Have just received a lovely long letter from Gerald with his programme of sports. It looks to have been quite a gay week for them all, but it was hard luck their football team didn’t get a win. They look most professional in their uniforms though I cannot imagine how they came by them.
John has written that he is going to try and come out as a ship’s surgeon after his second year of service is up and Eric Blashki wants to do the same. He would be here for a fortnight, go back and re-enlist. He has not been well with recurring bouts of bronchitis due to the gassing he suffered and is very homesick, but perhaps now Belle is in Egypt he will change his mind. It is so hard to keep track – nothing is ever settled. I do so hope he comes.
Everard is not writing cheerfully at all. He is sick of his job but ought to be content that his active service is being done by his sons. Every year I work hard in the house and garden to get things looking nice, hoping my men will come home, and then comes sickening disappointment – no peace. However, it is a long lane that has no turning so I suppose one day my hopes will be realized. I haven’t touched a thing in the boys’ rooms and keep the beds made and everything ready as if they were to walk in at any moment.
I was terribly downhearted to see that Benjy Pulling has been dangerously wounded with gunshot wounds to the abdomen, arms and thigh, all in one and the same impact his mother tells me. Mr Pulling has arrived in England so I hope he can see Benjy. I am dreading to hear the worst. That poor family is paying such a high price for this war. I am not sure where Benjy is, but I do hope it is not London, where the Germans have been bombing. I cannot imagine how frightening it must be.
This is the most trying year of the war and everyone’s nerves are feeling the strain very much. I hope this year will see the end of it. The General election is the 24th of this month so the candidates haven’t long to prepare. Sydney is lousy with recruiting and selection meetings, but I am taking no part in them. Like Brer Rabbit I am layin’ low and sayin’ nothing.
My last parcel to Gerald was a large one of music, including two mouth organs and two flageolets, which I first thought were penny whistles. They cost two shillings and four shillings respectively. The music was all the latest, mostly rags. The Little House on the Hill reminded me of this place so I got that, and Pack Up Your Troubles in an Old Kit Bag is a very good one. All in all there were three albums of popular and patriotic music. They will add greatly to the concerts by his musical troupe, I think, and will keep up the spirits of the men.
I have had different girls staying with me for short periods, the last a spinner. We went to a most interesting lecture illustrated by lantern slides of Anzac, Lemnos and Dudley Hospital at Wimereux where Everard spent Xmas of 1915. I seldom go out in the evenings now, never to the theatre or a concert. It’s too lonely coming home by oneself. I spend my days packing at the Red Cross Depot and teaching spinning every Friday. Working hard helps me stave off the blues, but living alone brings anxiety to the mind which is hard to bear. News in the papers is not good. I do wish Turkey would make a separate peace, but then I suppose all the Egyptian troops would be sent to France, so that would make my fears much worse.
There is to be a big fete at Sir William Cullen’s grounds at Mosman on 21st April in aid of the War Chest. I expect I shall be helping as a spinner.
Benjy Pulling has had a relapse and is very ill indeed, but expected to recover when I last heard, but that was a fortnight ago. I have been dreaming of my men lately – I hope it’s a good omen. I saw a new moon over my left shoulder and that’s supposed to be luck for the month.
Yesterday morning Gladys Bull rang to tell me they had a cable from the Defence Department to say that Colin was wounded. It did not say whether seriously or not, nor did it say what hospital he was in, so I am presuming it was a field hospital. I do so hope it was nothing serious, poor dear chap. Gladys had just sent off his 21st birthday parcel and I had put in a couple of boxes of sweets for him. Annie is very upset and Gladys thought I might cheer her up her so I am going out there this afternoon. The news has made me worry about Gerald as he is in the same squadron. Alec Guthrie sent a cable to his mother to say he was all right but I have heard nothing from my boy. Gaza must have been a bigger fight than the papers let on. I saw a number of names of those killed in action. Clifford Bull must be in some dangerous sort of thing. He was in the Trench Mortar Battery and a bomber. His mother was sure it was he who was wounded, she never thought it would be Col. What a terrible thing war is. The horror of it comes over me sometimes till I feel physically sick.
My dear little ginger finch has died. He must have been a good age for a bird and was very feeble but I hated him to die as Gerald gave him to me four years ago.
The fete at Cullens was a great success. We made £103 though it was only open from 2pm to 5pm.
The Easter show was a great success. A feature was the procession of Light Horsemen, each leading a horse with an empty saddle bearing the words, Who will fill an empty saddle? They got fifty recruits in ten minutes. I was one of the spinners demonstrating at the showgrounds where there were thousands around us, all trying to get a look. Sir G. Strickland, the Governor, invented a new spinning machine which we demonstrated. All the Battalion Comforts Funds had lunch and tea rooms which raise lots of money. We are now working hard for the Australian Comforts Fund. No woman need ever have an idle moment but there are many who do not do a thing for the war.
