The cast of the show.
Here is the text for the concert put on at the Wingello Mechanics Hall for the re-enactment of the 1915 recruitment march from Wagga Wagga to Sydney. It featured Garry Tooth, Bob McInnes, David Preston, Ashleigh Smith and David Johnson, who also was devised and scripted the show.
The script with songs included can be downloaded as a PDF file here.
Narration: At the start of World War I in August 1914, Australia was a nation of around four million people with a potential pool of around 820,000 men of ‘fighting age’ (between 19 and 38). Germany already had an estimated 4 million troops, France 3.5 million and England less than a million.
Official recruitment for the Australian Expeditionary Force commenced in August 1914. With an initial commitment of 20,000 troops, the army set a minimum height requirement of 5 feet 6 inches and preference was given to those who had military experience. Australia would be sending its ‘best’ examples of Australian males.
Australia had not recovered from the depression of the 1890s and unemployment was high and work in the country was often underpaid. Accepted recruits were paid six bob a day and although this was slightly below the basic wage, it was still attractive to many.
Item: Wallaby Brigade
Narration: The Cooee March from Gilgandra was the first recruitment march, leaving Gilgandra on October 8th with 30 recruits and arriving at the domain with 263. Over the next 4 months similar marches, including the Kangaroo March, recruited a further 1500 men. No doubt these very public events contributed to the national fervour for the war effort.
Item: The March of the Men of Gilgandra
Narration: The recruits gathered by the marches were generally good bushmen with experience with horses and the general “I can do it” attitude of country people. Most were members of one of the 1500 rifle clubs that dotted the country and were already a “good shot”. Many had the kind of independence that came to characterise Australian soldiers much to the annoyance of British officers.
Recruitment was aided by the media of the time. CJ Dennis was a popular poet of the time having just published The Sentimental Bloke, which incidentally vastly outsold both Paterson and Lawson. The Australaise was a rallying call, here set to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers.
Item: The Australaise
Narration: By the end of 1914 over 50,000 had enlisted. Many recruits worried that the fighting might be over before they arrived, convinced that the German army would be a pushover. Posters and leaflets promised an opportunity to see England and Europe. Many unlikely recruits from all over Australia were caught up in the general war fervour, including an unlikely inner Melbourne larrikin called Ginger Mick
"E sez to me, " Wot's orl this flamin' war ?
The papers torks uv nothin' else but scraps.
An' wot's ole England got snake-'eaded for ?
An' wot's the strength uv callin' out our chaps ? "
'E sez to me, "Struth! Don't she rule the sea?
Wot does she want wiv us ? " 'e sez to me.
Ole Ginger Mick is loadin' up 'is truck
One mornin' in the markit feelin' sore.
'E sez to me, "Well, mate, I've done me luck ;
An' Rose is arskin', ' Wot about this war ?'
I'm gone a tenner at the two-up school;
The game is crook, an' Rose is turnin' cool."
'E sez to me, " 'Ow is it fer a beer ? "
I tips 'im 'ow I've told me wife, Doreen,
That when I comes down to the markit 'ere
I dodges pubs, an' chucks the tipple, clean.
Wiv 'er an' kid alone up on the farm
She's full uv fancies that I'll come to 'arm."
'Enpecked!" 'e sez. An' then, "Ar, I dunno.
I wouldn't mind if I wus in yer place.
I've 'arf a mind to give cold tea a go.
It's no game, pourin' snake-juice in yer face.
But, lad, I 'ave to, wiv the thirst I got.
I'm goin' over now to stop a pot."
'E goes across to find a pint a 'ome ;
An' meets a pal an' keeps another down.
Ten minutes later, when 'e starts to roam
Back to the markit, wiv an ugly frown,
'E sprags a soljer bloke 'oo's passin' by,
An sez 'e'd like to dot 'im in the eye."
Your sort," sez Mick, "don't know yer silly mind!
They lead ya like a sheep ; it's time ya woke—
The 'eads is makin' piles out uv your kind! "
" Aw, git yer 'ead read!" sez the soljer bloke.
'Struth ! 'e wus willin' wus that Kharki chap ;
I 'ad me work cut out to stop a scrap.
