[Editor: The “Aussiosities” column of anecdotes and humourous items. Published in Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, 16 February 1918. In the 18 January 1918 issue of Aussie (on page 11) readers were asked if they knew of the origin of the word “digger” as applied to Australian soldiers; several answers from contributors were included in this column.]
“Duckboard Harrier’s” story: The pavé road was white and frozen and very slippery. The frost-laden air had a keen bite in it. So did the language of the cold-galled Aussie. He was leading two unhappy-looking horses that were doing their best to keep their footing under very difficult circumstances. The shivering leader plainly indicated to those horses that he would stand no adjectival nonsense. Every time one of them slipped on the glacy road he turned upon it angrily and gave it a detailed description of what would happen to it if it dared to make a —— fool of itself by falling. He also gave his views, in the strongest possible terms, of horses that couldn’t walk along a road without slipping and sliding all over the —— place, just because it happened to have a little ice on it. He left no detail untouched in his muttered discourse on frozen roads, French climatic conditions and slipping horses. Suddenly, his own feet flew into the air and he found himself thrown upon a hard, cold, unsympathetic world. The near horse slipped and stumbled about, but managed to stop without treading on the prostrate form. He made a few well-chosen remarks on the general scheme of things and got up with great deliberation. He considered that the occasion called for something more than mere words, and that strong action ought to be taken against something. He eyed the horse that had narrowly avoided treading on him with supreme disgust, and swung the end of the halter-rope vigorously, preparatory to taking severe disciplinary measures against it for conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline, or misuse of public property — or something. Just then a voice from behind asked: “Are you hurt, laddie?” He turned and saw General Birdwood and his Chief of Staff, General White. “No, sir — exceptin’ me blanky feelings.” He dropped the swinging end of the rope and relaxed his threatening attitude. “Cripes, sir,” he said, smiling, “that old donk has wunnerful luck. If you ’adn’t been there I’d a given him a b——y hiding!”
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“Corporal B” sends this: A Victorian Brigade was holding the front line, when a voice came over from the trenches opposite: “Do any of you fellows come from Melbourne?” “Yes,” answered a chorus of voices. “Vell, I vas a barber there and I have given shaves to plenty of you —— in Australia!” Someone took up a bomb, removed the pin and aimed carefully in the direction of the Teuton skiter. When things had settled down again the bomb-thrower called out: “Are you still there, Fritz?” “Yes,” came the reply, “but you have killed von man and a piece of der bomb went through my coat.” “Well, I’m not a barber, but I’ve given close shaves to plenty of you —— in France!”
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“Redbrown Diamond” starts the argument: I’ve got the dinkum oil about the origin of this Aussie word “Digger.” It started when we were first in the Salient. You’ll remember we got no stunting there on that occasion, but they took the precaution of preventing us from developing gout by giving us beaucoup digging fatigues — repairing aged and decrepit trenches, and all that sort of bally thing dontcherknow. So the boys took to alluding to each other as “diggers.” The first time I heard the word used was by a member of a ration party to a cobber in a passing pick-and-shovel fatigue. “Where to with the pick, Digger?” “Haw, deah boy, I’m about to make a call on my charming friend Lady Bigsnob to assist her with a little digging at her garden party, what!”
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Brother “Sandgroper” gives his testimony: About the origin of this word “Digger” — you listen to me. As long as I can remember its been used on the goldfields of Western Australia. It’s always been quite common among the gold diggers there. It came to France when the sandgropers gave up digging on the goldfields of W.A. and carried on with it on the battlefields of France and Flanders. And that’s the straight griffin. Don’t take any notice of anyone who tells you anything else. Digger came from the good old golden West — and so did I. My oath!
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From “Veritas”: An Egyptian Interpreter, attached to the 00th General Hospital in Egypt was A.W.L. for one day, and on his return was ordered to report in writing, why he was absent on the previous day. Here’s his effort:
To The Manager of the British Army.
My absence yesterday was impossible. Someone has removed my wife. My God, I am annoyed.
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Oh, when I die
Don’t bury me at all,
Just pickle my bones in alcohol,
Put a bottle of booze
At my head and my feet,
And then I know my bones will keep.
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“T.M. Gunner” makes a suggestion: The G.O.C. recently made a request for articles to be sent to the Australian War Museum, especially those illustrating the terrible weapons that have been used against the troops in the war. Why not get all the Military Police photographed for the Museum?