Anzac Day was crowded, the anniversary of the landing. I took a lot of flowers to the gathering in the Anzac colours of red, yellow and white tied with black ribbons and gave them to the recruiting officer on the stand in Martin Place. I attached the names of the boys I knew personally who were killed at Gallipoli, Lee Pulling, Eric Lowe, George Gunning, Roger Makinson and Malcolm Nipper Guthrie. A lot of people went up to the stand after to read the names.
Submarines seem to be getting the better of the British Navy with huge numbers of British ships sunk this month alone. It’s awful the damage they do to shipping and I don’t suppose we hear of half the losses. Surely the Germans can’t hold out much longer and fight the world, now the Americans are in it. The Nationalists beat the Labourites at the state elections last month. I am just wondering what their ‘win the war’ policy is. They are very glib in talking but we shall see what they mean to do.
Young Vernon Dobbin enlisted on his eighteenth birthday. He is little more than a schoolboy and small for his age and his father is already at the war. His mother is a wonderful seamstress. She does all my dressmaking and has made shirts for me to send to the boys. She will miss Vernon awfully with her husband also on active service.
John is supposed to have sailed for Australia on the 21st of April but I have not heard any particulars. I only hope it is true. How I long for my darlings to be home again. I have had many a good cry for sheer loneliness, and I have been even more miserable since being confined to the house with a bad cold. I have knitted twenty-five pairs of socks for the War Chest appeal whilst recuperating and am sure they will easily get one thousand pairs they are asking for. Everybody is knitting in boats, trains and trams. I was to have gone on a spinning trip to Muswellbrook, Singleton and Walcha but have not been well enough and I am waiting to hear from John. I will not move an inch if there is any chance of him arriving.
I’ve got to bury a hen presently. She died some days ago and I forgot her so I expect she will be pretty high. The wet weather caused the problem. Hens never seem to recover when they get sick. Eggs are 2/6 per dozen now, pretty thick, and at the Club they charge 6d. for a boiled egg. It’s absurd.
I had an agonizing week until I got cable from Belle telling me Gerald was all right after the Gaza fight, which greatly relieved me. It seems to have been the biggest fight in Egypt yet. I am just longing to hear from him and we are all anxiously awaiting news of Colin’s wounds of which we still have no details. It is so cruel for his mother, this not knowing.
News of Agnes Bennett’s brother Bob is not good. He was scarcely back from his first wounds when he received gun-shot wounds in the chest and is pretty bad. We all hope and pray he pulls through.
All last week was spent in charge of the Red Cross Spinning Industry from 10am to 5pm. The wool is judged and weighed and at the end of the week of my managing it all records had been broken, getting fifteen pounds and seven ounces of wool from the room, the previous highest being nine pounds odd. The YMCA is having a day shortly and everybody is doing their best to make it a success. They want £50,000 to erect huts for men at the front.
About nine or ten thousand troops left here last Thursday escorted by four cruisers. The harbor seemed full of ships, as if a fleet were arriving.
The Australian Comforts Fund is having a sock monster this month and they want New South Wales to get 10,000 pairs. They are so badly wanted in the trenches. Last winter in France was so cruel on the boys and a dry change of socks means freedom from trench foot and all its agonies.
The last letters I got from Gerald and Belle were written just before the Gaza fight, which we hear very little about and about which nasty questions are being asked in government. I hope poor old Col is going to be all right. He must have been wounded just about on his 21st Birthday. I was so grateful to get Belle’s cable. Fancy her seeing Eric Blashki and Alec Guthrie and not Gerald. It’s really too bad.
I have been quite prostrate with a rotten heavy influenza the last week and am praying I will be better by next Friday for we spinners have a YMCA stall that day. Everybody likes to help the YMCA.
Once I knew John was not due back I went on the trip to Singleton and Muswelbrook, organizing for my mail to be sent on from Sydney so I did not miss any news of importance. I took with me two spinning wheels, one a Strickland and the other a wooden Norwegian one, and both were put to great use by the ladies of the local Red Cross who are very keen to learn.
I stayed with some very nice people who were most awfully kind, they couldn’t do enough for me. When my time was up the pupils gave me a farewell tea and a large framed photograph of our spinning group. I was to have continued to Walcha but was cut short by the news of John’s imminent arrival, but so far I have not heard from any port. He is doctor on the Miltrades. No doubt he will be sorry that Belle is not here. I shall have a busy fortnight when he comes along. I feel so excited I can hardly eat. What a wonderful day it will be when all my family comes home for good.