An' as the soljer fades acrost the street,
Mick strikes a light an' sits down on 'is truck,
An' chews 'is fag—a sign 'is nerve is beat—
An' swears a bit, an' sez 'e's done 'is luck.
'E grouches there ten minutes, maybe more,
Then sez quite sudden, "Blarst the flamin' war!"
Jist then a motor car goes glidin' by
Wiv two fat toffs be'ind two fat cigars.
Mick twigs 'em frum the corner uv 'is eye.
"I 'ope," 'e sez, "the 'Uns don't git my cars.
Me di'mon's, too, don't let me sleep a wink . . .
Ar, 'Struth ! I'd fight fer that sort—I don't think."
'E sits there while I 'arness up me prad,
Chewin' 'is fag an' starin' at the ground.
I tumbles that 'e's got the joes reel bad,
An' don't say nothin' till 'e comes around.
'E sez 'is luck's a nark, an' swears some more,
An' then: "Wot is the strength uv this 'ere war?"
Mick listens, while I tells 'im 'ow they starts
Be burnin' pore coves 'omes an' killin' kids,
An' comin' it reel crook wiv decent tarts,
An' fightin' foul, as orl the rules forbids,
Leavin' a string uv stiff-uns in their track.
Sez Mick, "The dirty cows! They wants a crack!"
Then Mick gits up an' starts another fag.
"Ar, well," 'e sez, "it's no affair uv mine,
If I don't work they'd pinch me on the vag ;
But I'm not keen to fight so toffs kin dine
On pickled olives . . . Blarst the flamin' war!
I ain't got nothin' worth the fightin' for.”
"So long," 'e sez. "I got ter trade me stock ;
An' when yeh 'ear I've took a soljer's job
I give yeh leave to say I've done me block
An' got a flock uv weevils in me knob."
An' then, orf-'anded-like, 'e arsks me: " Say,
Wot are they slingin' soljers fer their pay?
"I tells 'im ; an' 'e sez to me, "So long.
Some day this rabbit trade will git me beat."
An' Ginger Mick shoves thro' the markit throng,
An' gits 'is barrer out into the street.
An', as 'e goes, I 'ears 'is gentle roar:
"Rabbee ! Wile Rabbee ! . . . Blarst the flamin' war!"
Narration: After the casualty lists of Gallipoli were published, a sense of duty to country and fallen comrades were often given by soldiers as their reasons for enlisting. The war now seemed less like a great adventure and more of a moral decision.
CEW Bean’s publication The Anzac Book, made up of contributions by the men in the Dardanelles, was released towards the end of 1915 and was a huge success, adding to the Anzac legend that was started by a British war correspondent writing from the front. One poem from the book, and set to music by Dave (myself), is A Little Sprig of Wattle written by A. H. Scott serving with the 4th Battery of the Australian Field Artillery.
Item: A Little Sprig of Wattle
Narration: Casualties at Gallipoli were high. Attacking an extremely well-defended position without the tactical advantage of surprise, with outnumbered troops, and with a terrain that greatly favoured the defenders, was British Imperial madness at its best. The British and French Navies tried to soften the opposition and were given a serious whipping in the leadup which gave sufficient warning for Germany to provide leadership and weapons for the Turkish army.
Back in Australia when the casualty lists were posted, many in the population would have known a soldier involved. The lists were no doubt sobering but they often led to friends and relatives signing up to "do their bit."
Item: Suvla Bay
Narration: Against the gory background of war and death the inevitable dry Australian sense of humour shone through.
Item: How’d Ya Be?
I struck him first in a shearing shed in outback Queensland. He was sweating over a greasy four-year-old wether when I says innocent like “How’d you be, cobber?” He didn’t answer immediately, but waited until he had carved the last bit of wool from the sheep, and kicked it savagely down the chute. He dropped his shears, and spat what looked like a stream of molten metal about three yards. Then he fixed me with a pair of malevolent eyes in which the fires of a deep hatred seemed to burn and said: “How would I be?” “How the bloody hell would you expect me to be?” Get a hold of me, will you? Dags on every inch of my bloody hide; drinking me own bloody sweat; swallowing dirt with every breath I breathe; working for the lousiest bastard this side of the rabbit-proof fence; and frightened to leave because the old woman is chasing me with a maintenance order. I haven’t tasted beer for weeks and the last glass I had was knocked over by some clumsy drunken bastard before I’d finished it! How would I be? How’d you expect a man to bloody-well be?”
