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Title: Australia at War - Drawings at the front: A winter record on the Somme and - at Ypres, during the Campaings of 1916 and 1917
Author: Dyson, Will
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Australia at War - Drawings at the front: A winter record on the Somme and - at Ypres, during the Campaings of 1916 and 1917" ***

produced from scans of public domain works at The National
Library of Australia.)






  During the Campaigns of 1916 and 1917




  Oakley House Bloomsbury Street


  : 1918 :




  _To you who tread that dire itinerary
  Who go like pedlars down the routes of Death,
  Grey in its bloody traffic, but who gaze
  Inured upon its scarlet merchandise
  With eyes too young to have yet wholly shed
  The pity moving roundness of the child--

  To you, like cave men rough-hewn of the mud,
  Housed in a world made primal mud again,
  With terrors of that legendary past,
  Reborn to iron palpability,
  Roaring upon the earth with every wind--

  To you who go to do the work of wolves
  Burdened like mules, and bandying with Death--
  To hide the silent places of the soul--
  The ribald jests that half convince the blind
  It does not wholly anguish you to die--

  To you who through those days upon the Somme,
  About you still the odours of our bush,
  I saw come down, with eyes like tired mares,
  Along the jamming traffic of Mametz,
  Creeping each man, detached among his kind,
  Along a separate Hell of memory--

  To you, and you, I dedicate these things
  That have no merit save that they, for you,
  Were woven with what truth there was in me
  Where you went up, with Death athwart the wind
  Poised like a hawk a-strike--to save the world,
  Or else to succour poor old bloody Bill
  Beleaguered in a shell hole on the ridge._

  _W. D._

  [Illustration: _DEDICATION



_This selection of drawings, made during the winters at Ypres and on
the Somme reflects more the misery and the depression of the material
conditions of these campaigns than it does any of their exaltations or
their cheerfulnesses._

_Here and now--here on the new Somme and now when Spring is about
us in a land upon which War has not had time to fully wreak his
wicked will--these two latter qualities are dominant. In the spirit
of Dernancourt and of Villers-Bretonneux the selection made from
my drawings may seem to overstress this winter note. They are not
primarily cheerful--but it is open to doubt whether we are behaving
generously in demanding that the soldier who is saving the world for us
should provide us with a fund of light entertainment while doing it._

_The truth is that War has many moods and nothing more is hoped than
that the selection made from my drawings and my notes may record
something of the one of its moods to which I was temperamentally most
attuned during those bad seasons on the Somme and at Ypres._

  _W. D.,


  May, 1918._


EVERYBODY knows that Mr. Dyson, who has made these striking sketches of
the great war in which he has himself been wounded, originally became
famous as a caricaturist, probably the most original caricaturist
of our time. To some it may even need a word of further explanation
adequately to connect a caricaturist so fanciful with a tragedy so
grave and grim. Nor indeed is the connection only that more obvious
one, which has drawn so many men of genius into duties that are simply
normal because they are national. Mr. Dyson is indeed as patriotic in
external as he is public spirited in internal politics; but his case
here must not be confused with what might have occurred if, in some
national crisis, the late Phil May had drawn a cartoon for Sir John
Tenniel, or if the late Dan Leno had sung, with all possible sincerity,
a patriotic song. In such cases men might say that great artists were
behaving like good citizens; but that it was rather of their ordinary
than their extraordinary qualities that they were at that moment
justly proud. The importance of Mr. Dyson's work cannot be properly
appreciated unless we realise that his patriotism and public spirit
are extraordinary as well as ordinary; for to be extraordinary without
being also ordinary is merely another name for being mad. Mr. Dyson in
becoming more national does not become less individual; nor does he
for the first time become serious. The graver work of such an artist
will not be merely grotesque, if only because his most grotesque work
was always full of gravity. His caricature was a criticism, and indeed
a very severe criticism, of the whole modern world. And it is perhaps
the severest of all criticisms on the modern world, that the one form
of art that has rendered it most seriously and most subtly, is the art
of caricature. Here it may well be left an open question whether this
character in our time, as compared with former times, means that we
more easily appreciate satirists, or merely that we more easily lend
ourselves to satire.