Belle has written to say that Colin is coming to her hospital. The poor boy has shrapnel wounds to his leg and back and must have suffered terribly but Annie has had no letter from him yet. I hope he is getting on well and will be a long time in hospital where he is safe from all further trouble, for a while, anyway. The Light Horse seems to have struck a regular hornets nest with Gaza. I see a new command has been given to Palestine. General Allenby is said to be a very good man but I think there will be a lot of fighting there yet.
About two hundred and sixty nurses left here for Salonika about three weeks ago so I suppose there is to be a big move in that direction. What with Russia turning dog on us, the Greek King abdicating and the submarining business, things look pretty gloomy. One wonders when it will end and to think Germany can hold its own against all the world seems almost unbelievable.
Sunday, July 8th
John arrived here last Thursday morning. He took a long time to come, from April 27th to July 5th. He looks much older, I think it’s the moustache, and he has grown two inches. I have only seen him one day and about five minutes on the next.
I waited at Woolloomooloo Bay for about two hours for the Miltrades to come in, till nearly eleven. I sent a note and he came off the ship as the public is not allowed on board. Afterwards I met him at the Club and we went for tea at the Carlton, a new hotel since he was here last. Mary Makinson happened to be having tea there and did not recognize him, though she has known him from a boy. He came home to dinner and we talked a bit, though not much as John is not inclined to say much. He dined with family friends on Saturday. They did not invite me which I thought rather strange and it certainly hurt that he should dine there after the long time I had been waiting for him to come home. Perhaps I am being unreasonable, but I had hoped he would put me first and taken me out somewhere. He goes on Wednesday next to Queensland to pick up troops and will be away ten days to a fortnight. When he comes back to Sydney he will be taking troops over. He hasn’t said anything about Belle and I can’t ask him any questions as he is very reserved on all subjects. I have no idea how things stand with them. I believe all his evenings are engaged until he goes to Queensland. I have had a good cry over it. I have waited so long and somehow he does not think of me in his arrangements.
I have not been out to the Bulls for some time. They have had a lot of illness. I want John to come out and see them but must wait until his return. He was to have come over today but so far has not appeared. I had hoped he would be leaving port and staying here at home. I always thought doctors had a free hand in port but perhaps in war it’s different. John did say he had been to see Benjy Pulling in Hospital in England, that Benjy has been badly done for and will be coming home as soon as he can be moved. It’s too heartbreaking.
Everard has been doing duty with the Royal Scots Fusiliers between training camp on the Clyde and France and must be enjoying himself as there have been no grumbles.
There is another Day here on 14th July, France’s Day. I hope they get a good lot of funds as our distress in France must be appalling. The Australian Comforts Fund for socks has over one hundred and nine thousand pairs so far and still going strong, so I think all the soldiers will have plenty of socks for the winter.
I was spinning at Goldsborough Mort last week and they put up a ram for auction over and over again and finally got £3033 for it. There is always a ‘day’ coming on but when will Peace Day come I wonder.
Tuesday, July 31st
We hear now that Colin has left hospital and did not go to Belle’s after all. I hope he is fully recovered after two months recuperating. My last parcel to Egypt contained cigarettes for him and Gerald but it was lost on the Monjara which was mined this side of Bombay.
John has been back from Queensland a week but has not been well. He gets violent fits of vomiting and acute dyspepsia, the result of gassing and bad water, and it is very distressing to hear him. It is awful for him, though he won’t let me fuss. I had a few friends to meet him at the Carleton Hotel tea room yesterday afternoon and last Saturday we met up with the girls and John amused himself by telling dry as dust tall stories of the war. He and Gladys Bull lunched one day at Farmers but there really wasn’t the time for him to meet and see all the people he would have liked, as he was only here in Sydney less than a fortnight. I am feeling out of sorts this week with the second parting and for those that go down to the sea in ships in war. There is always the fear of torpedoes and mines. It must be harrowing for one’s nerves to be on one of those ships. John is coming over tonight and says he can stay so we will, I hope, have a good talk.
While John was away we had a France’s Day, with Macquarie Place fixed like a French village. There were a lot of pretty girls about, but much to his disgust John had to go to Queensland the day before. It was a pity as he would have had a good time. I was on spinning duty so did not get to see much of it until the evening. I had a friend down from Camden so took her round to see the Red Cross War Trophies Exhibition held in the Art Gallery of the Educational Buildings. It was very good. All items were loaned by soldiers or their relations. Gerald’s belt was displayed and a good many things brought out by John, including a German gas mask, the only one shown.
There is some talk now of giving the long service men a spell but unless we get conscription there’ll be nothing doing, as the voluntary reinforcements are not enough to keep up the strength. Surely, though, the war can’t last much longer with Russia and America against Germany.