The next time I saw him was in Sydney; he’s struggling to get into a set of regulation army webbing and had almost ruptured himself in the process. Just for fun I says: “How’d you be, soldier?” “How would I be?” he said, “Take a bloody gander at me! Get a load of this bloody outfit; take a captain cook at this bloody hat – size 9.1/2 and I take a 6.1/2; get a bloody eyeful of these strides – why you could hide a bullock team in the seat of them and still have room for me; And get me boots me ‘daisy roots’; why there’s enough leather in the bastards to make a full saddle and harness. And some know-all bastard told me this was a man’s outfit! How would I be? How’d you expect a man to bloody-well be?”
I next sees him at Gallipoli. He’s seated on an upturned box; tin hat over one eye, cigarette butt hanging from his bottom-lip, rifle leaning against one knee; and trying to clean his nails with the tip of his bayonet. I should have known better, but I says: “How’d you be, Digger?” He swallowed the butt as the bayonet sliced off the top of his finger and he fixed me with a murderous look. “How would I be? How would I bloody well be? How the bloody hell would you expect me to be? Six months in this hellhole; being target practice for every bloody Turk in the Dardanelles; eating bloody flies with every meal, frightened to sleep a bloody wink, expecting to die in this bloody place and copping the crows every time there’s a handout to anybody. How would I be? How’d you expect a man to bloody-well be?”
Just then there’s an almighty explosion and next thing I’m flying around in Heaven and blow me down I sees me old shearer mate. I know I should have kept on flying but I ventures a cheery ‘How would you be, angel?”
He pierced me with an unholy look that riveted my soul as he muttered: “How would I be? How the bloody Heaven would I be? Get a grip on this bloody regulation nightgown, will you! A man trips over the bloody thing fifty times a bloody day and it takes a cove ten minutes to lift the bloody thing just to relieve himself; and get a gander at this bloody right wing – feathers missing all over the bloody thing – a man might be bloody well moulting! Get an eyeful of this halo – only me bloody ears keep the rotten thing on me skull – and look at the bloody dents in it – it’s obviously second hand! Cast your eyes on me celestial bloody harp; five bloody strings missing and band practice in ten minutes. How would I be? How would you expect a man to bloody-well be?”
Narration: Australian diggers at first were called ‘six bob a day tourists’ by their English counterparts who were paid substantially less, but they established their reputation as effective fighters in battle. They also established a reputation for not toadying to British officers.
Item: Fly Off
Anyway Major General Birdwood was doing an inspection of troops just behind the front line when he came upon a soldier in a slouch hat. He was mud from his boots to his collar and a rolled fag was stuck to his bottom lip. He glowered at the digger, waiting for him to stand to attention. The digger just seemed to gaze right through him as if he wasn't there. Birdwood snapped his crop against his polished boots and the digger's eyes seemed to focus on him. “Don’t you know who I am?” He asked impatiently. “I am Major General Birdwood.”
The digger just looked him square in the eye and said "Then why doncha fly off - like any other bird would?"
Narration: Australian diggers were also reputed to go into battle singing.
Item: The Singing Soldiers
WHEN I'm sittin' in me dug-out wiv me rifle on me knees,
An' a yowlin', 'owlin' chorus comes a-floatin' up the breeze—
Jist a bit o' ' Bonnie Mary ' or ' Long Way to Tipperary '—
Then I know I'm in Australia, took an' planted overseas.
They've bin up agin it solid since we crossed the flamin' foam ;
But they're singin'—alwiz singin'—since we left the wharf at 'ome.”
So I gits it straight frum Ginger in 'is letter 'ome to me,
On a dirty scrap o' paper wiv the writin' 'ard to see.
" Strike! "sez 'e. "It sounds like skitin'; but they're singin' while they're fightin';
An' they socks it into Abdul to the toon o' 'Nancy Lee.'
An' I seen a bloke this mornin' wiv 'is arm blown to a rag,
'Ummin' 'Break the Noos to Mother,' w'ile 'e sucked a soothin' fag."
