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Thursday, 14 August 2014
Special Collections Fossickings 40: Laughter in a time of war: Aussie magazine 2
The Australian soldier “seemed to take the attitude that the War was being held in order to enable him to make jokes about it …. The Digger put laughter into everything. Even when the circumstances made things too painful for him to laugh himself, he passed laughter-stuff to his cobbers.” So wrote Lt. Phillip Harris the creator and editor of “Aussie”, the wartime magazine which featured in our previous Fossickings post. This week we take a closer look at the content of what was later dubbed “The Cheerful Monthly.”
Regular features included poetry – humorous, sentimental or heartfelt – cartoons, short sketches, and a collection of jokes and anecdotes under the heading “Aussiosities”, a pun on the “Curiosities” columns which often appeared in magazines of the day. Some of the cleverest touches were mock advertisements, often displaying a darker humour: “Bluffem shock absorbers”, for example, claimed to cure the terrors of shell-shock. The magazine’s humour was often laced with irony or showed a wry recognition of how little those at home understood of the realities of war. Upper ranks and army regulations were often treated irreverently but not subversively, perhaps allowing a safety valve for petty frustrations and annoyances or a more general discontent. A more serious aspect of the war appears in sketches like the one of a ruined church in Villers Bretonneux. The artist, Pt. Frank Molony, went on to become an architect.
With most contributions coming from the troops themselves “Aussie” became a treasure trove of the soldiers’ slang, often enriched by their habit of forming new words or phrases from the French terms they had picked up, and often misheard, at the Front. Thus “napoo” meaning “over” or “finished” was a corruption of “Il n’y a pas de plus” and a German was re-named an “alleyman” from the French “Allemand”. The magazine’s frequent use of the term “digger” probably helped to cement its place in our language. More significantly, though perhaps unconsciously, one analysis suggests that this magazine was central to developing the cultural concept of the digger and what it meant to be one.
Throughout it all, the craggy-faced soldier stood proudly to attention on the cover of each issue – with one exception. On the “Xmas number” of December 1918 the now familiar figure was shown tossing his slouch hat in the air with the jubilant words “Next Year at Home!”