[Editor: The background story of the World War One magazine, Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine; written by its editor, Phillip L. Harris. Published in Aussie: A Reprint of all the Numbers of the Diggers’ Own Paper of the Battlefield (1920).]
The story of Aussie
Aussie’s conception occurred in Aussie in November, 1914, when I collected a small printing plant, consisting of a Platen machine and a quantity of type, paper and accessories from various firms in Sydney and Melbourne.
This printing plant was used on the troopship Ceramic during its journey warwards to produce a small regimental paper, entitled Honk!
Eventually the plant was taken to France, where it was used for doing work for the Aussie Army and Second Army Headquarters.
In December, 1916, a paper called The Rising Sun, edited by Captain C. E. W. Bean, Official War Correspondent, was produced by the plant, supplemented by some type and a small Platen machine “salved” from Ypres. This ceased publication after three months.
In November, 1917, I brought the possibilities of producing a paper for our Army before the officer who had been given charge of the Printing Section, reminding him that it was for this purpose that the plant had been collected. Shortly afterwards I was sent for by Major-General Sir C. B. B. White, then Chief-of-Staff of the Aussie Corps, and Aussie was given life at Fletre (France) on January 18, 1918.
I knew the kind of journalistic offspring I would like to present to the Digger family, but pre-natal conditions militated against the achievement of my ideals. Being born on a battlefield has its drawbacks.
But the Diggers were ready to make allowances for defects. Ten thousand copies of the first issue were printed. Applications from C.O.’s of units for the second issue numbered 60,000 copies.
Then things began to get difficult. It was quite impossible to produce 60,000 copies of a paper consisting of sixteen pages and cover on a couple of ancient Platen machines which could print only one page at a time.
New machinery must be procured. A search of ruined printeries in various shell-smashed villages was disappointing. Machines of the kind required were too badly damaged to be of service. Eventually a passable machine and a quantity of type were found at Dunkirk. The machine had been rather badly shell-shocked, but it was put into working order by one of the Aussie workshops.
Having secured the machinery and type, the next and greatest difficulty to be overcome was the obtaining of sufficient paper. The paper for the first issue had been obtained from Paris, but it was another matter to secure sufficient for 60,000 copies and to arrange for its transport to the forward area. This difficulty was eventually temporarily overcome by securing a supply from a paper mill near Saint Omer and by “salving” in ruined printeries near the Line.
But the paper supply continued to cause trouble. That obtainable at the French mill was very unsuitable, and much time was spent before each issue in the endeavour to secure better quality in sufficient quantities. The situation was relieved by a fortunate discovery in the cellar of a printery at Armentieres.
I had noticed that when Fritz began to strafe a town the printers took their type, paper, machinery and other articles with which they earned their vin blanc money into a basement and continued their business there. I concluded that the printers in abandoned villages had probably carried on in the same way before they were forced to leave. So a visit was paid to poor old shell-shocked Armentieres. Thanks to the good services of a good-natured Enzed officer — did anyone ever strike a dinkum Enzed Digger who wasn’t a good fellow? — who was Town Major of Armentieres, we were able to search a number of tangled printeries there. We found ten tons of paper in a cellar. This permitted the printing of 100,000 copies of the third issue.
Then that old battler Difficulty again tried to get in a knock-out. In the middle of the issue the printer announced the stirring news that it was impossible to complete it, because the large number of impressions wore out the type. This was quickly side-stepped by the scrounging of more type. Later a stereotyping plant was installed.
But dogged Difficulty came up again for another round. It was not possible to get sufficient labour to fold by hand the large number of sheets required. A number of Fritz-blighted printeries were vainly searched for a folding machine. But, after a hard go, old Difficulty lost this round, too. A folding machine was generously presented by Lady McIlwraith, of the Archibald Mosman family, of Armidale, N.S.W.
Owing to the limitation of the paper supply, it was not possible to send Aussie to the Base Camps in France and England. I was always anxious to overcome this. Besides, the only paper obtainable from the French mill was as full of trouble as a chatty shirt. It was of such poor quality that it would tear when going through the machine and caused much waste. Therefore, after the fifth issue I personally brought before Brig.-General Dodds (then Deputy Adjutant-General for the A.I.F.) the difficulty of procuring suitable paper and the very large amount of my time that was being taken up in hunting for it. Within a few weeks he had arranged with the War Office to send three tons of paper per issue from London.