Now, the British Tommy curses, an' the French does fancy stunts,
An' the Turk 'e 'owls to Aller, an' the Gurkha grins an' grunts;
But our boys is singin', singin', while the blinded shells is flingin'
Mud an' death into the trenches in them 'eavens called the Fronts.
An' I guess their souls keep singin' when they gits the tip to go."
So I gits it, straight frum Ginger; an' Gawstruth! 'e ort to know.
An' 'is letter gits me thinkin' when I read sich tales as these,
An' I takes a look around me at the paddicks an' the trees;
When I 'ears the thrushes trillin', when I 'ear the magpies fillin'
All the air frum earth to 'eaven wiv their careless melerdies—
It's the sunshine uv the country, caught an' turned to bonzer notes;
It's the sunbeams changed to music pourin' frum a thousand throats.
Can a soljer 'elp 'is singin' when 'e's born in sich a land?
Wiv the sunshine an' the music pourin' out on ev'ry 'and,
Where the very air is singin', an' each breeze that blows is bringin'
'Armony an' mirth an' music fit to beat the blazin' band.
On the march, an' in the trenches, when a swingin' chorus starts,
They are pourin' bottled sunshine of their 'Omeland frum their 'earts.
"When I'm sittin' in me dug-out wiv the bullets droppin' near,"
Writes ole Ginger; " an' a chorus smacks me in the flamin' ear:
P'raps a song that Rickards billed, er p'raps a line o' Waltz Matilder',
Then I feel I'm in Australia, took an' shifted over 'ere.
An' the blokes that ain't returnin'—blokes that's paid the biggest price,
They go singin', singin', singin' to the Gates uv Paradise.
Narration: The poem mentions Waltzing Matilda as a song often sung by troops both on the march and in battle. Perhaps the defiance of the swagman appealed to the men, dealing with the stiff formality of commanding officers. Let’s sing it together and if you all stand up and stamp your feet we can get the feel of troops on the march.
Item: Waltzing Matilda (sung to the sound of marching boots)
Narration: News of soldiers killed in battle was always deeply upsetting for family and friends.
Item: A Gallant Gentleman
A month ago the world grew grey fer me;
A month ago the light went out fer Rose.
To 'er they broke it gentle as might be;
But fer 'is pal 'twus one uv them swift blows
That stops the 'eart-beat; fer to me it came
Jist, "Killed in Action", an', beneath, 'is name.
'Ow many times 'ave I sat dreamin' 'ere
An' seen the boys returnin', gay an' proud.
I've seen the greetin's, 'eard 'is rousin' cheer,
An' watched ole Mick come stridin' thro' the crowd.
'Ow many times 'ave I sat in this chair
An' seen 'is 'ard chiv grinnin' over there.
'E's laughed, an' told me stories uv the war.
Changed some 'e looked, but still the same ole Mick,
Keener an' cleaner than 'e wus before;
'E's took me 'and, an' said 'e's in great nick.
Sich wus the dreamin's uv a fool 'oo tried
To jist crack 'ardy, an' 'old gloom aside.
An' now—well, wot's the odds? I'm only one;
One out uv many 'oo 'as lost a friend.
Manlike, I'll bounce again, an' find me fun;
But fer poor Rose it seems the bitter end.
Fer Rose, an' sich as Rose, when one man dies
It seems the world goes black before their eyes.
An' then there comes the letter that wus sent
To give the strength uv Ginger's passin' out—
A long, straight letter frum a bloke called Trent;
'Tain't no use tellin' wot it's orl about:
There's things that's in it I kin see quite clear
Ole Ginger Mick ud be ashamed to 'ear.
The way 'e died . . . Gawd! but it makes me proud
I ever 'eld 'is 'and, to read that tale.
An' Trent is one uv that 'igh-steppin' crowd
That don't sling praise around be ev'ry mail.
To 'im it seemed some great 'eroic lurk;
But Mick, I know, jist took it wiv 'is work.
Trent tells 'ow, when they found 'im, near the end,
'E starts a fag an' grins orl bright an' gay.
An' when they arsts fer messages to send
To friends, 'is look goes dreamin' far away.
"Look after Rose," 'e sez, "when I move on.
