The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
During the First World War, troops of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) served in all the major theatres of combat. The story of their involvement in that bloodiest of conflicts was thoroughly recorded in the multi-volume official histories written in the post-war years. However, these histories, notwithstanding their length, offer only a limited insight into the real world of the men who went to war.
An official history, written long after the events it describes must, of necessity, lack the immediacy of the contemporary account; being concerned with strategic and military developments it must tend to ignore the fate of individuals while charting the fate of nations. In short, military histories are usually lacking in any real understanding of the men and women who are caught up by events. Even with the eulogy to the men of Anzac found throughout the writings of C. E. W. Bean, and the paean of praise to the Light Horsemen in the volume by H. S. Gullett, the reader of the works of these official historians will find little in them which will bring him any closer to the attitudes, the sentiments, the troubles and daily cares of the ordinary serviceman. This is not an indictment of the official histories but rather a recognition of their inevitable limitations. What is surprising, however, is the failure of later historians to explore the abundant literature provided by the broadsheets, newspapers and magazines produced in the trenches, at the bases and on the troopships. It is in this body of literature, of which The Kia Ora Coo-ee is the prime example, that the interested reader will find some clues to the real identity of the men whom later ages have epitomized as Anzac, Digger and Kiwi.
Although most service magazines were "ad hoc" productions, some units, like the Australian Camel Field Ambulance, issued a journal before leaving Australia and others embarked for Europe with a fixed intention of producing some form of record. The Australian Heavy Siege Battery which left Sydney in 1914 took with it a printing press supplied by the patriotic printers' furnishers of New South Wales. On this was printed The Honk, the official journal of the Battery, and the first issue, printed while still at sea, contained an account of the sinking of the Emden off the Cocos Islands. Several more issues were printed in England and France, but publication ceased once the unit was moved to the front line. More typical of the genuine "trench" newspapers was the broadsheet called Dinkum Oil which was run off on a duplicating machine within sound of the guns at Cape Helles on Gallipoli. The value of such publications—they relieved the tedium and tension of trench life and provided an outlet for the troops' humour, fear page viiiand sentiment—was Quickly recognized, and a plan was formulated to issue a monthly magazine for the Gallipoli battlefield. This scheme, however, was frustrated by the withdrawal from Gallipoli, but even so the editor, C. E. W. Bean, did have sufficient material collected to publish a selection in the now-famous The Anzac Book.
Most of the service magazines which appeared were not pre-planned like The Honk nor produced under the difficulties of Dinkum Oil: beyond a concern for the war the most distinctive common characteristic of these publications was their irregularity. The Australians in England published Sai-eeda which was abandoned when the AIF was transferred to France. In 1916, using an antiquated Belgian printing press, the Australians in France produced several numbers of The Rising Sun which was later incorporated into Aussie. This was the most resilient of the magazines on the Western Front, surviving several moves and a near-miss from a German bomb. At Tel-el-Kebir Lieutenant Oliver Hogue edited The Mirage, which had two issues, while at Serapium Trooper Boyd Orr produced The Desert Dustbin which was equally short-lived. Barrak, the journal of the Imperial Camel Corps, ceased after only four issues, and The Cacolet, the journal of the Australian Camel Field Ambulance, appeared haphazardly in 1917 and 1918. Besides these better-known journals there were many more which reflected the enthusiasm of a particular unit, but which failed to materialize on a second or third occasion. Charles Barrett, the editor of The Kia Ora Coo-ee, noted the receipt of such a journal in the September issue. It was The Musallabah Mirror "the rarest magazine in the world":
It consists of eight small pages. The text is neatly written in black lead-pencil, with decorated title in indelible, red and blue pencil. The frontispiece is a map of Australia in ink, on tracing paper. Produced in the 1st Battalion, ICC Orderly Room, this curiosity of journalism is worthy of immortality.