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This comes from “F.C.R.”: At the Opera Comique Paris, one night recently, several Aussies on leave were being entertained by an austere English lady in a box, surrounded by a strong air of respectability. The charm of the music and doings of the crowded theatre kept the boys’ thoughts well away from trenches, mud, cold tucker, billets, etc., until the performance reached the representation of a poetical love fantasy and ballet, played by half a hundred or more very French beauties in scanty costumes of all colours, camouflaged as fairies, rabbits, imps, etc. One fairy rather pleasing to the eye and who was lightly covered in something thin and pink, made herself especially prominent by her playful and kittenish tomfoolery. This broke up the temporary pacification and disillusionment of one Aussie, and during a lull from the music he leaned casually across the box and remarked to one of his cobbers, in a voice distinctly audible within a range of 25 yards: “How’d you like to be billeted with the pink ’un, Bill?”
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“M.T. Driver’s” little joke: The bane of the car driver’s existence is the long, solid, unwieldy Flemish agricultural and brewery wagons that encumber the roads of Flanders and keep the Recording Angel busy. We can forgive the brewery wagons, as they are on work of military importance. But the agricultural wagons! They are a blight and a plague on the face of the earth, and cause the land to flow with wrath and bad language. They are never on the proper side of the road, and nothing has yet been invented that will make them hurry. A driver I know recently swung round a sharp corner and found one of these horrible contrivances at his wheels. By the aid of great presence of mind, good judgment and bad language he succeeded in swinging the car clear and avoiding a disastrous crash. Having addressed a few well-chosen remarks to the phlegmatic wagon-driver, he resumed his journey. For a while he thought things over in silence. “Struth!” he broke out suddenly, “I wish I was driving a tank — I’d teach those blanky things which side of the the road is the right!” He contemplated his car with an air of dissatisfaction. “It’s no good hitting them with one of these,” he added regretfully.
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“Tradits” sends this from a Pill Box: Inside the Pill Box were two officers, two runners, three signallers, two batmen and a keen wind; outside was a beautiful hoar frost and a keener wind. The landscape was magnificent to look upon, but when I consulted my feelings I found it difficult to rhapsodise about it. Some of the officers and runners were doing night-rounds. One of the batmen, an ex-rouseabout, whom we called “Socks” and who did the cooking for the lot of us, reckoned that he would achieve something special in the way of a stew “again they come home.” He collected some oddments of bully beef, Maconochies, pork and beans and a few cold spuds and tipped them, with some water, into a petrol tin. He put up a splendid smoke barrage in the ill-ventilated Pill Box with a fire, and soon had his weird concoction on the boil. From behind his smoke-screen we heard Socks deploring the lack of “ficknen.” He appealed for something to “ficken it up with.” A signaller reckoned he knew where he could find some flour, and went and got it. Socks was elated. “Damn funny flour this,” he said when he mixed it into the stew. “More like Plaster of Paris.” Another “Batty” examined it, and announced that it was corn-flour. Socks was satisfied. The stew “fickened” up bonza. It smelt bosker. Everyone was looking forward to a great feed. The officers and runners returned from night-rounds, hungry and eager to eat. Socks brought on his Splendid Achievement proudly. The Captain took the first mouthful enthusiastically. He swallowed it and lost a lot of his enthusiasm. “Don’t suppose you put any Trench-feet Powder in this stew,” he said, “but it tastes hellish like it!” And then the dreadful truth overwhelmed us. It was Trench-feet Powder! Now if anyone wants to buy a first-class fight “on the touter” he has only to ask Socks if he can let him have any Trench-feet Powder.
Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 2, 16 February 1918, pages 1-3
A.W.L. = Absent Without Leave; the American version of “AWL” was “AWOL”, which is the abbreviation now commonly used (“AWL” in some modern contexts can mean “Absent With Leave”)
beaucoup = a lot, many (of French origin, literally “beautiful hit” or “beautiful stroke”, but not used in that sense)
bonza = excellent (can also be spelt as “bonzer”)
bosker = excellent, very good
donk = donkey; “donk” was used as disparaging term for a horse
G.O.C. = General Officer Commanding
Maconochies = a tinned stew which provided the “Meat and Vegetable Rations” for British and allied soldiers; the tins provided by the Maconochie company (of Aberdeen, Scotland) were the most well-known and so the name “Maconochie” came to be generically applied to all such tinned “M and V Rations”
See: 1) “Maconochie Stew, British Army, WW1”, The Joy of Field Rations, 19 July 2012 (accessed 9 March 2014)
2) “Maconochie”, Wikipedia (accessed 9 March 2014)
sandgroper = (slang) someone from Western Australians (a term arising from the vast sandy deserts of Western Australia; also, “sandgroper” is the name of a burrowing insect found in Western Australia, belonging to the Cylindrachetidae family)
straight griffin = truth
struth = an oath, a contraction of “God’s truth”, also rendered as “Gawstruth” or “Gorstruth”
[Editor: Corrected “prejudical” to “prejudicial”; “remember its” to “remember it’s”; “respectabilty” to “respectabilty”; “side of the the road” to “side of the road”.]