Correction

In November 2004, I discovered that there was more than one version of "Little Wet Home in a Trench", the World War One parody of the song, "Little Grey Home In The West", and that I was inaccurate in attributing this composition to John G. Bruce, a Canadian Soldier serving with the 29th Vancouver Battalion. My apologies for this mistake and for not researching my material more thoroughly.

Photo plate of Tom Skeyhill from 'Soldier Songs from Anzac'

Credit for the original composition belongs to the Australian poet and soldier, TOM SKEYHILL, who wrote the song, 'in the firing line' on 29th April 1915. "My Little Wet Home In The Trench", together with other ballads and poems by Tom Skeyhill, was published in 1916 in a little booklet entitled "Soldier Songs from Anzac". The introduction to this booklet, by Major-General J. Whiteside McCay of the Australasian Imperial Force, gives the following background:

"Private Tom Skeyhill was a regimental signaller in the 8th Battalion, 2nd (Victorian) Infantry Brigade, serving in the Gallipoli Peninsula. He trained in Egypt from January, 1915, to April, 1915. He landed with his battalion on Anzac Beach on 24th April, taking part in the fighting of that first fierce week. The next week he was with his Battalion at Cape Helles, and shared in the well-known charge by the 2nd Brigade on 8th May; when a high explosive shell burst beside him, and sent him to hospital, a blind and helpless man. There are hopes that eventually he may recover his sight, but at best the time must be long."

Tom Skeyhill, who also suffered bayonet wounds in both hands, spent some weeks in hospital before he was invalided home. During this time, his spirit unbroken, he continued to compose. Much of his work is 'Aussie' in style and language, (e.g. "I was sittin' in me dug-out, An' was feelin' dinkum good"), which makes it even more likely that his "My Little Wet Home In The Trench" was a deliberate sendup of "Little Grey Home in the West", the song written by Hermann Frederic Lhr and D. Eardley-Wilmot in 1911. (I can quite imagine some homesick soldier singing this song to himself and others nearby commenting, "Blimey, you mean wet 'ome in a trench!").

Shortly after the war ended, Tom Skeyhill travelled to the United States of America where an operation in Washington partly restored his sight. In 1919, he started a new career as a professional lecturer and also raised a small fortune for war funds by reading his poems and giving talks on the war - he was billed in the States as "the most eloquent soldier living and the greatest orator the war has produced". He published a revised work, "The Songs of an Anzac", incorporating his original poems plus a great many more written in Australia during his years of total blindness. In 1927, he published "Signaller Tom Skeyhill: the soldier poet". 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). Sadly, it appears that he was killed in a plane accident at Hyanis, Massachusetts in 1933.

MY LITTLE WET HOME IN THE TRENCH
I've a little wet home in the trench,
Which the rain-storms continually drench;
        Blue sky overhead,
        Mud and clay for a bed,
And a stone that we use for a bench.
Bully beef and hard biscuits we chew;
        Shells crackle and scare,
        But no place can compare
With my little wet home in the trench.

Our friends in the trench o'er the way
Seem to know that we've come here to stay;
        They rush and they shout,
        But they can't get us out,
Though there's no dirty work they don't play.
They rushed us a few nights ago,
But we don't like intruders, and so
        Some departed quite sore,
        Others sleep evermore,
Near my little wet home in the trench.

So hurrah for the mud and the clay,
It's the road to "Der Tag"—that's "The Day."
        When we enter Berlin,
        That big city of sin,
Where we'll make the fat Berliner pay,
We'll remember the cold, and the frost,
When we scour the fat land of the Bhost;
        There'll be shed then, I fear
        Redder stuff than a tear
For my little wet home in the trench.
Written in the "Firing Line," 29/4/15.
Pages 31 and 32 from "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

Without doubt, trench songs and poems like this one would have provided entertainment and would have boosted the morale of those brave young men who suffered the appalling conditions of the battlefields of World War One.

When I first published John G. Bruce's version of this poem in November 2003, both Jean Bruce and myself believed that it was indeed his original work. John, the older brother of Jean's father-in-law, had written several other pieces of poetry and the family had always understood that his hand written version of "Little Wet Home" was his own composition. So, the relevation that he was not the original author came as a shock. However, John's modified version of the original words of Skeyhill's song is very interesting in its own right and, I think, his last verse better reflects the situation of the Canadian troops in Flanders.

Another, practically identical version of "Little Wet Home" can be read on this page on Samantha Marshall's website. Lance Corporal Frederick J. Broughton, an uncle of Samantha's Grandfather, was killed at Ypres in 1916. For many years his family also believed that he was the author of the hand-written version returned to them with his effects.

A selection of Tom Skeyhill's poetry can be read on the "Representative Poetry Online" website. In honour of Anzac Day 2005, I have published another of his poems, "The Naked Army" on my Web Blog.



This correction published November 2004
Additional Information and Photograph added 25 November 2004
Page revised 25 April 2005 - last update 9 May 2005

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