During the early issues the whole of the work connected with the paper, excepting, of course, the printing, was done by myself, with the assistance of a Dinkum Digger named Bill Littleton, whom I had brought with me from the Battalion. He was attached to me nominally as Batman. The very valuable assistance and loyalty which I received from Bill is one of the happiest recollections of my work for Aussie.
Bill was a tonic. His principal ingredients were an all-conquering zeal and a devil-defying optimism. Bill was always busy and cheerful, and he was versatile. He could patch up a leak in the roof of the editorial dugout with one hand, tie up a bundle of Aussies with the other, smoke an overworked pipe, and sing “Mademoiselle from Armentieres” all at the same time.
Aussie’s correspondence was pretty heavy. Some diggers looked upon Aussie as a kind of “Inquire-Within-Upon-Everything,” others as a sort of Grievance Dump. I always endeavoured to answer all correspondents; and that’s where “Batman” Bill came in. He made office desks and filing systems out of petrol tins and cases and bits of things, and learned to rattle the typewriter as efficiently as he had rattled the machine-gun when he was with the Batt. Diggers will best get the strength of how I feel about Bill when I say that his blood is worth bottling.
Just before the 1918 Northern “break-through” by Fritz the printing plant was removed from Fletre (which was shortly afterwards shattered by an assortment of Fritz hate-stuff) to Fauquembergues. About the same time the Aussie Corps went to the Somme to do that remarkable series of stunts which saved Amiens. This meant that the main portion of the Aussie Army was about seventy miles from the Printing Section.
But in order to keep Aussie in good form it was necessary to collect the verbal rations from the Diggers. And the only way to get the dinkum stuff was by keeping closely in touch with the Digger up forward. The best yarns were told whilst awaiting the second phase of a hop-over, or in supports immediately after a stunt. If they were not caught then whilst they were on the wing, the best of them would be lost. So that in order to keep Aussie in touch with both the Digger and the printing plant I was forced to make frequent journeys of over seventy miles each way. This had to be done mostly by the gentle art of lorry-hopping and (oh, bitter memory!) troop trains.
Then Fritz got in some dirty work. He dropped a bomb on the fourth issue. At first it was thought that Aussie had been properly stonkered. But when he was sorted out from pieces of the building it was discovered that he was merely slightly shell-shocked.
Assistance came from Headquarters after the Diggers had given Fritz the order to about turn, and things had quietened down a bit. Brig. Tom Blamey, who was then the Corps Chief-of-Staff, and who had always been a good friend to Aussie, arranged to have me relieved from the large amount of clerical work by the appointment to the Staff of Jack Reid, who put in some good work for Aussie.
A further welcome addition to the Aussie family came a little later, when artist Stuart Shaw blew in on the balmy breeze of Brig. Tom’s interest.
By this time Aussie had amassed quite a decent banking account. So I decided that it would be advisable to have an independent body to take care of the cash. I sought the services of Major-General White, who supported the idea, and a committee, consisting of Brig.-General T. H. Dodds, Brig.-General Tom Blarney and Colonel W. H. Tunbridge, was formed. I have been advised that the sum of £429 has been paid into the A.I.F. Trust Fund from the Aussie Trust Fund.
Just before the Armistice broke out, G. B. Gye took the place of Jack Reid, who was appointed to the Staff of the Corps Education Scheme. Gye remained with Aussie until his repatriation four months later.
After the Armistice the printing plant was taken to Marchienne-au-Pont, near Charleroi (Belgium), where the last three issues were printed.
On account of the repatriation of Stuart Shaw, Aussie had been without an artist for some considerable time. Then Lance Mattinson came along. He worked very hard, and made Aussie’s final issues artistically the best produced. And it is good to know that Aussie has done something for Lance. His work attracted the attention of a London Daily, and he was offered, and accepted, a position at a good salary. And news that the gods are still looking after Lance comes in a recent letter. He has been offered a position by another London Daily at double his present salary.