In any case the lightest, wildest or even crudest sketch scratched down
by Dyson has always had more of the true grip of gravity than the whole
of the Royal Academy. It is our modern misfortune that what is most
solemn is most frivolous; because it is, in motive if not in method,
most facile. There is always genuine thought in the design as well as
the detail of Mr. Dyson's work; and it is thought of a kind that is
too little defined or understood. Where he has always differed from a
common capable caricaturist is approximately in this; that it was never
the comic but rather the serious feature that he caricatured. It is
the soul rather than the body that he has drawn out in long fantastic
lines. His comedy has never been merely comic, but rather philosophic
and poetic. When he drew a Jew he did not merely draw the nose of a
Jew, as a man might draw the trunk of an elephant; the most prominent
thing about an elephant but not the most elephantine. He would rather
draw that oriental type of eye, so strange in its shape and setting;
which can be seen carved on colossal Assyrian masks of stone or painted
flat on the cases of Egyptian mummies. And this marks his philosophic
sentiment; he throws on things a new light which is also an ancient
light; which is in its nature historic and even pre-historic. This
is what links him up with the school of the great satirists; for it
is one of the chief strokes of satire to tell new things that they
are old; nay, in a sense to extinguish them by telling them they are
eternal. But there is necessarily the same sort of epic symbolism
underlying his treatment of the toils and perils he most sincerely
admires, as underlying his treatment of the luxury and tyranny he has
most drastically denounced or exposed. And that is why something of
this almost allegoric spirit must be appreciated, in appreciating his
studies of the appalling pageant of the great war.

Being a satirist he is a humorist; but we must not look for mere lively
notes of what may be called the humours of the trenches. Nothing can be
more admirable in another aspect than those humours; or above all than
the humour, and especially the good humour, which generally endures and
records them. But such an artist is not concerned so much with that
comic relief, by which details arc relieved against tragedy, as with
that high and tragic relief by which the tragedy itself is relieved
against the light of heaven. Indeed there is something significant in
all that white light and sharp shadow which belongs to such scenes, and
is so favourable to the art of black and white. There is even something
of allegory in that awful and empty daylight in which armies live, so
often without a stick of roof or a rag of curtain. All the soldiers in
a great war are historical characters; but these are rather specially
standing, not against court or camp, but only against the sky. They
are under a light which will indeed prove eternal; even as compared
with other historic groups they will continue in a sort of permanent
publicity; for we do not yet realise from what distant heights and
terraces of time the arena of this war will be seen. And therefore it
is, perhaps, that through all the rags and rude equipment that Dyson
draws can be traced the lines of a sort of nakedness, like that of the
dead on the Last Day.

It may be that such a criticism is too much haunted by the shadow of
those sharp satiric and philosophic designs of his former work; in
which the draughtsmanship was itself a kind of swordsmanship. But those
who have most valued his more fantastic visions will be disposed to
recognise this larger reality through the veil of realism. They will
be able to see the old and true types of mankind, as it were, in a
masquerade of khaki. A certain loose precision of line, which renders
the length of limb or the lightness of the lifted head in the young
soldier, is the same as that which gave, in the Labour Cartoons, a
new and too much neglected dignity to the young workman. And it will
be well to note this; since a conventional patriotism is too prone
to forget that the young soldier generally is the young workman. But
neither in the new sketches nor the old ones was the dignity merely
dignified, in the sentimental manner; and many will still think it
comic precisely because it is tragic. In this sense there is a note of
satire in the names of famous or notorious London streets, stuck up as
labels in the tunnels of the sunken labyrinth of trench warfare. It is
wholesome to remember that many of these men have sat or stood with
as haggard an endurance upon the stones of the real streets at home;
and have suffered almost as much from the horrors of peace as from the
horrors of war. Nor should we forget how much of the life of labour
has been subterranean, and with less hope of an outlet on victory.
Tyranny is in a true sense oppression; it is the weight of worldly evil
that the artist has felt; a thing not so much unearthly as unnaturally
earthly. And this again will always make him a true interpreter of the
great war, whether in the idealism of caricature or the realism of such
work as this. For what the free men of the world are now labouring to
lift is indeed an oppression almost in the literal sense of a load; it
is like a nightmare in this vital sense, that while it lasts it seems,
not less, but more real than reality. The barbarism which all free men
defy to-day might well be embodied in one of the Dyson demons, swinish,
swollen, sullen; the thing described by the genius of an artist in
another art; by M. Emile Cammaerts writing also of the Satan who has
set up his throne in Belgium:

  "Il n'est pas triste; il n'est pas fier; il n'est pas beau;
  Il n'est pas même troublant; il n'est pas ambigu;
  Il est laid; il est lâche; est gros, il est sot;
  Et il pue!"

We are fighting against a living slime, like that mud of Flanders which
men loathe more than wounds and death. And indeed the two spirits of
the war might be conceived as meeting in the flats of the Flemish coast
under the emblems of the two elements; the strange slow strength of
the inland swamp and the force and freedom of the sea. Against such
elemental emptiness of bare lands and bleak waters. Dyson has moved
and showed his comrades moving; and his stroke is here none the less
militant because he is now using only the artillery of art, which
fights not with fire but with light.



                                                      FACING PAGE
  BRINGING UP THE STEW                                     14

  REPORTING AT THE BATTERY                                 16

  DEAD BEAT                                                18

  THE COOK                                                 20

  GROUP                                                    22

  LOOKING FOR THE BATTALION                                24

  THE MATE                                                 26

  TUNNELLERS UNDER GERMAN TERRITORY                        28

  COMING OUT ON THE SOMME                                  30

  LABOUR BATTALION MAN                                     32




  "WAITING FOR THE STEW"                                   40

  IN THE TUNNEL--HILL 60                                   42

  FATALIST                                                 44

  OUTSIDE THE PILL BOX                                     46

  COMING OUT AT HILL 60                                    48

  "HANGING ABOUT"                                          50

  DOWN FROM THE RIDGE                                      52

_Bringing up the Stew._

_". . . . The precious fluid, the hope-giving potion, the stew from
the wagon lines, the last evidence of the existence on earth of any
civilization or culture that the battalion will know for some days.
It was to be a real stew with fresh meat, and in this case it was a
triumph of the art, something to send the boys from supports into the
line if not singing the merry songs of the imaginative press at least
with some of the content of the gorged python. . . . ._

_"When the look-out saw the panting carriers coming over that greasy
mixture of mud and water and desolation known as Flanders, they raised
the equivalent of a cheer and hope again raised her drooping pennons.
You have got to die--don't die hungry if you can help it. To have
fluked a good meal before you go is to have cheated death to the extent
of having bagged a good human satisfaction under his chagrined nose.
And that is so much to the good._

_. . . . an article of importance in the credo of that narrow land
that runs from Nieuport to the Alps--where things are as they were
and things are valued as they were in the deplorable beginning of all

[Illustration: _Bringing up the Stew._]

_Reporting at the Battery._

_". . . . H----'s two men had floundered back to the guns from the
forward Observation Post after this very thick night and reported to

_"'M----' was very liberal to them with Hurley's whiskey--and they
needed it. This sort of need for a drink is something that bears
no relationship to anything you and I could ever know in a nicely
regulated civilian life. It is of a world which the temperance die-hard
has never envisaged, and in which the drink does nothing more criminal
than make man more stoical of conditions that in themselves are cruel
enough to justify him in committing the seven cardinal sins if that
would procure alleviation of those conditions."_

[Illustration: _Reporting at the Battery._]

