Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Sydney B. Young war diary, 25 September 1917-6 February 1918
MLMSS 985/Item 5

[Transcriber’s note:

p2. Perham Camp, Wiltshire
p6. 25 Sept. 1917 Departs for France - Le Havre
p10. 6 Oct. To Marbecque
p13 10 Oct. To Ypres
p15 11 Oct. Passchendaele II action. Reinstated in band
p22 15 Oct. Hell Fire Corner
p23 Rest camp
p27 Ledringhem
p34 9 Nov. Returned to line via Vieux Berquin
p35 Rossignol camp near Nieppe
p42 Back with battalion (in band)
p53 3 Jan 1918 Returned to Merris rest camp
p57 31 Jan. "Canteen Corner" camp near Steenwerck
p57 5 Feb. To England on leave.
p58 – 66 Various verses etc.]

[See end of diary for place name corrections]

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No 5 Diary
1433 S.B.Young.
36th Batt Band
5th Avenue
From 25th Sep.

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25th Sep. We are at Perham Downs in the overseas draft ‘camp’. The food is good but the training is very hard and the discipline strict. The camp is divided up into 4 divisions which are progressive being soft, medium, hard & draft. There is a bull-

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ring here where the usual training in Musketry, bombing. Bayonet fighting Rapid wiring etc. is carried out. The hours are from 6.30 am to 4.30 p.m. with usual breaks for meals and two night stunts a week. P.J. for early morning. After breakfast each morning there is a brigade par-

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ade and we do a few rifle exercises collectively and finish up with what is called the "mad mile", but called by the authorities "the instructional march". It consists of a march round in diverse ways, of the brigade. 2 batt’ns to the right & 2 to the left, in column of route wheeling & interlacing, forming

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a very picturesque pattern on the hillside. The Depot & bugle bands play in turn during the march. The commandant of the camp is Major Steele, better known as "the Mad Major", being the originator of the mad mile & being besides a very erratic officer, but good to the men Sep 25th At midday

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we left Perham for overseas, We arrived at Southampton at 4 p.m. and boarded the "Bonus Queen" which left at 8 p.m. arriving at Le Havre at 5 a.m. on the

26th We then marched to the Aus Base which is about 7 miles distant & allotted to the 3rd ADBD.

30th Still at Le Havre and having a good time. There is a

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bull ring here also. I could write a lot of the morals of this place where immorality seems to be regarded as a virtue than a vice suffice is to say that there is a society of ladies at the disposal of soldiers (W.a.a.C) who may obtain them on the production of pay book, and their signature.

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1 is allowed per month on each side and no charge is made. 196 of the society were put out of action in a month. This in addition to licensed & unlicensed houses.

2nd Went into Le Havre and had a tres bon time We see a lot of the French dirigibles which are nearly as big as Zeps which often come

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sailing over the camp.

3rd Have finished bull-ring and are classed out & will very likely go to-morrow.

5th Left 3rd A.D.B.D. for another taste of the front line at 9 am. Left Le H. 4 p.m. Weather perceptibly colder going across France, in horse trucks as before.

6th Detrained at Hazebrook marched

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to Morbecque camp. beaucoup rain slush mud etc. Did the usual gas rigmarole for a day or two on B.Beef & B. till things were organised a bit. There is a scarcity of canteens and places to get a feed. There is one feed shop in the town where you can get eggs at about 4 times the usual price if you have a few hours to spare.

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9th Wanted to go to a place and asked m’lle the way in all the French I knew, when I was finished she said "Where do you want to go" in as good English as I could have handed her. Somewhat encouraging Eh What. Spend a lot of time knocking tasteless pears off the pear trees that grow by the roadside & suffer inwardly accord-

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9th Left Morbecque camp and marched to Harzebrook where we entrained for the line at 4.30 p.m. Arrived at Poperinghe at 7.0 p.m. We were homeless and nobody seemed to know we existed, no guides to meet us, so we waited in the rain and cold for about 2 hours when officers somehow came to the conclusion that we

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could not stay there all night, found us billets in a convent.

