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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Wail of A Woodchopper

Wail of A Woodchopper.

In pre-war days I considered that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword. Probably this was prejudice on my part, as the hardest, nay the only, work I ever had to do was to push a pen along. I had a couple of tries to pick up the sword before I was eventually branded " O.K." by an M.O. and sent along in due course to help the boys over here. I haven't picked up a sword yet, but I haven't got the "pip" on that account.

My first job on joining my unit, somewhere near the Sinai Palestine boundary, was offsider to the cook. I was asked if I could wield an axe, I said I had used one, which, while being literally true, proved to be my undoing. I thought at first I was on a good wicket; then I was shown the wood I had to chop. It was nasty, oozy, green-looking stuff, had been living and growing (mostly underground) for many years, and was gnarled and knotty. An axe was thrust into my hands, and I was ordered to chop wood. I was cautioned to be very careful of the axe-handle, these articles being scarce thereabouts. Now, my axe-handle was split before I took it over, but with careful nursing on my part, I managed to chop enough wood to keep the home fires burning all that day. I was a prime favourite with the cook that evening.

On the morrow, having less wood lo pick and choose from, I soon struck an extra tough, rubber like piece, when my axe-handle parted company with the head and splintered into small fragments. I approached the Q M. Sergeant, and after some wordy warfare, in which I hardly held my own, I eventually retired as gracefully as I could, with a new handle. After breakfast I started work again. The axe-handle was as new and as raw to its work as were my hands to their unaccustomed job. Anvway, that handle went the way of the other almost at the first blow. The cook broke in on my musing and rather rudely woke me out of my contemplative silence. I was really too overcome for words— he did all the talking. A little later the Q M. added his quota of talk! Ultimately I got another, the very last axe-handle we had in the unit.

Facing my heap of trouble, I turned it all over and upside down, trying to discover the best bit of wood in it; but there wasn't any best, it was all worse and worse. I desperately yanked out one bit and swung my axe on high, helped it down again with a mighty swish in what I reckoned was the approved manner, when "snap," like a revolver shot, went the latest and last axe-handle—it was made of pithy, diseased wood, and had suffered all its life from dry rot.

My third interview with the cook and the Q.M., took place immediately; their remarks are unprintable. Personally, I didn't say anything; I hadn't a chance. I wished, however, that the flying axe-head in its rebound off the india-rubber wood had broken my neck. The axe-head was found next day, some thirty yards north of the scene of action, deeply buried in the sand. As it was, I spent the rest of that eventful day lookine for boxes and crates and splitting them up for firewood with a Gyppo weapon, which, being nearly all iron, was practicaliy unbreakable.

After tea I left our lines and spent nearly all that night looking for axe-handles. I saw one early in the evening, but I must have stood looking at it so longingly and lovingly that I gave the show away; for, just as I moved up nearer to it, I was told, by somebody I didn't see, to."imshi". Next morning I was the best-known member of our unit, and had visions of a lynching party, with myself playing a prominent part. The Q.M. eventually saved my life in the nick of time by producing a pick-handle. It seemed to answer the purpose. I say "seemed", because I didn't get another job on the wood-heap. I'm still of the opinion that my true weapon is the pen, though I'd like to get the "pip" and have a sword.