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Humour in the Trenches 

  • From Mena Camp Egypt, 1915
    • Sentry: Halt. Who goes there?
      • Voice: Demak Patel, 614, Corporal, Ceylon Rifles
        • Sentry: Pass friend.
    • Sentry: Halt. Who goes there?
      • Voice: Johnson, Otago Mounted Rifles, New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
        • Sentry: Pass friend.
    • Sentry: Halt. Who goes there?
      • Voice: What the F*** has it got to do with you?
        • Sentry: Pass, Australian.

The world was a much less sophisticated place in 1914/18. Nowhere is this more evident than in the humour of the day. The stories below are extracted from a book called 'Digger Yarns, The Cream of the Aussieosities'. The first three have a personal feeling for me. Nothing here is "GREAT HUMOUR" but is is a good insight to the period.


Darky was the best bomber in the Battalion.

His direction and judgment in throwing was almost uncanny. On one occasion when we were out of the line, Darky and the rest of the bombers' were sent back to St Omer to take a special course of instruction at a Bombing School.

On our arrival we learnt that Darky's prowess as a bomb-thrower had already preceded him. Our recognition of Darky's skill greatly annoyed our instructor, a Tommy Warrant Officer, who regarded himself as the greatest bombing authority in the British Army. Darky's methods, although eminently successful, were unorthodox.

On the last day of the school, the instructor gave us a comprehensive lecture on bombs and  how  to use them

"Now," he finished up, "if there is any question anybody would like to ask go right ahead."

"Please, sir," said Darky, "what sort of a noise does a bomb make when it explodes?" ("And you, too,") added Darky under his breath.


Darky was up for being drunk and reconditioning a military policeman.

Colonel Mac Dour was a man of few words. "Anything to say?" he, asked, after hearing the evidence.

"No sir," said Darky, scowling and unrepentant.

"Dealt with by me?"

"Yes Sir"

"Fourteen Days Number 2 Punishment"!

As prisoner and escort moved off, Darky looked back over his shoulder.

"Merci!" he remarked in his best French.

"Halt! about turn" roared Mac Dour, and when the manoeuvre had been accomplished:

"Twenty-eight days Number 2. Comprez?"'

Darky Harris was an old soldier who had been there from the start. He had been promoted several times for good war work and demoted just as often for "getting on the scoot". Darky liked a drink you see. This day he's up in front of a brand new Platoon  Commander just arrived from Aus. His Shininess says, "I understand that this is not the first time you've been in trouble, Sergeant". Darky looks him over s-l-o-w-l-y. and drawls, "No sir, the first time I was breached it was for having a dirty bow and arrow".
note...I am unsure whether all or even any of the stories above are about my Dad, C F W Harris, MM. I will simply say that Chas was an 'original' member of the Division, was suspicious of authority, especially the unearned type, liked a drink, was a Sergeant, had been promoted and demoted on several occasions, was quite dark complexioned, was called Darky as a result and was in the bombing platoon. You may draw your own conclusions.

A Gendarme had suspicions that the house of a certain Madame in the Army area contained illegal Army stores, so he decided to investigate. A search of the house brought to light a number of Army blankets, tunics and other military articles. He placed them in a heap outside the house, and then went to secure a cart for removal. When he returned, he found a baby sitting on top of the heap. He said the French equivalent for "What's this about?"  "Oh?' exclaimed Madame feelingly, "the things you collected are souvenirs from the soldiers who visited my place, and SO IS THE BABY. You can't take only the useful things." The Gendarme countermanded the order for the cart.


We were on the march to a new sector with full packs up; and as usual, for one of the brief spells the boys simply sprawled on the ground leaning their backs against the packs, without troubling to unfasten their equipment. Whilst they were taking their ease in this fashion, a staff car full of red tabbed Tommy officers came up and stopped.

"Hey, my man!" said one of them, to the nearest Digger, "do you know where Third Division  AIF headquarters is?"

The sprawling Digger remained sprawled, but jerked his arm in the direction from which the car had come.

"You passed it!" he said, it's by the cross roads about a mile back."

The failure of the Digger to spring to his feet and salute shocked the T.O. "What's the matter with your legs, my man?" he demanded, sharply.

The Digger was unperturbed. "What's the matter with your eyes," he retorted, "that you didn't see Third Divvy HQ?


Corporal Jones had spent most of his life in the army, and at last, in disgust, on leaving, wrote to his Colonel as follows. "Sir. After what I have gone through, tell the army to go to blazes."

The following day he received a reply from the Colonel which read as follows:

"Sir. Any suggestions or inquiries as to the movements of troops must be entered in the proper manner on Army Form 0732KXY, a copy of which am enclosing for your use".


Location; the interior of an Estaminet in France. A Yank was boring a mob of Aussies to tears with details of his exploits as a lion tamer in America.

I used to get into the gol-durned cage and walk up to the most savage lion, wrench his gol-durned jaws apart, and put my gol-durned head right in his gol-durned mouth; but he didn't dare bite me. I was the Lion Tamer!'

The Aussies' exchanged glances.

"Another thing I did," persisted the Yank, "was to catch hold of his gol-durned tail and twist it till the gol-durned bones scrunched and he roared with agony; but he didn't dare to bite me. I was some gol-durned LION TAMER".