The Kia Ora Coo-ee, which was written and edited by Australian and New Zealand troops serving in Egypt, Palestine, Salonica and Mesopotamia, was printed in Cairo and appeared in monthly issues between March and December 1918. With ten issues, albeit all in a single year, it seems to have been the service magazine with the longest and most regular record of publication. The security of the base in Cairo, and the availability of a commercial printing establishment, enabled the editors to produce a magazine which was in every respect thoroughly professional, attracting advertising revenue and making a comfortable profit. In addition the editorial staff had considerable journalistic experience: the editor, Sgt. C. Barrett, AIF, had worked on the staff of The Melbourne Herald before the war, and Tpr. M. E. Lyons, NZEF, one of the sub-editors, on The Christchurch Sun.
An important part of the success of The Kia Ora Coo-ee was due to the energetic activity of the field editor, Alexander Vindex Vennard, and the skill of the art editor, David Barker. It was fitting that they should make a major contribution to each issue, for it was their joint proposal to the AIF Headquarters in Cairo which led to the establishment of the magazine. Vennard, using the nom-de-plume "Frank Reid", had been a contributor to The Bulletin before the war, and had tried his hand at most forms of commercial writing before he enlisted. page ixHe had served at Gallipoli, in the Libyan Desert, Sinai and Palestine before he contracted malaria. On his discharge from hospital as "B Class" he was sent to the depot at Moascar to recuperate. Barker had enlisted in April 1915 and had served as a stretcher-bearer for four months on the Gallipoli Peninsula before he was transferred to work with C. E. W. Bean on The Anzac Book. It was Barker's design which eventually appeared on that cover, and this volume contains many of his sketches. After the evacuation he was posted to Mesopotamia to assist in the map-making section for a year. He then returned to Egypt where he met Vennard. From their conversations they developed the idea of an official magazine which would have a general antipodean rather than a narrowly regimental appeal, and it was this proposal which they put to the general staff at AIF Headquarters. The result was that a joint committee of management was set up with Vennard appointed as editor. He was the editor, then co-editor with Barrett, for the first four issues, after which he became the field editor, scouring Palestine for copy and soliciting contributions wherever he went. The first seven issues owed a great deal to Vennard both as an editor and as a contributor, for he wrote a dozen pieces under his pseudonyms of "Frank Reid" and "Bill Bowyang". His hand can also be discerned in other unacknowledged articles.
It was the stated editorial policy of The Kia Ora Coo-ee "to give all ranks the kind of magazine they desire". The success of this intention is best measured by the level of subscription the magazine attracted, and by the rapidity with which each series was sold out. Furthermore, the critical acclaim it drew from the editors of similar journals in the war zones, from newspaper editors at home and from the troops themselves, was universally favourable. The Melbourne Herald declared it to be "one of the best of soldiers' publications", and two papers in Queensland filled several columns with extracts from it. An article on service magazines in The Chronicles of the NZEF maintained that it was "absolutely one of the best troop papers". It was well received even beyond the Near East, and Barrett was pleased to Quote this letter from a soldier on the Western Front: "All who have seen the paper vote it the best of the kind yet printed, and all the boys on this side wish it every success". Evidently the editors had succeeded in giving the troops what they wanted.
Several factors helped to shape the magazine. The importance of a secure base, professional printing and journalistic expertise has already been mentioned, but no less important was the timing of its appearance and the realization that many soldiers would want to send it home as a souvenir. The Kia Ora Coo-ee was the magazine of an army in the ascendant; when it first appeared in March 1918 the fortunes of war in the Near East had turned in favour of the allies. In August 1916 the Turkish advance towards the Suez Canal was finally halted at the battle of Romani, some twenty miles to the east of the Canal. From this moment on the Turkish army was pushed steadily backwards, and although much bitter fighting had yet to take place the story of the Imperial forces became one of inexorable, if painfully slow, progress northward. By the end of 1916 Sinai had been secured, and the following year saw the conquest of southern Palestine which culminated in the capture of Jerusalem in December. During the early months of 1918, General Allenby consolidated his control over southern Palestine until page xhe felt ready to release his master plan for the encirclement of the Turkish army on September 19th. The patient progress of the previous years was instantly replaced by the exuberant rout of the Turks which ended with the seizure of Damascus at the end of September and the armistice with Turkey in October. It was against this background of military success that The Kia Ora Coo-ee was published; the prevailing optimism, verging on euphoria after September 1918, was evident in the spirit of the articles selected by the editorial committee.
