti aircraft guns. When shells are bursting all round like going through a swarm of bees one gets the “wind up” a little and often think about two miles is a long way to fall all at once. However this does not worry us much. Up to present have not been in aerial battle with Huns.
So I see you will be getting engaged very shortly & would not be a bit surprised to read in “Table Talk” of your marriage shortly. I have not yet thought of such a thing. Of course I have to find the “fair one” first before such matters require consideration. I won't think of these things until I return to Australia & am again settled down.
I am fed up of this wandering life. Never have a permanent friend who I can knock about with. You see I am always shifted about. Of course it is the same with all in the R.F.C. yet one gets to know quite a lot of people. The officers in the Flying Corps are all a fine lot of fellows & always looking for plenty of fun. You know to be a flying person one must have a lot of go & must not think of danger. I don't say I have these qualification but the dangers never worry me.
When not actually over the lines we have quite a joyous time in the Mess. Of course we must not drink or smoke much as it does not agree with the air.
Well Lizzie must bring this writing to a conclusion.
Love to all not forgetting mother and father.
Your loving brother
Gra …”
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At all times his homesickness crept through his letters. On receipt on a family photo he wrote, “I notice one of the family is missing.”
“You can't imagine how near it made me feel to home. I now have it pinned up over my table in my cubical and can tell you I am often gazing at it. You look quite well and innocent. It is the first photo I have seen of my people since being away from Australian shores. It gives you an idea how well I am pleased with it, I dreamt that you six as in photo were going for a holiday up to Scotland with me.
I often long to take a trip back home. It is now going on for two years since I left. I am thinking seriously of transferring to Austn Flying Corps but all same I don't think British Government will let me go. I think I will try when I get my wings or after being in France for some time.”
When he learned of his mother's fears for his safety he wrote:
“It is our great worry here to think of our people at home being over anxious of our safety etc. It is a lot of rot really.
I am sorry I had such little leave in London before my departure for I am sure mother would have liked another photograph of myself wearing wings on my left breast etc. But if I ever return to London I will carry out same.”
But of course there was no photograph. The life expectancy of these young pilots was said to be three weeks on “active service”. He was killed on 14 July 1917, eight weeks after arrival in France.
To an exhausted member of the AANS, Nurse Alice Neville, the declaration of peace, when it came on 11 November 1918 was not recorded in her otherwise detailed diary.
“29 Sept. Patients who are dreadfully ill. Epidemic Spanish 'Flu attacking everyone causing shortage of medical and nursing staff. Everyone going down like flies. It's cruel. Seem to do nothing but go on duty, get off at night too limp with no energy to wash or keep one's clothes in order.
8 Oct. Sickness among M.O.'s, nursing staff and patients is alarming; almost impossible to cope with it. Matron ill. Poor old Minnie not well but keeps on duty as many others are doing until they drop down in the tents.
9 Oct. Minnie ill.
11 Oct. Poor old Minnie died. Several girls dangerously ill. Never will I forget these nights. The roar roar roar of the guns dreadful, firing incessant, the ground under my bed shook. Of a night can not sleep for overtiredness.
6 Nov. Great excitement. Rumored peace has been declared.
20 Nov. Day off duty at last.”
Pte. G. L. Hicks was in a German P.O.W. camp when the end came. He had survived Gallipoli but been taken prisoner in France.
Nov 9 1918. “The revolution started here today but so far is a half hearted affair. A small party marched down the road to the town carrying a red flag. All the soldiers here have taken the badges out of their caps & their shoulder straps off. A train load of troops was sent from Chemnitz to Leipzig to stop the revolution, but on their arrival they threw down their arms & joined the revolutionists. The same thing has happened at Hamburg. Several officers here have discarded their uniforms.
It is rumoured … there are no Germans in France now except prisoners.”
On Nov. 10 he knew that “the German navy went out into the North Sea flying the red flag & gave themselves up to our people”.
Still on the 10th he writes: “We had a ‘peace’ concert and dance here tonight. Wine flowed freely & most of the boys were very merry — a vast contrast to the Germans. Latest news tonight — rumour only — is that British troops have landed at Hamburg.”
Nov 11. “The terms I mentioned yesterday were terms for an armistice for 30 days only. Not peace terms.” (Marshal Foch he had heard had issued terms to the German
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delegates.) But by night he writes, “It is reported tonight that Hinderburg & his staff have signed these terms.”
Nov 15. “The prisoners here are in a very dissatisfied frame of mind both French & British. Most of us think we should not be working but the interpreter here says we are not to be exchanged until the war is over.” (They were working in a coal mine.)
Nov 22. “This morning the Germans made an attempt to drive us out to work with rifles & revolvers but of course were unsucessful.”
Nov 29. They were marched out of their camp and walked from 8.30 am till 6 pm to another camp to await a train. They were to be repatriated.
Dec 3. “To day is my 23rd birthday so we celebrated by breaking camp & spent the evening in a town 5 kilos from here. Arrived back at 11 pm in a respectable condition.”
Then came the “walks”, the long journey home from camp to camp in a land in chaos. The Germans were unable to help, their transport system was wrecked by war & now by the peace that brought revolution along with their own troops coming home, their own P.O.W.'s to contend with and the thousands of allied prisoners spread in camps the length and breadth of the country. This diarist, observing the comings and goings of men from various camps details the chaos.