Sunday, August 19th
John went off on August 4th. I went down to Wooloomooloo Bay wharf to say goodbye to him, only to find Gerald’s old troop ship along with John’s. How I wished Gerald was coming home too. It was a freezing night, the coldest of the year with a harsh frost on the grass and thin ice over the pools. The place looked white. I do hope John gets to Egypt on the way back to see Belle. He thinks she is just ‘it’ but has a silly idea she does not really care much for him.
I go on writing each week in the forlorn hope some letters might get to one of my loved ones, but no parcels are now accepted. I am hoping a transport may take some soon. Meanwhile I continue with my work. The spinning has grown into a big industry. I have to weigh out all the greasy fleeces and criticize the wool when it is spun. We have also started returned wounded soldiers weaving on looms for handmade items.
There has been a huge industrial upheaval in Sydney this month, first the tramway and railway men struck so all of Sydney walks to town and tries to be cheerful. Thank goodness it’s winter so walking exercise does not come amiss. Next the miners went out, so lots of ships are laid up when they are most wanted, due to lack of coal. I only wish the strike had come sooner so John could not get away. The price of all eatables has gone up due to no ships along the north coast bringing in produce and there is not an ounce of butter to be obtained.
Last week I was feeling very much off on account of Roy Blashki’s death in Belgium. His doctor brother Eric went away with John and I have been buying all the boys cigarettes from Mrs Blashki who gives them to me for a special price. Roy was at the afternoon tea his mother held for some boys including John and Eric before they sailed and just two weeks ago John and I were at the Blashki’s place the night before he sailed, all planning what we would do when the boys came home again. This was the very day Roy was killed. I do so hope and pray Gerald and Colin stay in Egypt and are not sent to that slaughterhouse, France.
Saturday September 1st
It seems that poor Roy Blashki was killed instantaneously in action on August 3rd at Ypres. He was only twenty-three. Mrs Blashki is bearing it wonderfully well and Roy was the apple of her eye. It’s cruel, all this waste of life. Why don’t the men who made the war fight it out for themselves and not ask us to make such huge sacrifices of blood. It’s all wrong, whatever way you look at it.
The last I heard from Everard was ages ago and he was expecting to get a new appointment in France which he was looking forward to as he thought he might get to the front. John is still on his way back but I shall not feel easy until the ship is in port again. It’s a most perfect night, full moon and quite warm. It seems awful that there should be such awful passion raging all through the world.
We are still in the throes of the biggest strike known in Australia and life is not at all pleasant living. The Bishop has ordered special prayers for the ending of the strike but I’m afraid they will not be of much avail. All ferries are down, carters are all on strike and we are doing back yard cooking. The block boys were on strike so the streets were filthy last week, but I hear they have gone back. There are few trams, and even the waitresses from the railway refreshment rooms have gone out. No soldiers go on leave for fear of riots. There is a huge volunteer camp at Sydney Cricket Ground and another at the new zoo at Mosman or Toronga Park as they call it. Some men are in gaol and some shot.
The son of a spinning student of mine has been gassed and is pretty bad I fear. It must be an awful feeling. Oh what a weary world of water lies between us all. I often wonder if we shall ever come together again.
Last Wednesday we had a terrible cyclonic storm in Sydney, & much damage was done. I lost three limbs of one beautiful tree and one of the windows blew in, but really we escaped lightly in comparison to most people. The gale blew with utmost fury at 75 miles an hour & lasted two days. The whole place was strewn with twigs & leaves. Today is raining heavily. I see some hard work ahead but it will be very good for the roses, but I lost nearly all the young seedlings in the cyclone.
We are still in the throes of the strike. The coal miners are the obstinate ones. The train & railway folk have all given in to the government proposals. A lot of weeding out has taken place & a lot of the I.W.W. men all given sentences in goal. Two big vessels, the Cumberland & the Port Kembla, have been wrecked at sea by means of explosive bombs placed in the coal or engine rooms & many fires have broken out on wharves etc.
Tuesday, October 30th
It has been such a sad time since I learnt that Bob Bennett was killed. He died on October 4th. Poor old Wallie is very cut up over it. Mrs Bennett has been in very poor health for a long time, her heart is very bad and I fear the shock will end it badly for her. I am not sure if Agnes yet knows of her brother’s death. She is in Cairo at present. She has been a long time now in service and has malaria but is evidently coming back here on a transport. I shall be glad to see her, poor old Agnes. She has had a rough time.
Gladys rang to say that Clifford has been severely wounded but the report was somewhat conflicting. There were apparently two Bulls, one of whom died of his wounds and the reports got mixed up. Then their relatives cabled to say that Clifford was doing well. But further enquiry tells that he has been admitted to a General Hospital with severe wounds, so we will have to wait longer to find the truth of the matter. The waiting is agony for his family.