Although it was always recognized by the editors that some soldiers would send the magazine home, "to present to those loved ones far away a reflection, however strange, of the conditions and strange surroundings in which their sons live", the attractiveness of The Kia Ora Coo-ee as a souvenir of the war zone was still something of a surprise. Perhaps it had something to do with the conviction of the troops in Egypt that they were largely a forgotten army ignored by the press which tended to concentrate on the war in Europe. This feeling certainly lay behind the self-imposed nickname "The Lost Horse", and was clearly present in the ironic account "The Return of the First Division" in the initial issue, and the equally ironic comment by "Twenty Two" (George Sanders) in the second. In any event, after three issues the chairman of the management committee, Lieut. Col. D. Fulton, recorded the committee's pleasure that "in the great majority of cases" subscribers were sending their copies home. To encourage this even further, the committee made arrangements for the magazine to be remitted directly overseas, and for soldiers to pay their subscriptions through the acquittance roll and direct deduction from their paybooks.
The wider audience at home also had an effect on editorial policy and prompted the acknowledgement that in earlier issues, when the intention was to cater chiefly for the troops, "one or two contributions not quite suitable for the Home readers of all classes were published". In the second series of the magazine, from July to December 1918, there were many more articles dealing with the work of particular units (the Cameliers, Signallers, Flying Corps, Field Ambulance etc.) and a great many more on historical, archaeological and Biblical aspects of the Near East than in the first series. The proportion of humorous verse and prose remained much the same, but there was a noticeable reduction in the ironic and grumbling items of the first series.
The "Answers to Correspondents" and the later "Candid Comments" columns, in which the editors reviewed the contributions they had received, indicate that there was never any shortage of material from which to choose; each month they received sufficient to fill two issues of the magazine. The "Answers" columns, through which the editors used to pass on advice, criticism and encouragement, are interesting for the light they shed on the problems of producing a magazine which would maintain some sort of literary standard, avoid excessive sentimentality or obscenity, and pass the field censor. As these passages reveal, the editors did not stint themselves where unfavourable comment was required.
H.C: Do we think the Bulletin would accept your story? We don't . . . Leslie R: A humorous story is it? Glad you mention it on your contribution otherwise we would have taken it for an obituary notice . . . E.P.I: Poets are born; be born again . . . W.N: Read through your wad of poetry and our advice is write less and polish more . . . B.J: For the love page xiof Mike don't join the Southey-Tupper school . . . Lieut. K: She did, did she, we didn't think she was that sort of girl. We cannot print the yarn in this religious journal . . . H.A.C: Unsuitable . . . S.W.A. Ditto . . . A.S.C. and "Indian Two Pipper": Wouldn't pass censor . . . R.S.I.: Verse is too personal . . .
In addition the enthusiasm of the Australian troops for versifying meant that the editors were regularly swamped with doggerel epics. Regrettably only the few stanzas which were printed in the "Answers" column have survived from what must have been a very considerable body of material, for they would have given a valuable indication to the literary aspirations and attainments of many ordinary soldiers. When odd verses were printed they appeared either as an encouragement or as a dire warning to others. The latter purpose would have been in the editors' minds when they advised "Harry Quail" to get his epic "A Soldier's Life" made up into a book which could then be thrown at the enemy!
While the majority of contributions in The Kia Ora Coo-ee were imaginative verse and prose the magazine had a regular format of feature articles. The historical, archaeological and Biblical items which appeared in most issues provided a backcloth to the events of the war, and they presumably helped the readers in the war zone, and at home, to appreciate the antiquity of the land over which they were fighting. Other regular features were the nature notes on the flora and fauna of Egypt and Palestine written by Charles Barrett, which appeared in nearly every issue, and the geographical and sociological observations of the Near East and its people contributed by a variety of authors. Most notable among these contributors was Miss Mary McConaghy who had been working as a missionary in Palestine when the war broke out. Instead of returning to Britain, Miss McConaghy decided to stay in Egypt where she was initially active in establishing the British Soldiers' Cafe, then in nursing the Gallipoli evacuees, and finally working for the Australian Comforts Fund. For this display of zeal she was accorded a mention in despatches. Miss McConaghy drew on her experiences to write four articles for The Kia Ora Coo-ee—"Hymen in Nazareth", "Going to Jericho", "Among the Hill Tribes", and "Bethlehem and Its People"—which were both genuinely informative and notable for their sympathy with the people of the region. In this respect her articles are unusual for nowhere else, except in the historical pieces, are the native populations treated with the same degree of understanding and tolerance—they were more usually referred to in contemptuous or derogatory terms. The military features, as might be expected, covered a variety of topics. However, significant by their absence, until the last two numbers, were any articles dealing with the progress of the war or its notable battles. What references there were to specific actions were few and far between; even then they tended to come in the form of commemorative verse, so that the lengthy articles by H. S. Gullett, the AIF's official correspondent, stand out.
