South Australians at War
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

Commemoration and Creative Responses : Literature : On the homefront

One of South Australia's earliest published poets, Adam Lindsay Gordon, drew on classical tales of warriors as inspiration for poems, such as The Roll of the Kettledrum, which opens with the lines,

ONE line of swart profiles and bearded lips dressing,
One ridge of bright helmets, one crest of fair plumes,
One streak of blue sword-blades all bared for the fleshing,
One row of red nostrils that scent battle-fumes.

Spreading before us their cavalry lay,
Squadron on squadron, troop upon troop;
We were so few, and so many were they-
Eagles wait calmly the sparrow-hawk's stoop

The South Australian poet Ellie Wemyss, combined a plea to support the 'mother country' with an appeal to a sense of pride in Australia as an emerging nation in her poem Advance Australia. Marking the commitment of South Australian troops to the South African War, she wrote,

Go!-prove that you also are brave;
That our boys have the spirit of Britons,

And are loyal to their motherland,
To their Queen, and the old flag of Britain

A collection of Ellie Wemyss' patriotic poems inspired by the First World War, Songs of cheer, included tributes to the ANZACs, 'Men who saved Australia/Men who ne'er will fail her', mothers, 'Mothers of Men! You have lived for this,/To give unto God your dearest bliss' and the Red Cross, 'Rally round the Red Cross! See our women arise!/Great love in their hearts and a light in their eyes.'

The Reverend Herbert Edwards attempted to use humour to deliver similar patriotic messages in his poem Australia's answer to Kaiser Bill: Dedicated to Australian Loyalists,

Kaiser Bill! Kaiser Bill! You must be very ill
Or you never could think we would join you
What! Give up our honour and fight on your side!
We could never make such a terrible slide.

Published in 1916, this was intended to boost the dwindling enlistment numbers.

Herbert Edwards' poetry is no longer read. By contrast, the humorous poetry of CJ Dennis is still enjoyed and quoted. In Ginger Mick, CJ Dennis tells the story of a 'lovable rogue' who at first rejects the call to fight the Kaiser, 'I'm not keen to fight so toffs can dine/on pickled olives... Blarst the flaming war', but has a change of heart,

But they took 'im on an' they shipped 'im overseas
Wiv a crowd uv blokes 'e never met before

'E rowed wiv 'em, an' scrapped wiv 'em, 'an done some tall C.B.s
An 'e lobbed wiv 'em on Egyp's sandy shore
Then Pride o' Race lay 'olt on 'im, and Mick shoves out his chest
To find 'imself Australian an' blood brothers wiv the rest.

A comparison of facts : BB rheumatic pills
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Advance Australia [poem]
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Letter and poem entitled 'Why?'
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Songs of cheer
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The 'ANZACs' [poem]
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The cry for recruits
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Trench Comforts Song : [a song] / words by Arthur Nicho
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