I had a cable from John last week saying he was going to Mesopotamia. Belle was offered a hospital there but turned it down as she did not think she had a hope of seeing John if she went. It’s rotten luck for both of them. I had a postcard only yesterday from John on his way home from here, posted in Novia Scotia. What a long way out of the track they must have gone.
Poor Gerald has been suffering from neuralgia. I would have thought the doctors could have done something for him but he couldn’t have been too bad as it didn’t stop him going for a trip on the Nile with Belle and some other friends, soldiers and nurses. Belle sent me some snaps and in one of them Gerald looked very comfortable leaning against a nurses shoulder.
Everard got to France only to find that he hadn’t been provided with a definite job. I can imagine his vigorous denunciation of the British War office, made worse by the fact that he had left his field glasses on the train to Folkstone. On arrival in Boulogne their baggage was lifted by crane in a rope net from the ship but fell into mud and water as it was lowered, whereon men clambered over the pile in the semi-darkness, each to locate his possessions. As they trampled through, another load was dropped in the same manner. There was, Everard said, no organization of any manner, and it seems to have continued that way. He says he will resign if things are not remedied. He is biding his time walking through and beyond the streets of Abacourt and the surrounding countryside and communing with the locals.
The strike now is over but its effects will last a year or two. All commodities are a dreadful price and some things almost prohibitive. Steak is two shillings a pound.
Last Saturday Joe Makinson took me out in his boat all afternoon and evening. I had been stuck in the Red Cross rooms all week and was pining for some fresh air. Next week the Red Cross is sending me to Cooma to start a spinning depot there for two or three weeks.
November 15th, Berridale via Cooma.
I am twenty-five miles from Cooma and the township of Berridale is eleven miles further on and then we are six miles into the bush. On arrival I was put down by the side of the road by the mailman where I was met by my hostess in a very broken down looking sulky pulled by an equally broken down looking horse. I was sent up here to teach the very small branch of Hilltop. The place I am staying is a selection with a tiny slab log cabin. There is plenty of food and water and huge fires as through November the weather is very cold. There is snow all around the mountains here, quite a lovely sight. The spinning pupils are of various ages and include the selector himself. He is such a nice man and he and his wife do all they can to make things go. He has given us several fleeces to spin. His wife does all the work, washing and baking included. We have plenty of home-made bread, eggs, butter and tons of cream and she gives up a room in this tiny place for spinning members. Next week the schoolmaster of the bush school is going to take me to Kosciusko Mountain. He has a Ford motor car of his own and I am quite looking forward to the trip before I go back as I don’t suppose I will be in this part of the country again.
The war news has been very depressing lately and despite being looked after so well, I have been feeling very anxious since this last fighting at Beersheba. There were long accounts of the battle in the papers and it seems a very big thing. It is frustrating that the papers are often two days old here and I have had no mail since I arrived. I did not much care for leaving home as I am always afraid a cable will come for me and I had been hoping for one to say Gerald was safe and well after Beersheba. Last I heard, just before I came here, the Bulls had still had no cable from Clifford but it is said that wounded soldiers can’t cable from hospital. Still, no news is good news, as they say. My brother sailed two weeks ago from Melbourne. He went through two non-com schools and he was sent away as a Private. Poor Jack does not care for the military life at all, but as recruits were badly needed he felt he ought to go. I pray he will get through all right.
I was to have gone to a place called Dalgety but I don’t think I can manage it. I have been here longer than I anticipated as so many of my pupils have to ride long distances and cannot come every day. One girl, aged seventeen, has never been to Cooma from here, nor has she has ever seen a train. She seems to do a great deal of work before she attends the spinning classes and her father is a brutal specimin and treats her very roughly.
Tuesday, December 11th
Last night, on the anniversary of my wedding, I went out to dinner at the Bulls’ place. I had not seen them since Colin’s death at Beersheba. What a shock it was to find out such terrible news on my return. It was a truly sad evening. The girls broke down when they saw me. They are plucky and brave as is Mr Bull, but Annie is taking it very badly. She was almost in hysterics the whole time I was there. I managed to calm her down for a time and took her out in the garden. It was so upsetting. She did nothing but talk about poor dear old Colin all the time and what he used to do and say and she broke down again. I told her she must keep up and fight for the sake of the others, for Gladys and Marie have had an awful time with her and they are bricks and I told her if Colin could know he would be most distressed at her. She was much quieter when I left and urged me most pitifully to try and find out every detail I can from Gerald but he must not tell her anything distressing. It is torture for her, this waiting between the cable and the details, of which she knows nothing. I could not help but break down when I saw them all, though I had sworn I would stay strong. It was impossible to help it. People can be so tactless. Some have been telling her that soldiers are dragged from their hospital beds because they are short of men to fight and she has it in her head that Colin was not fit or well after his first wounds.