_Dead Beat._

_"He was there as we came back with Wilkins after watching the reply
to the S.O.S., sleeping on the eternal petrol tin, and was there when
we got breakfast--dead to the world . . . . I have not at all drawn
him as childish as he looked . . . . He had come down with a relief
from somewhere near Glencorse Wood and had lost himself and floundered
all night in shell holes and mud through the awful rain and wind which
seemed to have power to wash out the very gunfire of Manton's battery.
He had floundered into the cover of the tunnel and stopped there,
disregarded, save for occasional attempts to assist on the part of the
men--attempts that could not penetrate through to his consciousness
past the dominating instinct to sleep anywhere, anyhow, and at any
cost . . . . The boys tried to get him to report to the Pommy Colonel
in another gallery . . . . but he dropped off again into that coma of
a spent man, too spent to be wholly unconscious of his misery even in
sleep . . . . and I heard him muttering in a sullen diminuendo, like
a rebellious schoolboy, 'Bloody war!! Bloody war!! Bloody war.' . .
. . He looked like the hundred others one has seen--like many in the
company that were lining the corridors, but that his abandonment was
greater--he was emphatically lost, lost like a child, and evoking some
of the pity that goes to a child, he looked so very young--that quality
which here has power to touch the heart of older men in the strongest
way. To see going into the line boys whose ingenuous faces recall
something of your own boyhood--something of someone you stole fruit
with, or fought with or wagged it with through long hot Australian
afternoons--to see them in this bloody game and to feel that their
mother's milk is not yet dry upon their mouths . . . ."_

[Illustration: _Dead Beat._]

_The Cook._

_". . . . who is at his noblest when he has graduated in the shearers'
sheds. I speak not as a gourmand of the table. I sometimes think it
is the primitive emotions of grief and disillusionment and ferocious
despair induced by the cooking of the cooks that make some of our
battalions so awe inspiring in the attack._

_"No, this superiority indicated is not so much from the point of view
of cooking as of character. The cook stands apart in his little niche
of fame. He has with him the democracy of the shearer's shed, coloured
with the exclusiveness of the artist, the practitioner of mysteries.
The work of the Divine Sculptor as it came from His chisel, rough hewn
as the Master left it. What he was he will be._

_"The cook stands apart in his little niche of fame eternal and
unchangeable, as God and the democracy of the shearing shed made him.
The Army and its War Councils, its Field Marshals, its G.S.O.'s,
its N.C.O.'s, retire foiled and chagrined in their puny efforts to
unmake what these two have made. . . . It is with a mixture of the two
qualities--the equality of the shearing shed and the exclusiveness of
the studio--that he meets them all, from Brigadiers to Batmen. A manner
that frankly accepts the doctrine of the brotherhood of man with its
implied admission that after all he is no better than the Colonel. .
. . Yes, his cooking may be bad but his heart is good. As Mac used to

  _"''E aint't no Anzac 'ero who gets 'is photo took,
  'E is greasy but a white man is the old Battalion Cook.'_

_"I have often suspected that Australian units select their cooks not
on their ability as chefs but for the stories that can be told about
them to other units. It is a sort of competition, and the cook who
said, 'I know I'm no chef from the 'otel Australia, but there ain't a
willinger cook on the Somme!' was worth it, cooked he ever so badly. He
often has, or had, a son or two in the line who probably left Australia
criminally young to prove themselves men as the old man left to prove
himself one of the boys. And in moments of depression, to which he is
liable, he is full of mutinous threats of his intention to get back to
the line again where the men are. . . ."_

[Illustration: _The Cook._]


_"I started to do a drawing for a Christmas Card for the battalion,
representing some of the boys thinking of Australian summer, in the mud
of this Flanders winter, but the thing was a little too funereal to
force on fighting men. I did them one dwelling more on the light and
gamesome aspects of a life of slush, sandbags, shells and sacrifice.
. . . The passion of soldiers for amusing drawings of the front is
a different thing to the civilians demand for them. . . . . It is a
proper and wise attitude for the soldier to take towards his hardships,
but for the others to be so preoccupied with discovering the humours of
the soldier's lot is scarcely seemly."_

[Illustration:_ Group._]

_Looking for the Battalion._

_". . . . On the road . . . . the incongruities of the traffic--the
ammunition carrier down from the guns with his mule covered with mud
and himself disreputable to a point beyond the dreams of any civil
tramp--a thing I am sure countless irreproachable patriots at home
would imprison on sight--breathing grim blasphemy and jostled by staff
cars polished and hermetically sealed against the blast that affect
the men of mortal clay. . . . the labour battalion man with those
characteristics especially and irrevocably his--the Chinese with his
invincible good humour and horse play. . . ._