It should be stressed, however, that these articles were part of the ballast necessary to give The Kia Ora Coo-ee a more professional appearance as a magazine. The real purpose of the magazine was to entertain the troops, not to educate them, and it could not have succeeded without the humorous and sentimental verse and prose which made up more than half of each issue. In verse, single page xiiparagraphs and, occasionally, in well-constructed short stories, the contributors covered the entire spectrum of life in the desert. Many of those whose names appeared only once or twice did so as the authors of paragraphs printed in the "Anzacalities" pages; here jokes could be recalled, accidents and near misses laughed over, sorrows shared, and triumphs over petty authority trumpeted. What did it matter if some of the paragraphs occasionally strained credulity—after all, they were in the great Australian tradition of the "yarn":
"Booligal Bob": Who said we couldn't get smokes sneaked into the Clink? I was doing twenty-eight days for telling a certain sergeant that he had no father. The Clink was a wire netting enclosure somewhere on the Canal. My cobber heard that I was without smokes, and immediately got to work. He approached the Clink from the rear, yarded up half-a-dozen of those beetles that Pharaoh's missus used to call sacred scarabs, squatted himself outside the wire, and pretended to be reading a book. After a while, he digs a straight line under the wire, fastens a smoke to one of the beetles, and puts him in the furrow. The insect marches straight ahead, and I got the cigarette. Others followed, and when one of the scarabs showed signs of going on strike, another one was detailed to do the job.
Certain subjects held a recurrent interest for the soldier-authors and, presumably, their readers. The Australians and New Zealanders were predominantly troops from the mounted divisions, and their concern for, and dependence upon, the animals which provided their mobility was reflected in both verse and prose. Horses were generally written about in a serious or sentimental vein, and this clearly betrayed both a prejudice in favour of the horse and a recognition that the animals used in the desert performed most remarkably. A fully equipped trooper carrying rations for his horse and himself might weigh anything between seventeen and twenty stone (119 kg to 140 kg), and yet on the famous dash to Damascus the horses, with limited food and rest, covered not less than forty miles a day for ten days on end. The reliance of a trooper on his steed, and the sentimental bonds which this created, can be seen in H. Spence's "Pal O'Mine", the story of a horse killed in the charge at Beersheba, and even more poignantly in "Mulga" which tells of the death of another charger killed in the advance on Damascus. It is not surprising that for many Light Horsemen the worst part of the whole war was leaving their horses behind when it ended, and many shirked the destruction parties which shot and skinned the trusty mounts rather than leave them to the tender mercies of the local population.
A great many of the soldiers who served in the Near East succumbed to bouts of dysentery, malaria and other fevers, and at least as many men were hospitalized by these complaints as by war wounds. As a result it was not surprising that life in the military hospital was a theme which surfaced fairly regularly in verse, prose and cartoon. The horrors of anti-malarial injections and the rigours of hospital diets were easy to laugh about, and any soldier who had worn hospital "blues" would have immediately recognized the "Sister-With-The-Bedmaking-Mania" and the "Night-Sister-Who-Must-See-That-You're-Asleep" as portrayed by "Tralas".
The humorous short stories which were an important part of every issue covered every imaginable topic, and tell us a great deal about what the soldiers found amusing. The discomforts and dangers of service life were usually dealt page xiiiwith in a way which stressed the idiotic and farcical elements of the war. For example, the gruesome humour of "Lost-A-Leg" by "Larrie" tells how repatriation was achieved at the expense of that limb, pieces of which were left at different places in the Near East as a result of a wound and subsequent infection. The permanent hostility which existed between the troops and the army cooks was the inspiration for a number of stories, most notably that by A. B. ("Banjo") Paterson in the October issue. The outmanoeuvring of dim-witted authority was evidently something that most Anzacs relished, and there are frequent illustrations of a superior outwitted or an advantage cunningly taken which suggest that their contempt for authority went far beyond a mere reluctance to salute. "Spirits from the Desert" by "Jerboa" shows how by a combination of bluff, daring and a reliance on the readiness of the "Tommy" to obey an order, three Light Horsemen managed to steal a case of whisky which was intended for the Christmas celebrations in a British officers' mess.
The Quantity of verse published in the magazine is an indication that the simple, regular and rhythmical rhymes of both the shorter poems and the epic ballads were well appreciated by the troops. The enthusiasm for this verse form was probably a reflection of the prevailing literary taste of the countrymen who made up the bulk of the mounted divisions. Many soldiers who had grown up in the bush in the early years of this century would have responded to the verse form made popular by the balladists, and many tried to write lyrical verse, succeeding only in producing doggerel. The verse that was published was lyrical and simple; it played directly upon the emotion and experience of the reader. Although it is unsophisticated, it is an important element in Australia's war literature for it has an immediacy which reflects the authors' involvement with the events they describe. Objectivity and detachment are noticeably absent from the verse in The Kia Ora Coo-ee, and it has none of the introspective and intellectual dualities found in the work of other soldier-poets like Leon Gellert and Frederic Manning. Humorous and sentimental for the most part, the shorter verses deal with subjects which might have raised a smile or a sigh from a weary trooper.
The editors were fortunate to have the artistic talents of David Barker, Otho Hewett, G. W. Lambert and others to illustrate the magazine. Barker was the most important single artist providing covers, marginal illustrations and many cartoons based on ideas sent in by the troops. Some of Barker's best illustrations, of the Light Horseman and the Hospital "Blues", later found a place in The Palestine Book, so that together with his work on The Anzac Book he contributed to the two most famous compilations of the war. Hewett's ability had been noted by General Antill while he was serving on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Antill secured his transfer to the Anzac Divisional HQ as a panoramic artist, and he continued in this capacity until the end of the war, sketching every battlefield to Jericho for the official war record. G. W. Lambert, the noted artist, was in the Middle East to make some preliminary sketches for the commemorative paintings which the Commonwealth and State governments had commissioned, and while he was in Egypt he drew a notable cover for the June issue.
Very few of the forty-seven major contributors to the magazine achieved any kind of literary fame as a result of their wartime writings. Captain Oliver page xivHogue ("Trooper Bluegum") who had enlisted as a trooper in the original Sixth Light Horse, and had spent five months on Gallipoli, found ready acceptance for his collections of stories and reminiscences, Love Letters of An Anzac (1916) and Trooper Bluegum at the Dardanelles (1917), which were elaborations of his personal experiences. After the Gallipoli evacuation Hogue served in Sinai and Palestine but still found time to produce a collection of verses, Homesick Anzac (1918), which was sold to aid the Australian Red Cross Committee. His two years with the Imperial Camel Corps provided the material for The Cameliers (1919). Hogue's work in The Kia Ora Coo-ee is not particularly distinguished, although his simple colloquial style is suited to the subjects he selects: thus his amusing account of a "ring-in" in a camel race, "What's in a Name", and his ironic comparison of the war in Sinai with that in France, "Lucky Tim", are effective narratives but little more.
Edwin Gerard ("Gerardy") was a more prolific contributor to The Kia Ora Coo-ee than Hogue, for in addition to the verse which appeared under his pen name he also wrote topical items under a variety of other names. He was also a more talented poet. A journalist before the war, Gerard had some of his early war verse accepted by The Bulletin, and in 1918 a collection of his poems was published as The Road to Palestine and Other Verses: a revised and expanded edition was published in 1919 as Australian Light Horse Ballads and Rhymes. Gerard was the only regular contributor who attempted epic ballads with any degree of success; his skill lay in his ability to convey the narrative of an event with that "firm clear imagery and swift rhythmical movement which so admirably suit his subject matter of mounted warfare in the deserts, plains and hills of the Middle East" (J. T. Laid, Other Banners, 1971).
None of the magazine's other writers established a literary reputation as a result of their writing about the war. Alexander Vennard ("Frank Reid" and "Bill Bowyang") was the most energetic contributor, yet after the war his only publications were a children's book, a collection of bush recitations, and The Fighting Cameliers (1935). Charles Barrett wrote nothing about the war itself beyond his magazine editorials. He had written two books about the Australian bush before the war, and in The Kia Ora Coo-ee his principal contribution was the series of articles he wrote on the flora and fauna of Egypt and Palestine. A literary critic with The Melbourne Herald before and after the war, he later wrote several volumes of criticism, but the majority of his sixty or so books were about Australia's landscape and wildlife.
A. B. ("Banjo") Paterson was the only contributor with an established literary reputation; indeed when the war broke out he was probably the best-known and most popular writer in Australia. While he was serving in Egypt as an officer in the Remount Service he wrote three poems and three short stories which were published in The Kia Ora Coo-ee. They were apparently then forgotten for they have not appeared subsequently in any collection of his work. For a long time it was thought that Happy Dispatches (1935), a recollection of incidents from both the Boer and the Great War, was his only literary offering from the 1914-18 period. Literary historians and biographers of Paterson failed to discover these items because they did not think to examine the soldiers' journals from Egypt where page xvhe served for nearly three and a half years. Literary discoveries of this sort are rare indeed, and the significance of these items in the overall context of Paterson's work will not be determined until the weight of scholarly criticism is brought to bear. But they clearly cannot be ignored in any future assessment of his achievement.
It is worth noting that the magazine was able to attract a writer of Paterson's eminence as a contributor, and that in this facsimile edition these important pieces of Patersonia are seen for the first time since they appeared in 1918.
"The Army Mules" is without doubt the most noteworthy of the pieces he wrote for the magazine, and it must now come to be reckoned with his finest ballads: it is vintage Paterson and has that simplicity and mastery of phrase and rhythm which characterizes his later work. The humour and irony in the ballad never dominates the eloquent tribute to the men of the Remount Service, who broke and conditioned thousands of horses and mules at the Moascar and Heliopolis depots for issue as chargers, draught and pack animals. Paterson, who is always at his best when writing about horses and horsemen, pays tribute to the roughriders of his unit, bushmen he admired and understood, who risked their necks many times daily to prepare the animals on which the war in the Middle East depended. His other poems, "Moving On", a lament for lost friends, and "Swinging The Lead", a portrait of a malingerer, are accomplished verse but they do not match the force and vigour of the ballad. They do, however, bear comparison with much of his shorter verse.
The Great War was an episode of immense significance for the young Australian nation. The sacrifice in human terms was enormous; over sixty thousand young men died and another one hundred and fifty thousand were wounded, and this represented a higher percentage of casualties than even Britain's. Furthermore, the terrible experience did much to convince Australians that they did not have quite as much to learn from the old world as perhaps they had supposed. The war, and particularly the Gallipoli misadventure, also helped to shape the Australians' image of themselves as the independent, resourceful and hardy inheritors of the pioneer tradition. The inappropriateness of this image for most of the AIF, who came from urban and suburban backgrounds, has often been stressed. However, for the men of the Light Horse it was altogether more valid. The Light Horse "was essentially a force of countrymen", and in this magazine, which was directed primarily at the mounted divisions of Australia and New Zealand, all the legendary virtues and values of the bushman find a place. H. S. Gullett, in his volume of the official war history, has a portrait of the Light Horseman which in the absence of other evidence seems to be an exaggerated lionization of the Australian countryman; the significance of this magazine is that it clearly shows a self-image which lends some credence to the stereotype he created.
Apart from any historical considerations, readers will find in The Kia Ora Coo-ee much to enjoy and to reflect upon. Cicero once observed that "not to know what took place before you were born is to remain forever a child". The Great War was a traumatic occurrence in Australia's youth; we would do well to remember its lessons.