The news of Clifford is not good. He suffered a severely fractured skull as the result of a gunshot wound and was transferred to hospital in England. It is a pity he could not have been sent home, it would have been such a comfort to Annie, but he must not have been well enough. I can’t believe myself that Colin’s gone. I was sure he and Gerald would come back together. I will ask Gerald to write to Annie every mail he gets a chance, for a time at least. She looks on him as almost another son and I’m sure it would be a great comfort to her. My heart goes out to my boy as I know he will miss Colin terribly. I do hope he does not let it prey on his mind. I must write to Belle too. She must have felt the deaths very much of all those boys she knew. If only I could be there to comfort her and Gerald. I feel so helpless.
Earlier in the week I went to see Mrs Guthrie and Janet and it is a heartbreaking strain on my nerves. How they will manage with the death of a second son I cannot imagine. Nipper’s death was a dreadful thing for them to face, and now they have lost Alec as well, in Palestine. So many mothers in the world are full of sorrow over their loss in this terrible war. I think of my two boys and how I would cope if I were Mrs Guthrie. It would kill me were I to lose them. I am steeling myself against the possibility of bad news. In his last parcel I sent Gerald a bullet-proof steel mirror with instructions to wear it over his heart.
Thursday, December 20th
I now know that Gerald and Colin’s old tent mate, Rex Coley also lost his life
at Beersheba. It seems he was killed riding alongside Colin as he was the same distance, half a mile from the Turkish trenches. Of the four original mates there are now only two left. Gerald must be feeling their deaths terribly. A man came by last week to sell me a body shield he said was absolutely bullet proof, protecting all the body except the head. He would be able to pack it and send it to Egypt for Gerald to wear. It would be a great comfort to me to know he was wearing it but a lot of people say that soldiers won’t wear them.
Gladys told me that dear Colin was killed on the very day she and I sent off our Christmas parcels for him and Gerald. We met at the Post Office that day and sent them off together. Clifford was wounded only weeks before, though I did not know it then. Annie is slowly getting over her first shock but will be much better when Colin’s letters stopped coming. In one letter Colin sent the family £20 for a Xmas gift and they have used it to put in a tennis lawn. The girls are splendid with their mother but she is completely crushed, her heart broken for both her boys.
Today is a momentous day as the country votes Yes or No to the referendum for reinforcements. I do hope the Yes will carry this time. If not, the Government will be sure to get conscription some other way. Hughes made such a mess of it last year when he used the wrong methods. I recorded my Yes vote when I went shopping in town today, then had lunch at the Women’s Club, came home, fed the fowls and prepared my lonely dinner.
Agnes Bennett is home. She came back on a troop ship and it was wonderful to see her after so long, and hear her stories, though she never did get to see Gerald in Egypt which was a great disappointment. She says there was another troopship behind them so I am hoping there is something on it for me. I have not heard a word from John – he should have written from Mesopotamia by now, but likely he has and his letters have been lost. I dread the link of letter writing being broken, even for a short time in these awful days. I have sent off parcels to the boys this month that include warm viyella shirts, writing blocks and envelopes.
I had a letter from Everard. He has, at last, almost got what he wanted, for he is Commandant of No. 3 Gas Corps of the British Expeditionary Force not far from Amiens, just behind the firing line. I do not like the thought of fighting so nearby but he is pleased, although he has begun feeling very homesick.
We have broken up at Spinning Circle for a month which gives me more time to peg away at and annoy the Defence Department to get furlough for Gerald to come home. I have been feeling most done up and the workrooms are very close and hot. I think I’ll take two months off. A number of people have asked me for Xmas but I have declined them all. I’d rather be quiet at home and work in the garden. It badly needs attending to as it got somewhat out of control after all the rain we have had. How I would love one of my darlings home for Xmas. I have been feeling terribly tired and I am sure if my soldiers were here I would feel better. Tomorrow is Gerald’s birthday, his third since going away. I hope he got the cake all right. I never thought this war would drag on for so long.
Wednesday, December 26th
It does not seem like Xmas with all my dear ones so far away, and the sorrow that has come to the Bulls and the Guthries makes one feel very unlike celebrating. Every year I think that I will have my men back again but nothing comes of the so-called peace negotiations. I met Gladys Bull for lunch on Friday in town and we had a big chat over lunch at the Club. She told me to be sure and ask Gerald to keep any parcels that might arrive there for Colin. She said they dreaded the idea of any parcels coming back. They also got a letter from Gordon Abbott, the boys’ other old tent mate, telling them how Colin had died. Thank god the boy didn’t suffer and had a decent burial. Alec Guthrie was, I believe, killed in the same engagement, as Agnes Bennett heard of it when she was in Cairo.