On the Danish ship that finally took his “camp” away he writes: “Had bread & butter & eggs for breakfast. Dinner at 1 o'clock meat potatoes gravy bread & butter fruit & beer. We can go where we like on the boat. Had a good sleep last night, a bed all to myself.”
From now on he details the meals until the end of the diary. “Arrived Leith, England Xmas eve. 25 Dec. Issued with new clothing & pay. Statements taken as to how we were taken prisoner. Went into town at night & had some whisky. Most of the boys arrive back very merry.”
London Dec 29: “Went to the service in St. Paul's at 3 in the afternoon. Went to the Anzac Buffet & wrote letters to Mother & Irene at night.”
4 Jan “Went to the records office today. No further report about Ern (his brother).
12 Feb Met Sandy Rankin from Hamilton who belongs to Ern's battery. From what he tells me I think there is very little hope of him being alive.”
Back home in Australia, May 21: “Irene” suddenly becomes “Rene”. “Went to the market with Rene. She & I went for a walk after tea.”
“May 25 Went for a walk with Rene this afternoon to the General cemetery. Got home about 6.30 & had tea afterwards looking over Rene's photos. Tore up some of one of her boys cards. Had some x behind the door.
May 26 Rene woke me up at 6 am, some x. She sat on my bed for about quarter of an hour and then I got up & she & I had breakfast together. Rene and Will saw me off at Spencer St. at 7 am. Got home (to mother at Hamilton) at 5.20 pm. Wrote to Rene. Got my “civvy” suit and tried it on.
May 27 Dreamed of Rene last night.”
He is busy now getting timber to build a house, looking for a mill, buys a separator. Looks at houses for sale. Writes daily to Rene and on 28 May “wrote to Merritt, one of Ern's old mates”. He sets off to look at a house & takes ill & has to get home to bed. Receives a daily letter from Rene. “Read it 5 times already & am still thinking”.
June 9. (He is spending odd hours in bed with sudden illnesses. Sees a doctor & is recommended for a pension.) “Heart bad again last night”. “Tonight read all Rene's old letters & burnt some of them at her request.” He is now working on his new home every day, and at night going out to what he describes as “evenings” at various neighbours’ homes.
Home coming, if not physically crippling, was emotionally exhausting.
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Pte. Cecil Valrent de Putron Hitchcock wrote:
“February 1919. First draft left for Australia and to the dead loneliness of civilian life.”
Pte. Thorwald Kook wrote:
“Do you remember?
Those scenes of sadness
To me like days of drunken madness
That awful dilemma
Looking straight at hell
While we ducked from the bullet and screeching shell
Do I remember?”
Sapper Dadswell, Nov 11, 1918: he'd been in action for eight months and had seen his company decimated.
“I was out reeling up lines and far from well. Then we moved out, starting for the line again. Somehow I knew it was my last stunt. Whether I was killed or not I wouldn't come out with the boys. We got orders to wait, I was still depressed, dreading another trip in. Then the officer came up “Take it easy boys, you've lost your jobs. The war's over.” The men just stood quiet & looked at one another. They couldn't take it in. One felt like crawling away on his own. We were a quiet & subdued crowd.”
Sapper H. Dadswell wrote up his diaries into “memoirs” after the war. His service had been one of the most dangerous jobs, that of laying and repairing telephone lines (on the ground) from “the front” to Headquarters. This work was done in the open, often in view of the enemy. “We became good sprinters.” When a “push” was under way the signallers or sappers went out under cover of darkness and laid lines ahead. “Like to swap my rifle for your line?”, the infantry used to chiak them when they'd see the men — always working in pairs — slide up out of the trench and over into no-man's land. The “foot sloggers” greatly admired them.
Dadswell was gassed twice, wounded, escaped death innumerable times — his diary is one continuous saga of dodging planes (they flew low those days and he once shot at one when the pilot machine-gunned him), guns and land mines. One after another his mates were killed — of course not only linesmen were killed, he records that “of the 45 men who enlisted from home (Ararat), 15 were dead, and of the rest only 3 had not been wounded and some of the wounded later died of their wounds”.
“My mate used to say, ‘There are two days when it is foolish to run away from death; the day you are not to die for no matter how bad things are you can't die then, and the day you are destined to die for that day you cannot escape it.’ When things were bad and there was a call for ‘Runners on the double!’, my mate would grin and say, ‘As the old Arab said, come and see which day it is,’ and off we'd race.”
On return to Australia:
“I met a woman who taunted me with ‘going away for a real good time. Some of you came a real thud.’ I thought of the boys on the troopship saying ‘That's the last time we'll see Australia.’ I wondered how people could imagine we hadn't read the casualty lists, that we hadn't known we were to take the place of men killed or wounded with the probable same fate.
Then another shock. I was teasing a lively, cheerful girl when she turned on me. ‘Well, I've never killed anyone.’ Astonished I said, ‘But neither have I.’ ‘What about the war?’ I was flat. ‘I've been trying to forget that.’
We were back in the community, a part of it and yet apart. There was a gap we couldn't forget and the others couldn't bridge. And so we remained — returned soldiers.”
PATSY ADAM-SMITH