Monday, 8 December 2014

The Australians: a breath of fresh air in wartime Britain

In my last post I paid tribute to the Canadian troops who passed through these islands on their way to the Front, often taking locals by surprise with their brash ways.

In many ways the character of the Australian soldiers was similar, coming as they did from a young country where life could be harsh. There was even an element of competition between the two nationalities according to one London doctor. In a letter that is included in my new book 'Letters from the Trenches', he wrote of the Aussies:

The Aussies: 'A fine looking lot of men'
Their language may be coarse; but I must say that a finer looking lot of men I never saw. They are not only athletic looking and of good physique to a man; but 5 out of 6 are noticeably handsome, with fine features and clear eyes. I hear there is a good deal of jealousy between them and the Canadians.

When Australian soldiers arrived Britain it was for training, while on leave, or for hospital treatment when wounded and I'm sure it's true to say that most people found them a breath of fresh air. I noticed, almost without exception, that a well-developed sense of irony characterised the letters they wrote home and, as you can see from the extract below from my book, they seemed to write with a sense of fun and a twinkle in their eye:

Corporal Bert Smythe, from Sydney, made light of the uncomfortable, fly-blown conditions in Egypt as he waited to be sent to Gallipoli, writing reports for his family (complete with intentional misspellings) which must have had them in stitches:

March 1915

'If any norty words happen to appear you must please skip them. You see, the flies are the most persistent beggars that I’ve ever had the pleasure of squashing. The only thing, the beggars are so blooming lively & frisky that my poor cheeks are very red & very sore from the severe bombardment & the enemy’s casualties are dishearteningly small being one killed & 2 badly scared. The remaining 45,892,756,897 being merely amused.'

My next post will take us up to Christmas with some festive letters from the Front. In the New Year I'll resume the Colonial theme by paying tribute to soldiers from South Africa and India who fought with the Allies.

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