_"The foot traffic, the men coming and going from divisional baths,
bearing towels, coming from and going to that area where are
estaminets, those links with a civilian past--those fairy lands within
the four walls of which we can behave almost with the godlike
freedom of the aristocratic days when one was a vendor of vegetables, a
server of writs, a pleader of causes, a duke or a dustman._

_". . . . The men who are seeking their battalion--who drift out of
nowhere, asking the whereabouts of the 27th, or the 10th, or the 6th,
and who drift on into nowhere, and no doubt ultimately find there
what they seek--no doubt through the exercise of a native scepticism
regarding what is told them. For as there is a lot of human nature
in war and it is human to wish to impart information, information is
imparted with more willingness than accuracy, here even more than
elsewhere. No doubt they find it, for all things are ultimately found
in the army, through the Chinese patience with which the life has
imbued all--a patient and an oriental sense of the unimportance of time
bred by countless experiences which tells you that however long it
takes you to get there you will one day or one year get there without
disaster, and to hurry it unduly is bad in philosophy and unavailing in
fact . . . ._

_"They come, these strays, from leave, from all those temporary
detachments from their units, from hospital, from rest camps, and they
live on the country, trusting no doubt to the freemasonry, the trades'
unionism of the fighting man, the large confederation--the offensive
and defensive alliance of the lance-privates._

_"From rail heads and the tender mercies of R.T.O's., they move over
France through villages, and over what were villages--over duck boards
and shell holes with that grousing league-devouring indifference to all
things made which is bred by a life two-thirds of the activity of which
is moving from a place you don't want to be in to a place you don't
want to go to."_

[Illustration: _Looking for the Battalion._]

_The Mate._

_"Most of the boys are of that age at which friendship is not the
tepid give and take of years of discretion. Remember our friendship
at twenty! At that age a friendship is a thing intense and
unquestioning--it is blasphemy to it to think of it as anything less
than eternal. . . . . Normally those friendships wither painlessly in
their season, but this generation, or what maimed fragment of it lives
through it all, will live with the memory of heroic friendships cut off
at the height of their boyish splendour, and which can never suffer the
slow deterioration of disillusionment._

_. . . You see what an invitation to grief is friendship with the
regiments of foot. . . . They are touchingly profane about the
dead friend . . . . They see that a cross comes from the battalion
carpenter, or the especial friend like little 'W----' makes a cross
himself and carves an ornate rising sun on it--but they are movingly
profane about it all, employing all those proper expedients of the
Digger for the disguising of deep feeling--of the exhibition of which
the boys are so timid that they have evolved a language compound of
blasphemy and catch phrases in which they can unpack their hearts
without seeming to be guilty of the weakness of emotion."_

[Illustration: _The Mate._]

_Tunnellers under German Territory._

_"The tunneller's activity is only heard of when the world is deafened
by the blowing of a mine that he has prepared through months of silent,
modest and retiring labour; labour that in its nature is coy and shy
of observation. A form of warfare with its stratagems and incredible
counter stratagems . . . for which the Australian miner has peculiar
advantages . . . . to these strange places he brings all that was
characteristic of him in the Lady Berry at home . . . ._

_"It was our tunnellers who prepared a little show which an English
battalion carried out, and the night of the touch off a battalion
commander said to a tunnelling officer, 'I think I should tell you that
I am given to understand that some of your men are going to attempt to
go over with us to-night.' Which it is understood that the tunnellers
did contrive to do, for the next day a tunneller showed 'P----' a
fine Fritz watch. 'You don't get them tunnelling, sir,' he said. 'The
infantry will do me after this.'"_

[Illustration: _Tunnellers under German Territory._]

_Coming out on the Somme._

_". . . . The haunting memory of the Somme, those ghosts of young
men treading their pale way through the substantial virility of
its wheel-choked arteries . . . . moving like chain gangs dragging
invisible chains._