Agnes is just the same, no side or swank, though she has two decorations, the Royal Red Cross and the Order of St Sava. She and Wallie came down on Sunday evening and we had a lovely chat. She did good work over there and says she is going back, even though she has had malaria pretty badly. She told me that Palestine is a good climate and that Gerald is lucky to be there and not in France, which gives me heart.
I have another Irish Terrier and I call him Paddy as he was named by the boys who gave him to me. They said they had found him in an empty house. He has lots of tricks like Jo, hates a bath and follows me everywhere whether I want him to or not.
Last Friday was Gerald’s birthday. I had a pretend afternoon tea with my own laddie on the verandah, his photo on the table with a bowl of roses beside it and a cake. I dream of the day my boys and can be here with me to celebrate their birthdays but sometimes wonder if it will ever come.
Yesterday, Xmas Day, I had a surprise visit from a 6th Light Horse Trooper from North Sydney who brought me a present and a letter from Belle. In it she told me a lot about life in the 12th Light Horse regiment, and quite a few lovely stories about Gerald. She said he is the life of the regiment. I was so glad to read it all. I showed the letter to Agnes and Wallie Bennett when they came down that evening, though it was terribly hot, 100° in the shade with a hot wind that quite destroyed the garden. Today, thankfully, is fairly cool .
Continue to 1918
25 April 1917, Sydney Morning Herald
The ceremonies to be held to-day to mark the second anniversary ot the land-ing at Gallipoli must have a threefold significance for Australians. Historically they recall the beginning of a new period in our national history and in our relations with the rest of the world. The story of the landing was a revelation of hardly dreamed of national virtues to the follow countrymen of all the divisions which took part in it The degree of bravery needed to face and to overcome the obstacles set before the attack had hitherto been credited only to barbarous or fanatic nations, and was unsurpassed in tile history of war, civilised or uncivilised. Subsequent events went to show that behind the dash and courage needed for the landing there was a reserve of endurance no less rare and no less valuable. But the landing was the entrance of Australia into the fellowship of European nations. They fought that day on the same battlefield as British, Irish, andFrench soldiers, and they were the equals of men whom it was impossible to excel. Australians have often expressed their resentment at being praised more highly than their comrades at Gallipoli, for there were other regiments whose task at the landing was harder than theirs. But for them the 25th of April is especially memorable, because it proved the persistence of the vital qualities of the race and their response to an emergency...
The following original poem was recited at Army concerts by Gerald and others.
If I have the luck to live through the last battle
When victory sweeps like the stampede of cattle
And lifts us along with the tide of its wrath
To trample asunder the foes in our path
'Tis not the dread honours of war I'l remember
The thirsts of July nor the frosts of December
The two things far worse are impressed upon me
Fried bacon for breakfast! Boiled bacon for tea!
Bacon dragged out from its coffin of salt
Fat rotten and greasy and issued to men
Alive and undisciplined, scorning to halt
When ordered - fat bacon and bacon again.
The limbers swing in from the dump every morn
All heavily laden with rations and corn
The troopers unload and they seldom complain
While tossing the tibbin, the jam and the grain
But what overtakes them with sudden remorse
Why! cases of sweltering bacon of course!!
Bacon! dragged off from the dump to its grave
Hauled by a cook with hot grease on the brain
Served to the suffering troopers who rave
What's on for breakfast? What!! Bacon again!
Our cook is a man who has suffered a lot
In vainly persuading strange things to stay hot
He curses the fire from his torn blanket bower
And thickens the stew with large handfuls of flour
But early each morning in front of his den
He fries yards of bacon for war weary men
Bacon! Blue mouldy from soldiers abroad
Disturbed by a demon with smoke in his eyes
Each day in the horse line this maxim is round
Come in for your gravy before the grease dries.
Oh long have we fought for the freedom we crave
And red is the highway that leads to the grave
The shrapnel of Abdul is hard to crawl under
When hell is agape and the howitzers thunder
Buts that's not why every man hungers for peace
We want to stay clear of fat bacon and grease
Bacon! Worst hours of terrible war
All efforts to stifle its odour are vain
You hear better curses when orderlies roar
Come on for your backsheesh, oh do come again!
Unless I go down from a shot from a gun
I"ll melt on the sand 'neath the pitiless sun
Because all the sweat that I daily release
Is not honest moisture but vile bacon grease
It runs from the pores of my skin till I feel
Like the part of an axle that fits on a wheel
Bacon! Despised by the Arabic swain
Bacon! I taste it in each passing breath
Who would not gamble with danger and death
Rather than slowly be rendered to oil
By Bacon! Fat Bacon!! and Bacon again!!!
No. 926 Trooper G. Digby
12th Australian Light Horse Regiment
It would seem that the following lyrics were written as a duet for entertainment of the troops by Gerry's Musical Troupe. This is one of two versions. On the back of this version is written "Gerald Digby records".