I claim no credit for the success of Aussie. That belongs to the Diggers. Aussie was not a paper done for the Diggers, but by them. That’s why it reflects their spirit.
It was freely admitted by both Tommy and Yank that our Army was the most humorous collection of Hun-hunters at the War. The Aussie seemed to take the attitude that the War was being held in order to enable him to make jokes about it. His nearest rival as a humorist was the Yank. But the Aussie’s humour was more spontaneous than that of the Yank. The Yank had many humorous phrases, but they were the general property of his whole Army, and were used by everyone and always. The Yank humour was collective, the Aussie individual. If you asked a Yank for something of which he happened to be short himself, you would be safe in betting that the reply would be: “You can have all we’ve got, and we’ve got nothing!” But you could never foretell your reply from the Aussie. The Yank was funny, the Aussie witty.
The Digger put laughter into everything. Even when the circumstances made things too painful for him to laugh himself, he passed laughter-stuff to his cobbers. Here’s a typical instance. Near Mont St. Quentin, I one day saw a Digger strenuously digging a funk-hole for himself in an embankment at the side of a road. Vicious plonkers were bursting savagely about him. They put the wind up the digging Digger. After each burst he increased his digging speed. A bunch of Diggers standing in the shelter of an embankment chiacked the funk-hole architect. They urged him to greater efforts. Then a piece of shell almost got him. “Fritz will beat you to it, Dig!” chiacked one of the bunch. “Bet you ten onks he doesn’t!” “Righto!” Next second a shell made a dreadful mess of the excavator. As they were about to cart him away after effecting temporary repairs, he beckoned painfully to the man with whom he had made the bet. The stretcher-bearers thought that he wanted to give a last message to a cobber, and waited. He took a ten franc note from his pocket. “Here,” he said, handing the money to the winner of the bet, “you always were a lucky cow!”
The “Aussiosities” contained in this volume are representative of the stories that were continually going the rounds of our Army. I merely caught them and put them on to paper. If Aussie had been large enough to carry ten times the number, the supply would have been ample.
And the language of Aussie is the Aussie’s own. It was the kind of talk the average Digger issued to his cobbers. He was continually borrowing, collecting and achieving new words and phrases. Sometimes he had them thrust upon him. Anyway, he was getting so much Diggerese into his slanguage that he was beginning to develop a distinctive tongue. In fact, it is possible that if the War had lasted as long as some of us at one time thought it would, the Aussie would have returned to his native land speaking a foreign language. But it is not suggested that the desire to avoid this had any influence on the Allies presenting Fritz with an Armistice.
Phillip L. Harris.
Phillip L. Harris (editor), Aussie: A Reprint of All the Numbers of the Diggers’ Own Paper of the Battlefield, Wholly Written, Illustrated and Printed in the Field by Members of the A.I.F. [Melbourne]: Phillip L. Harris on behalf of the Australian War Museum, 1920
batman = a soldier assigned as a manservant or orderly to an officer (an abbreviated version of “bat-horse man”, from the French “bât” for packsaddle)
Batt. = an abbreviation of “battalion”
Brig. = an abbreviation of “brigadier”
chatty = disheveled, untidy (“chat” was World War One slang for a louse, “chatty” referred to something infected by lice)
chiack = to taunt or tease in jest, to engage in good-natured banter (may also refer to jeering or taunting in an ill-natured manner)
C.O. = Commanding Officer
cobber = friend, mate
Enzed = NZ (New Zealand)
Fritz = Germans (“Fritz” could be used in a singular sense to refer to an individual German, as well as in a collective sense to refer to the German military or to Germans in general) (similar to the usage of “Huns”)
funk-hole = a dugout, affording refuge from enemy fire; also may refer to a place of safe retreat, a refuge (from “funk”, meaning to be fearful, frightened; also meaning to be down or dejected)
onk = a French franc (money)
salved = salvaged
slanguage = slang; slang language
stonkered = killed in action (World War One slang); beaten, wiped out; defeated, exhausted, very tired; can also refer to being very drunk
stunt = a military action, a battle
vin blanc = (French) white wine