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.
The Diggers’ March in Sydney
In April 1938, several thousand New Zealand “diggers” sailed from Wellington for Sydney, where they reunited with their Australian “cobbers” of 1914 – 1918 in a grand Anzac Day procession through the city.
The huge march from the Cenotaph to the Domain, where a commemoration service was held, was part of Australia’s 150th anniversary celebrations and some 50,000 returned servicemen took part – with an estimated half a million people lining the Sydney streets.
In this live radio broadcast from the Wellington waterfront, Station 2ZB announcers – who were veterans themselves – capture the cheering, bands and excitement on the docks. New Zealand Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage farewells the old soldiers as they board former World War One troopships – ‘the Monowai’ and ‘the Maunganui’ – for the trip across the Tasman.
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.