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.
Learning to farm
After surviving the bloody battles on the Western Front and elsewhere, able-bodied returning soldiers were offered opportunities to become farmers.
Diggers in the tunnels of Quinn’s Post
The underground war at Gallipoli was fought from May 1915 right up until the evacuation in December that year. Because the two opposing sides were often only a few yards apart, parties of engineers from Australia and New Zealand could dig through the soil to lay explosives underneath enemy trenches. At the same time, Turkish tunnellers were doing exactly the same thing, sometimes with only a few metres of earth between them.
The men who organised the tunnelling were engineers (sometimes also called sappers). They were responsible for all the infrastructure needed to wage a war: from tunnels and trenches to buildings, roads and jetties. In this excerpt from a 1959 radio documentary, Captain Ernest Harston, who was adjutant of the Wellington Infantry Regiment, and Jim Meek, a corporal with the New Zealand Engineers at Quinn’s Post, recall the tunnels, the former miners who worked in them, and the many tasks the engineers had to carry out.
“What about a drop of water, Digger?”
Water shortages were a constant problem for the thousands of men based at Gallipoli in 1915. Natural water was scarce on the peninsula and attempts to solve the problem by using water condenser units to convert sea water for drinking proved inadequate. Water supplies, often from as far away as Egypt, had to be brought in by boat and landed on the beach, sometimes under fire. Then the various containers had to be dragged over the rugged landscape to the thirsty men in their trenches.
The unidentified New Zealand veteran in this interview recalls how the mateship between Kiwis and Australians meant they sometimes gave each other preferential treatment with water rations.