"Well, Yank" said Bluey, "we wouldn't call you a lion tamer out in old Aussie."

"No?' said Yank.

"No," answered Bluey in a sad, dreamy voice.  "'We'd call you a bloody liar."


The Diggers had neat little ways of their own for dealing with the thieving Gyppo that soon taught him to take a long deep think before pulling any monkey tricks. I one day saw a Digger give one Gyppo a large dose of anti-thieving medicine. The Digger had bargained to purchase a small fish from a discoloured Nile fisherman for seven piastres. He handed him a twenty-piastre piece. As soon as the Gyppo got the money in his hand, he pushed his boat off and pulled with great enthusiasm for the centre of the stream "Damned if I'll let the bastard beat me!" roared the Dig and galloping his horse down the bank, took to the water and made for the slow and cumbersome fishing-boat. He got alongside the boat, grabbed a handful of the Gyppo, and yanked him across the saddle. Then he took all the Gyppo's money, threw him into the river and overturned the boat. That's how the Gyppo got to know that it didn't pay to rob the Digger.

The Whale Oil    (Trench Feet Treatment)

"Put your tootsies up!" ordered the Stretcher-Bearer. Bill sat down on a heap of sandbags and thrust out his feet towards the bath formed of a petrol tin with the side cut out. One Stretcher-Bearer washed them in warm water, another dried them on an old singlet, and a third poured whale oil on, and then rubbed them as if his life depended on the force put into his rubs.

A few shells hissed and wailed over the sunken road and lobbed in the snow behind them; carrying and digging parties were being detailed by the CSM for the night's job, but the Stretcher Bearers continued washing, drying and rubbing one pair of feet after another.

"Where's Pte. Johnson T queried the CSM. "Getting his feet oiled," replied the Corporal.

From 4 p.m. until it was dark enough for the working parties to set out, the Stretcher-Bearers were having all sorts and conditions of feet shoved towards them.

"My feet haven't been so clean since my mother played 'Piggies' with my toes," remarked "Old Dad" Smith as the eighteen year old Bearer poured oil on them.

"You'll be giving a man a 'Blighty, with those toenails," grumbled the Washer to another. "And a septic one, too," added the Drier.

"I'll cut em after they get a bit softer with this Whale oil," un-offendedly replied the owner of the uncut nails.

While, the whale oiling went on cheerfully, the fourth Bearer was kept busy carrying lumps of ice from shell-holes to the various assortment of pots he had on the fire, for the one small bath would not serve more than six pairs of feet.

The pulling on of the socks, after the feet had been saturated in oil, was a matter of difficulty and the feeling when the socks were first on made each one squirm. It was most uncomfortable to have whale oil, thick, smelly and sticky-oozing between the toes and gripping the socks tight against at the feet. No one liked it, most detested it, all bore it grumblingly but as cheerfully as possible. Even the clean socks to be issued were generally greasy, for the Army washing didn't affect the previous oiling of them.

Each man was issued with a tin of the horrible stuff, and so keen were all the heads on whale oiling and whale-oiled feet, that it was a serious offence for one to lose his tin, of oil. It was a daily duty for each platoon officer to send in a certificate: "I have to-day personally examined the feet of all men in my platoon, seen them whale-oiled, and their socks changed."

A whole company might become battle casualties without a question, but if a man got Trench 'Feet, there were inquiries from the man himself up to the General, and dozens of sheets of written explanations in between. The platoon officer it was that generally come in for the "strafing," for he would often have to take it for granted that a man whose feet, for various reasons, he could not inspect, was all right, and it was generally this man that got Trench Feet. Whale oil was certainly good for our boots, for it remained in them to ooze out later on when summer came along. It wasn't so good for other things There was whale oil in our food and on our tunics; many had sat down where a tin of it had been oozing; it was on our puttees and our blankets, waiting everywhere for winter to depart and the dust of summer roads to come to be caught by it.

It may have prevented Trench Feet, but it softened our feet to the point of extreme tenderness. Nobody liked it, nobody said a good-word about it except those who never used it on themselves. Everybody grumbled at it in some way or another. The wet weather of the latter part of 1917 and the winter of '17-18 brought a change. The whale oil disappeared; being used, we were told for margarine and axle-grease, and we had our feet trained with a special soft soap, washed in warm water and then powdered with talc powder. The process was pretty much the same. One Stretcher-Bearer would soap and wash them and the second would dry and the third would rub and powder them

Nicely powered feet every day. It was indeed comfortable. No one grumbled and no one got Trench Feet.

During the winter of 1918 on our long march towards Germany, the commissariat was badly dis-arranged, and we ran out of talc powder and the special soap. But our M.0. had a brain wave and we were all soon seated in two rows facing each other and rubbing each other's feet with Tommy Cooker. Tommy Cookers were tins of solidified methylated spirits given to the troops by "Comforts" to boil a mess tin of cocoa in the line. Imagine, basting your feet with lard. That's what it felt like at first; but the after-effects were more comfortable. It was laughable to see how quickly a man moved when a cigarette smoker dropped his lighted match on to a foot heaped up with the contents of a Tommy Cooker.

During this period one platoon officer wrote his daily certificate as follows: -"I have personally inspected all the feet in my platoon and seen them Tommy-Cookered. Everything Jacques."


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