Two Newspapers – written by soldiers, for soldiers.

Among the treasures recently rediscovered in the museum’s archives are two special edition newspapers from April 1935. The newspapers were printed to mark ANZAC Day, a commemoration that did not become a day of national remembrance until 1927. Previously, individual states observed the occasion in their own manner and with varying interpretations of its significance. In South Australia ANZAC Day replaced Eight-Hour Day on 13 October, as a celebration of workers’ rights and the spirit of egalitarianism. Elsewhere ANZAC Day was initially celebrated in 1916 as a patriotic carnival to raise funds for the war. Thereafter, it became a means to uphold the national spirit, which it was supposed had been forged at Gallipoli and tempered on the bloody battlefields of the Western Front.

The “Gyppo” Mail

From an historical perspective this newspaper offers an insight into the attitudes of the times. It was written for ex-servicemen by those who fought alongside them. It evinced a jolly camaraderie which seemed, at best, to be corny, but for the most part was intended to lift the spirits of the men with chatty repartee, awkward puns and schoolboy humour.

The cartoons are, by today’s measure, politically incorrect, but were not meant to be offensive at the time.  Today, we would baulk at referring to Egyptians as “Gyppos” or depicting them in cartoons with flies buzzing around their heads.

This paper suggests that using this epithet as its masthead, it would invoke memories of the diggers trying to avoid Egyptian hawkers and paper boys in Cairo, as though this familiarity was somehow comforting.

The 17th Battalion AIF Association Bulletin

On the other hand, this newspaper is more restrained, although the humour is still best described as “daggy”. It has some serious news, however, including a list of those soldiers from the battalion who had passed away since the last reunion. The list is depressingly long and highlights what the casualty figures of war do not record. That so many of those who went off to war, returned with health impaired, their lives shortened or blighted by injury or disease. Amongst these are the names of men from Canada Bay and indeed from Liverpool and other parts of Western Sydney, where the 17th Battalion was raised in 1915.

One story that encapsulates the cheeky spirit of the diggers was found in the 17th Battalion Bulletin and is printed below.

Who Burnt Down the Colonel’s Billet.

We had been in the Reserve Area for some time and knew that it would soon be our turn again to move up to the Front trenches.

If we would contribute so many francs each, our cook promised to supplement our Army rations with some extra fare one evening before we received our marching orders.

The novelty of this promised feast brought in more francs than was required for foodstuffs, so, ways and means were found to augment the dinner with liquid refreshments. We dined well and most of us retired to our various billets respectably early. There are always the certain few who somehow get a little more than the other fellow, which was demonstrated by singing and shouting as the last of the boys left the Mess Shed.

The next I heard was the Sgt. Major’s voice roaring amidst much commotion and running of feet. We were out in a thrice with much wonder in our minds. No, the Huns had not paid us a surprise visit, the Colonel’s billet was well alight. A bucket brigade was soon formed, but the poor supply of water from the farm house pond did not help much in quelling the flames. Only the walls of the billet remained standing at daylight.

To destroy any evidence that we feared might be created by the presence of bottles in our Mess Hut, in semi darkness, one or two of us gathered all we could find, put them in bags and gently lowered them into the pond, thinking the bottles would fill and eventually sink. We then retired to our bunks. About 7 o’clock Captain ______ aroused me with the astounding news that the bottles were all bobbing about like so many corks, which necessitated our finding long poles with which to drown or break them. Some job we assure you.

To conform with Army Orders a Court of Inquiry was held as to how and who caused the fire in the Colonel’s billet. There was no evidence to show that there was liquor at the dinner, nor did the officers concerned elicit any information to that effect from the subpoenaed parties.

So far so good, away went the file and we moved off on our way to the firing line, with many expressions of the fire, such as, “Charge it to Fritz,” etc.

In about a month’s time, back came the file, much enlarged by added pieces of paper, all colours and sizes with Brigade, Division, Army Corps etc. endorsements such as “Forwarded” and “Refer to Bn” as to whether there was any “Beer” at the party. By the time it had been back to the Bn three or four times extending over six months or more, asking for more particulars, it had grown to such an extent that it had to have special envelopes. It became a nightmare, so sure as we came out into the Reserve Area, and the mystery still is “Who burnt down the Colonel’s billet”?      -T. A. H. R.

Andrew West

 

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