_"They came back, these pioneers of the liberties of the world, with
them still the eternal mystery of no man's land, men walking in their
sleep . . . . young men bearded like unshorn Andalusians, and garbed
like ragged adventurers of another age . . . . companions of a new
Marco Polo returned from gazing on strange and terrible lands."_

[Illustration: _Coming out on the Somme._]

_Labour Battalion Man._

_"He looks so like a fragment of civilian England, strayed incongruously
into these warlike areas. One might say he smells of the comic paper,
of the Music Hall, of the comic British workingman, were it not that
there is a twist in the humour of it all that moves to other things
than happy laughter . . . ._

_"It is a sorry jest that they, these unfit, the delvers of the earth,
simple and twisted labourers with a Saxon faith in beer, should be
the material in which war and the very great work out their soaring
ambitions. . . . . But I am sometimes solaced by the feeling that
their miseries are not very much grosser than those in which a
grateful country found them when war made her cognisant of their civic

[Illustration: _Labour Battalion Man._]

_Back to the Waggon Lines after Polygon Wood._

_"The quarter-master had spent a feverish day gathering what comforts
he could for the returning braves, fussing about like a good housewife
expecting the return of her lord. Begging and borrowing and by less
legitimate means accumulating those things that would make it something
of a home-coming--the return to this spot--desolate and shell shriven
by the shells of three years and the bombs of last night, but at the
worst a haven of effeminate ease to the home-comers._

_"The cooks had worked with an energy that is explained by the fact
that love and kindness are best expressed in the primitive world by
food and, sentimental though it sounds, they wanted to show both of
those things. Those profane slushies were the representatives of that
fundamental and admirable human instinct to comfort the stricken with
food, to gorge the tired hero._

_"The strays began to arrive alter midnight, in ones and twos and
threes, directed by the battalion guides posted on the route, and from
then onward the groups thickened and dispersed and gathered again
around the cookers that shone like lode stars in the gloom. They
came down the road out of the night asking for A company, B company,
C company, leaning well forward to balance the light pack on the
shoulders, the silent, the garrulous, the boisterous and the grim, and
presenting their dixies for stew on the right, tea on the left. . . ._

_". . . all with a tendency to group about in the sociable area of the
cookers where they stood, dropping brief words in confirmation of the
narratives of the garrulous few, weary to exhaustion, eager for food
and for rest, but for the while content with the negative joys of being
merely out of it._

_"It is now that are told stories that will perhaps never be told again,
for on his return from the line slowly but surely the civilian habit
of mind reasserts itself, standards that are based on the sanctity of
human life and which are at variance with the grim necessities of the
hop-over, assume their normal control. I assume that in many cases good
soldiers will no more talk in the decencies of civil life of things
they have had to do in war than they will practise them there. . . ."_

[Illustration: _Back to the Waggon Lines after Polygon Wood._]

_Lightly Wounded at a Menin Road Dressing Station._

_". . . . A brush had been passed over all the faces of these wounded,
wiping out differences of expression, of character and intelligence;
leaving them with something of the facial sameness that we see in
different races of a different colour. I suppose it is the suffering
and strain, common to them all, which gives them this one-ness of
look, the same strain, the same relief, the same apathy, the same
unquestioning collapse into the hands of the medicine men."_

[Illustration: _Lightly Wounded at a Menin Road Dressing Station._]

_Stretcher-bearers near Martinpuich._

_"They move with their stretchers like boats on a slowly tossing sea,
rising and falling with the shell riven contours of what was yesterday
no man's land, slipping, sliding, with heels worn raw by the downward
suck of the Somme mud. Slow and terribly sure through and over
everything, like things that have got neither eyes to see terrible
things nor ears to heed them . . . . The fountains that sprout roaring
at their feet fall back to the earth in a lace-work of fragments--the
smoke clears and they, momentarily obscured, are again moving on as
they were moving on before: a piece of mechanism guiltless of the
weaknesses of weak flesh, one might say. But to say this is to rob
their heroism of its due--of the credit that goes to inclinations
conquered and panics subdued down in the privacy of the soul. It is to
make their heroism look like a thing they find easy. No man of woman
born could find it that. These men and all the men precipitated into
the liquescent world of the line are not heroes from choice--they are
heroes because someone has got to be heroic. It is to add insult to
the injury of this world war to say that the men fighting it find it
agreeable or go into it with light hearts."_