THINGS WE'D LIKE TO KNOW
Intro There are quite a lot of things
Both That we should like to know
Things that worry
That we think of
That perplex us so
Both What we both would like to know is
When will this war end
Solo Will we ever say "mafeesh" to fighting
And our way homeward wend?
Or marry Gippo bints and "stana"
Til bent with age we grow
And learn this darn "sieda" lingo
Both That's what we'd like to know.
Both What we both would like to know is
Will the boys leave Palestine,
Solo For a land that's worse or better
Far across the brine
India, France or even Russia
P'raps some day we'll go,
But will we ever get to Aussie?
That's what we'd like to know
Both What we both should like to know is
How to work the head
Solo To go on furlough to Australia
Must we swing the lead.
We've heard a little 'star' or 'crown'
Must on your shoulder show;
How does a trooper work his nut
That's what we'd like to know.
Both What we both should like to know is
How can we go the pace,
Solo When they always keep us toiling
Around there at the Base?
Some jobs are nice and cushy
For a W.O.
How can we go gay on two bob?
That's what we'd like to know.
VOLUNTEER LABOUR IN SYDNEY
CONTINGENTS FROM THE COUNTRY HUNDREDS OF MEN IN CAMP
FERRY SERVICES TO CONTINUE
Melbourne Argus, August 16th, 1917
SYDNEY, Wednesday.-The first contingent of volunteers has arrived from the country to undertake tasks abandoned by the strikers. A commencement will be made by the men to-morrow morning to work the cargo of vessels at the wharves. The ferry firemen and deck hands have decidedto remain neutral. The strikers have proposed a ballot'on the card system upon confused conditions, which the Cabinet will discuss to-morrow. The Government has seized all coal loaded at the mines, and estimated to amount to nearly 50,000 tons. The food situation Is much brighter. Except small coastal traders, shipping is still at a standstill.
An event of outstanding importance occurrcd to day in the industrial turmoil. There was no extension of disastrous idleness, nor any gleam of hope that the end is nearer. Not the slightest sign of wavering on the part of the Ministry or the people has been manifested Rather is the will of the citizens to protect their interests more rigid than ever. The arrival of ?? labourers has improved the prospect of the food problem being met and the outlook from the standpoint ...is very encouraging ...
1917 deaths recorded by Edith
BRENNAN, William Keating, died of wounds April 20, 1917, Palestine.
BLASHKI, Roy Hector, aged 23, k.i.a. Aug. 3, 1917, Belgium, as a result of a shell blast.
Son of Aaron & Winnie Blashki, Potts Point, Sydney, friends of Edith.
BENNETT, Robert Burton, aged 30, k.i.a. October 4, 1917, Belgium. Lived in Neutral Bay. Brother of Dr Agnes Bennett and friend of Edith.
AMPHLETT , Frank, aged 40, k.i.a 12.Oct. 1917, Belgium. Edith attended Abbotsleigh school with the Amphlett children.
BULL, Colin Brodie aged 21, k.i.a. 31 Oct, 1917, Battle of Beersheba. He and Rex Coley were buried the next day, but this was not to be their final resting place, for their remains were exhumed in December and buried beside each other in the Beersheba Military Cemetery in Palestine. Son of Joseph & Annie Bull, Enfield, Sydney, great friends of Edith's, the families supported each other through the war and continued their friendship afterwards.
COLEY, Harry Rex George, aged 22, k.i.a. 31 Oct.1917, Battle of Beersheba. Rex had come to Australia from England as a sixteen year old and had been working at Cowra Experimental
Farm, set up by William Farrer, father of the Australian wheat industry. Rex joined the 12th
Light Horse at the same time as Gerry and had spent only six years in his new country
before losing his life.
GUTHRIE, Frederick Alexander, ‘Alec’, aged 24, k.i.a. Nov 3 1917, Palestine. Son of Frederick & Ada Guthrie, “Ludela”, 77 Kurraba Rd, Neutral Bay, friends and neighbours of the Digbys. He was the second young man of this family to lose his life as a result of the war, as brother died in 1915.
PULLING, Benjy was wounded in the upper body, arm and thigh in February, 1917. He was
sent to Wimereux Hospital first, then to England and returned to Australia later in the year.
DAY Frank, was wounded at Boulogne with gunshot wounds to the thigh in July 1916. He was shipped to the London General hospital and then back to Australia in January 1917. He was discharged from the AIF in September of that year. Frank had attended SCEGGS.
STREET, Eustace Whistler, of Darling Point, received gas poisoning in France in August 1917 and was eventually discharged from the AIF in July 1919.
BULL, Clifford suffered a fractured skull as the result of a gunshot wound to the head in 1917. He was sent back to Australia and was discharged from the army in March 1918.