Topic: Poetry and Poets
Today, Anzac Day, is the 90th Anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps' landing at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915, as part of a British Empire and French force trying to capture the Dardanelles Strait from Turkey. About 44,000 allied troops, including 11,000 Anzacs, and 86,000 Turks died during the campaign. To mark the occasion, I have chosen a poem called, "The Naked Army", by Tom Skeyhill, a regimental signaller in the 8th Battalion, 2nd (Victorian) Infantry Brigade, serving in the Gallipoli Peninsula.
I first became interested in Tom Skeyhill when I discovered that he was the original author of, "My Little Wet Home In The Trench", a parody of the 1911 song, "My Little Grey Home in the West", by Hermann Frederic Lohr and D. Eardley-Wilmot. He trained in Egypt from January, 1915, to April, 1915, and landed with his battalion on Anzac Beach on 24th April. The next week he was with his Battalion at Cape Helles, and was blinded on 8th May, when a high explosive shell burst beside him. He also suffered bayonet wounds to his hands.
In 1916, he published a little book called "Soldier-Songs from Anzac". Some of these had been written "in the firing-line" and some in hospital after he was injured. He was invalided home and then, after the end of the war, went to America where an operation partially restored his sight. He toured the States giving readings and lectures - he was described as "a silver-tongued master of eloquence - a matchless orator, whose powers of description are more vivid, and word pictures of battles are more graphic than those of any other speaker on the war." He edited the War Diaries of Sergeant York and published, "Sergeant York and the Great War" and "Sergeant York, Last of the Long Hunters", (later made into a 1941 film starring Gary Cooper). He then appears to have 'disappeared'. I found one reference, an old request for information, which indicated that he was killed in a plane accident at Hyanis, Massachusetts, in 1933, and that he may be buried in West Dennis.
The Naked Army
We ain't no picture postcards,
Nor studies in black and white;
We don't doll up in evening clothes
When we go out to fight.
We've forgotten all our manners,
And our talk is full of slang,
For you ain't got time for grammar
When you 'ear the rifles bang.
The 'eat 'ere an' the vermin
'Ad drove us nearly balmy,
So we peeled off all our clobber,
And we're called "The Naked Army."
We never wear our tunics,
Unless it's cold at night;
An' socks and shirts and putties,
We've chucked 'em out of sight.
We only wear a pair of shorts
That don't near reach our knees,
And we're burnt as brown as berries;
Still, we'd sooner sun than fleas.
The Tommies fighting round us
Think we've got a bally rat;
They're all togged up to a button,
An' us, in shorts and 'at.
The air and sun don't 'urt us
In this land of fleas and strife,
So we've chucked away our clobber
An' prefer the Simple Life.
The Rookie, when first landed,
'Angs on to all 'is clothes,
But when the grey-backs bite 'im,
It's to the beach 'e goes.
Then off comes shirt and tunic,
Boots, socks, and putties, too;
'E dives deep in the briny,
An' wears what the others do.
If our girls could only see us,
Just as we're fightin' 'ere,
I wonder if they'd 'ug us,
Smile, kiss, an' call us Dear!
Sure thing, they still would love us,
Although we're burnt and lean;
They'd think of our 'ome-comin',
An' buy a sewin' machine.
Still, clothes don't make the fighter,
Nor speech don't show the man,
But conduct in the trenches
Proves out the fightin' man.
This aint' no bloomin' picnic,
The earth 'ides 'eaps of slain;
And we'll fight on to avenge 'em,
Or we won't come 'ome again.
We were the first at landin',
And we're 'angin' on until
The Turks get all that's comin',
Then we'll be in at the kill.
When we march through old "Connie,"
Some one will yell, "Lor' blahmy!
There lies the Young Turk's Harem.
Double up! The Naked Army!"
"Not since the pre-historic stone ages has such a naked army been seen in civilised warfare as the Australian Army Corps fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula. These suntanned, stalwart, athletic colonials display an utter abhorrence for superfluous clothing. They are famous throughout Europe for their hard-fighting, hard-swearing, and nakedness even to a sense of indecency. In marked contrast is the British regular, who never discards his clothing, no matter under what circumstances they are fighting."
Composed: Al-Hayat, Helouin, Egypt, August 25, 1915.
"SOLDIER-SONGS from ANZAC" by SIGNALLER TOM SKEYHILL, 8th Battalion, A.I.F.
Second Edition Published 1916 by George Robertson & Company Propy. Ltd.
Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane.