The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
With a Concert Party
With a Concert Party.
We were at rehearsal. We were often at rehearsal in those days. We were a stationary camp concert party, "The Bing-Bangs" by name But we didn't like that stationary business. We had to put on a fresh show every week, and the contract savoured far too distinctly of hard, unceasing labor. One Sunday morn, when we were strenuously practising "At the Devil's Ball", our director—a W.O.—breezed in, and we came to attention. But when he told our mute assemblage that the Y.M.C.A. had arranged a week's season in Cairo, our joy was unrestrained.
That Mecca of our hope and aspirations, that whirlpool of gaiety which but yesterday had been miraged in the dim and distant future—Cairo! We closed the meeting with an impromptu concerted number, "Really, Would You Believe It?"
Sixty hours later we were in Cairo, comfortably installed at the Anzac Hostel. That first night was a free one. So was the time we had. But we were much more serious the next morning. On the stage at the Esbekieh Girdens we realised, for the first time, that we had come to Cairo primarily to amuse our audiences. Previously we had only played at Y.M.C.A. huts, and generally to amusement-starved soldiers. But here we were in a public theatre, about to face an audience, perhaps satiated with entertainment, probably only lackadaisically appreciative, and certainly caustically critical. Facing that big, sunlit auditorium, we fancied we were marionettes, not of the stage, but of Fate. Stage-fright at 10 a.m. told us we were going to fail. And so the day dragged on. We met at the theatre at 5.30. "Now, boys," said our chief, "the eyes of Cairo are on us to-night. Australia will be there, I know." It was an appeal that touched the right chord.
Eager, earnest, and electrified bv a new kind of grease-paint, taken internally to put colour in our cheeks, we were ready at 7 o'clock, the appointed starting-time. But for 20 weary minutes the band in the adjacent gardens made merry in its own way, while we, perforce, sat behind the protecting curtain. We half wished the darned thing would play all night.
That wait was a severe test Therefore we internally colored our cheeks again. And then ...! The audience was forgotten till, at the end of the first concerted number following on the opening chorus, an undeniable encore brought us back. The worst was over. From then on we had, so we were told everywhere, a successful season. So much for the stage.
Off the stage we were a happy crowd of Australian youngsters, with an average age of 22. Cairo was before us and we took, of its best.
On the station platform a telegram bade us go on straight to Suez, where were congregated some two thousand 1914 boys on the way home. So we were to amuse them at night! Um! We hoped for the best. There was no accommodation and no stage. But those boys gave us a rousing welcome and we were soon quite at ease.
Home again—only to receive orders for an extended trip up the line. Extensive preparations were made and, all eagerness, we got to Kantara. Between shows there we waited for movement orders, and finally got them for Ludd. It's great fun travelling as a concert party in the troop train "up the line". The sumptuously-furnished truck, laden with your gear, which topples over every time there's a bump and leaves enough room for you to restby placingyour feet on the other fellows' chests, is the very place for a joy-ride! We got out of the truck at Ludd, declaring, "The worst's over". Yes! The next morning there came a telegram: "Return at once." We sent a reply, begging for mercy; and the next day we got an answer which said, in effect, "This correspondence must now cease. Come!" We came.