[Illustration: _Stretcher-bearers near Martinpuich._]

_"Waiting for the Stew."_

_". . . . A dixie of stew for each company was to arrive with the
machine guns at the pill box at 12.30 and then into the line. But there
was a block on the corduroy--Fritz was putting salvoes onto the road
and the cookers could not get past the jam at ----, so the dixies were
man-handled from there across the duckboards where duckboards were
and across the mud where they were not to the pill box. They arrived
there at three o'clock. During the wait the innocent 'J----,' the Mule
King, the Prince of the Packs, was roundly consigned to many kinds
of torment, the dreadful possibility of going in without that stew
began to haunt the strongest and the bravest. . . . . It was a process
of sitting still in the dripping cover of that triumph of German
architecture. Sexton House, and watching the appetite grow, assisted
by some blood-curdling comments of the Doc's."_

[Illustration: _"Waiting for the Stew."_]

_In the Tunnel--Hill 60._

_". . . . the companies staging in the tunnels were resting in every
conceivable attitude of weariness in slush that was everywhere, and
everywhere rising higher. The circumstances were bearable to what they
would be in the line, but fatigue even here, to the unlucky forced to
spend a night in the bad spots of the tunnels, is a circumstance the
aching misery of which cannot be judged by any standard with which our
average civilian is conversant. Fatigue at its worst is to the most
articulate of our generation the least familiar of humanity's woes, but
here in this world it is about us again with the torturing insistence
of the troglodyte past--one of the commonplaces of the Stone Age with
which war and the wonders of science have familiarised us. . . . The
brutish weariness of our earliest hairy forbear, trembling in the
savage morasses of an unfamiliar planet, is the daily lot of men like
these--shopmen, men from the forge and factory and mine--heirs to all
the amenities of the ages. It is part of the supremacy in suffering of
the inarticulate infantry. Fatigue, actual brutish and insensate, is
borne by them to a pitch at which mules might be heart-broken. Dull,
undecorative heroism it is--that of these men of the 'S----'._

_"But the poor fabric of military glory is woven of such--of trials that
seem to break down the proud partitions which separate our lot from
that of the animals. . . . These heroes of ours, alas, are unsupported
by a helpful consciousness of their heroism. That joy is only for
the onlooker. The tragic fact is that the incomparable heroisms of
this winter warfare bring no compensations to the heroes--no element
of dramatic exaltation in the performance of them. They are less
swift dramatic acts than long states of siege with exhaustion as the

[Illustration: _In the Tunnel--Hill 60._]


_". . . . The fatalist is born not made. The growing strain of the
game is not producing more fatalists if ducking under shell fire is
a proof of an absence of fatalism. For many who never ducked are
now ducking, whether from wisdom or war strain they are taking this
instinctive precaution. But there is a hardihood that persists through
it all--there is a grim fatalist who is not fatalist born but is made
it by a sort of savage irritation with the grossly incalculable element
in the mischance of death. He does not scorn to duck out of sheer
pride--to show he has not the wind up, but because he has his back up.
He can't prevent the 'whiz-bangs' and the 'five-nines' but he can defy
them. He invests them with a personality, a malignancy of personal
enmity directed against himself, . . . and he defies them. As though he
were to say, 'If you are going to hit me, you swine, you will hit me,
but you can't stop me calling you bastard while you are doing it!'"_

[Illustration: _Fatalist._]

_Outside the Pill Box._

_". . . . Men of the Company that had been in occupation of the Pill Box
awaiting in no very amiable frame of mind the completion of some detail
of the relief . . . . I could not tell what they had to be discontented
with in that happy land. Around them was all the pomp and pageantry
of war--a landscape the like of which man has never gazed upon since
early chaos brooded over all. For Westhoek and Flers--the Somme and the
Salient--as they were when they were war areas and it was winter--were
landscapes that betrayed to the observant all the material content of
war. They were the finished product--the perfection towards which that
vast Teutonised industry of war is working. Landscapes without colour
as of an evil earth in the throes of its dissolution--an earth torn
and mangled with its ghost half given up and hanging over-head like a
palpable emanation, half agony, half guilt . . . ."_

