It’s 11 June 1921. In Blenheim, New Zealand the anticipation mounts! Will Dick Arnst defend his world title against challenger Pat Hannan – a champion sculler for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF)?
The race was big news and had been widely reported in local papers. In response a huge crowd gathered on the banks of the Wairau River, near Blenheim to witness Hannan’s challenge. Arnst had first won the world championship in 1908, then he lost it to Ernest Barry in 1912 and retired from sculling in 1915. But he was back on the scene in 1920. The world title reverted to Arnst by forfeit in 1921 and Hannan was the first to challenge. The papers picked a close race. The excitement was building.
Sadly, though, views of much of the action in this film clip of the race have been obliterated by nitrate decomposition. However, a surprising twist at the end of the film is clear – and well worth the wait!
The Aussie and the Mademoiselle from Armentières
Pat Hanna's 1930 recording of the iconic World War One song Mademoiselle from Armentières continued the tradition of adapting the words of this famous song to reflect the different experiences of soldiers during the war. Hanna himself served with the Otago Regiment from New Zealand.
Recorded in Australia on the Vocalion label, this version (with lyrics by Hanna), tells the story of an Australian “Digger” who falls for the French mademoiselle, only to leave her heartbroken when he is killed at Bullecourt (1917) in Northern France. It was a popular number performed as part of Hanna’s “Diggers” vaudeville concert party which toured Australia and New Zealand for many years after the war.
Entertaining the troops, “The Kiwis” concert party
The campaigns of the Western Front saw men serving in frontline combat positions in the trenches usually for a few days to a week at a time. In between, units were rotated back to ‘reserve’ positions several kilometres away from the Front, where boredom was yet another enemy to contend with.
In an attempt to keep the troops entertained, concert parties were formed by the men, with names such as “The Pierrots”, “The Tuis” and “The Kiwis.”
Bill McKeon, who served in the Wellington Infantry and had been in a concert party himself, had fond memories of “The Kiwis” and the high-quality shows they put on at Nieppe, near Armentieres in 1917, which he recalled in a radio interview with Neville Webber.