Look after ..... Rose ....... Mafeesh!" An' 'e wus gone.
A month ago, fer me the world grew grey;
A month ago the light went out fer Rose;
Becos one common soljer crossed the way,
Leavin' a common message as 'e goes.
An' 'oo's to 'ear our soljers' dyin' wish?
An' 'oo's to 'eed?.. "Look after Rose ... Mafeesh!"
Narration: In December 1915 the decision was made to withdraw from the Dardanelles and the retreat without further losses has to be considered a remarkable feat. But this wasn’t the end of the war for the diggers.The Western Front had not moved significantly since the first few months of the war, despite repeated attack and counter-attack, despite poisonous gas, and tanks and planes being newly deployed. So the battle-hardened diggers were soon in the thick of it again. Neither the Allies or Germany could break the impasse but the prevailing military thinking was throw more men at the enemy until they give up.
Item: Sleeper Cutter’s Camp
Narration: Prime Minister Billy Hughes visited England and toured the Western Front and came home determined to raise more troops for the war effort. His attempts to establish compulsory conscription were resoundingly rejected by the Australian public.
Item: Billy Hughes Army
Narration: Recruitment continued with the former limitation on age and height relaxed. The war was kept in the public consciousness with knitters all round the country knitting socks for the men at the front. Sometimes one would slip in an encouraging note for the soldier. Children in schools were encouraged to write to 'our brave soldiers', like Norman Bass from Diamond Creek in Victoria
Item: Dear Soldier
How are you today?
I think you might be lonely so this is to tell you that I am thinking of you.
I am 8 years old.
At school we sing a song about our brave soldiers and ask God to send them home to us again.
Thank you for fighting for us.
I pray for you each night.
Narration: The use of a popular song melody with adapted lyrics was another important form of expression. Here a digger takes the song My Little Grey Home in the West and modifies it
Item: Little Wet Home in a Trench
Narration:The mud at the Western Front was legendary, causing a huge number of casualties from “trench feet” and other diseases. Descriptions of the conditions paint a gruesome picture of rats, disease, dismembered bodies and the all pervasive stench of death, and mud, mud, mud.
Birdwood and his adjutant Carstairs were walking along the duckboards that had been set up so the men could move to and from the front over the interminable mud. Just thenBirdwood saw an AIF hat floating on the mud and deploring the waste of resources he says to Carstairs “I say old chap we’d better pick that up, can’t have British Army supplies wasted, don’t cher know. When he reached out over the mud Carstairs found that the hat was quite firmly stuck down. Hold on says Birdwood. You hold the hat and I'll hold you and we'll all pull together. So Carstairs grabbed the hat and Birdwood gripped his belt and they all pulled together. They heaved and pulled and gradually a head appeared under the hat and a grinning soldier says in a North Queensland accent. "Hang on mates let me get me feet out of the stirrups!"
Narration: Australians were involved in significant battles in France including Ypres and Fromelles. The latter being a diversion to distract German forces from the Battle of the Somme. This battle was characterised by the sheer number of casualties – 57,000 on the first day and 630,000 over the five month campaign. This tune was written by Pipe Major William Laurie (1882-1916) He was in the battle, wrote the tune in hospital after it, and died of trench related illness a few months later. Phyl Lobl wrote the words quite recently.
Item: Battle of the Somme
Narration: With the entry of American troops imminent, Germany made desperate advances hoping to have the British and French ready to reach an armistice. These advances were contained by the English and French armies and then the Americans added their forces and the war finally ended. Australian troops were at last able to return home. 308,000 soldiers served in a theatre of war with the casualties including 60,000 killed and 155,000 admissions for wounding. Recent research shows this to be significantly understated and puts admissions at a staggering 750,000 admissions for wounding, sickness and injury, with 30% being for shell shock! The men of the AIF were decimated.
Many diggers came home and buried their experiences in silence, unable to communicate the horrors and unwilling to relive them. Half were discharged as medically unfit. The rate of suicide was high with an estimated 500 deaths in the two years after the war, and many men died prematurely as a result of their war experiences.
Songs like Yarrawonga published in 1919, attempted to lighten the mood of the nation.
Final Item: I’m Going Back Again to Yarrawonga