[Illustration: _Outside the Pill Box._]

_Coming out at Hill 60._

_"Little groups of men burdened with the appliances of their trades file
slowly across the hummocks of Flanders mud. They come out of endless
holes and go into endless holes like lonely ants bent on some ant-like
service. . . . . Ant-like in the distance, they loom upon a nearer
vision things elemental and Homeric, big with destiny. They are merely
soldiers at the base, perhaps shopmen at Brisbane, but they are things
of mystery in the line. I feel that here all soldiers of all ranks
tend to have the baffling profundity of the peasant, that sense of the
nearness to the beginning of things which makes the artist see in the
peasant the simple, unsolvable mystery of life reduced to its least
common multiple--man shorn of all his vast cultures, which are not
mysterious, and left simple man, which is."_

[Illustration: _Coming out at Hill 60._]

_"Hanging About."_

_"One so often sees them--these seemingly purposeless groups, awaiting
events with the grim immobility of Sioux braves . . . . doing nothing
in places where no man would be for choice. Stretcher bearers they may
be, or runners, or a company that has left the sickly foetid odours
of the dug outs--reminiscent of fowl houses and tramps in summer--to
make room for the relief, and is now standing by in all the taciturn
boredom of that condition--silent men whom you pass, with all their
taciturnity, with the feeling that they have passed a verdict on you
annihilating in its justice. . . . ._

_"It is men like myself--timid peepers into forbidden places, who look
and go, who keep their virginal wonderment at what are the commonplaces
of the trenches. And these silent watchers are such a commonplace. . .
. Perhaps the men familiar with it are unimpressed by the statuesque
quietism of these men in places of risk and great events. . . . with
their perpetual air of prisoners innocent and awaiting an unjust
sentence. . . . They lounge there awaiting something that will send
them into the glare of that limelight again like supers in a tragedy in
which the supers are greater tragedians than the heroes."_

[Illustration: _"Hanging About."_]

_Down from the Ridge._

_". . . . and Brigades of the ---- English division came down, fresh
from those quagmires in front of Passchaendael. Officers and men,
they were in the last stage of exhaustion--in that condition where
every forward step is a battleground on which the desire not to take
it has to be met and conquered before that step is taken. They had
foot slogged it all the way from C----. W----., and had only stayed
there an hour--they looked what they were, men really dead but that
their hearts would not let them lie down and die . . . . They spoke
with that level exhausted voice of overdone men--if they spoke at all
. . . . The little subaltern to whom we told the distance to S----,
groaned aloud--but refused the drink we offered--I think it was that
he would not allow himself in their extremity something the men could
not get . . . . It was a division against which Luck had set its face.
Fortune has her favourites among the divisions, and others she pursues
with the vindictiveness of an evil step-mother. Every ill circumstance
contrivable by collusion between the weather, the enemy, and something
we will call Mischance seems to lay in wait for the Brigades upon
which the disfavour of Fate has fallen. Poor ----, it was one of
them, unlucky on going in, unlucky while in, and unlucky on coming
out. . . . "_

[Illustration: _Down from the Ridge._]

                    *       *       *       *       *

  Transcriber's Note:

  The only known changes made to the original publication are as follows:

    Artist's note
      In the spirit of Dernancourt and of Villa-Brettoneur _changed to_
      In the spirit of Dernancourt and of Villers-Bretonneux

    Introduction: _The accented letters have been used in the poem
    written in French, instead of:_

      "Il n'est pas triste; il n'est pas fier; il n'est pas beau;
      Il n'est pas meme troublant; il n'est pas ambigu;
      Il est laid; il est lache; est gros, il est sot;
      Et il pue!"

    Page 34
      they will practice them there. . . ." _changed to_
      they will practise them there. . . ."

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Australia at War - Drawings at the front: A winter record on the Somme and - at Ypres, during the Campaings of 1916 and 1917" ***

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