10th In the morning we left at 8 a.m. for Ypres which is in Belgium about 10 kilos from Poperinghe. The aeroplanes are far bigger and faster than any I have previously seen, the main feature being the new British Triplane. Ypres is simply a mass of devasted Brick-work, ruins, ruins as far as the eye can see.

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Where there are no buildings there are huge shell craters. Duds are lying about everywhere, flying pings, 18 lbers, and to give an idea of the unlimited supply of shells there is a footpath made out of 6? shells. The long lines of motor transports which seem endless give one an idea of the vast supply system.

11th As soon as we got to the battalion we got in touch with the band

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master and straightway re-instated in the band. In the night we were housed in a dug-out made of boxes, but owing to being flooded out by the rains caused by the incessant shell fire we went down into a tent. Then they started to shell us and for about 4 or 5 hours shells landed round us from 2 Fritz naval guns 20 miles distant. These are 6? armour piercing

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and search the ground systematically for guns and dumps. 2 men were killed and 1 wounded out of the 50 that are left in camp. The boys went into the line and hopped over early this morning. We won’t hear much until they come back, but we know Mr Carmichael is wounded again. The barrages simply dwarf those of the Somme and are a continuous roll

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of drum fire while the whole front is lit up with the flashes as with electric light. Out in the line (which is only known as a blue line on maps for there are no trenches merely shell holes) men are lying about everywhere Fritzes, Scotties, Australians all either rotting or skeletons. Pill boxes lie uprooted, tanks, some crawling some casualties. Big

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dugouts with room enough to train a battalion of men, some even with electric light plant. There is an artificial tree made of steel with copper bark which is a german Canadian observation post and look-out. It is remarkably life-like.

13th One of our guns has put one of those sleep chasers out of action so last night we only had one troubling us. May they do ditto with

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of drum fire the other. In Ypres side by side lie the ruins of the famous Cloth Hall & Cathedral. We are camped about 200 yards from the famous Menin Rd along which the german prisoners are brought from the front line.

14th A fleet of Gothas came over this morning and there was a battle in the air which lasted half an hour. Our anti-Aircraft Guns was putting

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shells all round them but I think it is only the biggest fluke in the world for them to bring one down. Accompanying the gothas were several fighting planes, which were there to protect the Gothas while they did their observation and bomb-dropping.

15th In the night Fritz put numerous bombs round the camp also many shells to try and find the dumps.

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so far we have had no casualties in the band since I have come back, but 2 have been killed and several wounded in the battalion. The boys have been over the top in the direction of Passchendale ridge, advanced 3000 yds, but had to come back to the first objective owing to failures on the flanks. In the 36th 113 men & 4 officers 35th 85 men & 4 officers

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This is proportionate throughout the entire attack, so it gives an idea of the heavy casualties inflicted upon us, and which must be far less than Fritz’s, owing to the number of men Fritz had in the line.

15th Bombed and shelled again to-night. 4 killed & 6 wounded in adjoining lines. Saw one of our observation balloons brought down by a Fritz aeroplane. Our camp is well- named "Hell-Fire Corner"

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The men descended in parachute. It was a fine sight to see the balloon come down in flames.

16th Left at 3.45 p.m. and went back 3 miles the other side of Ypres and pitched tents in the dark. Saw one of our aero’s bring down a Fritz plane from a great height. One of the men was shot out of the plane and fell down and made a hole in the ground nearly

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as big as a shell hole. (Have not heard whether he was hurt) Rushed over to have a look but apparently the whole of the B.E.F. & A.I.F. have got in before us. It was a new type of plane and an effort was made to keep the crowd back but the crowd carted away the plane in portions a souvenirs. I have a piece of a plane the black is part of the distinguishing cross.

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17th Details have just reached us of Maj. Buchanan’s death. He was the most fearless and admired officer in the batt. He was hit by an explosive bullet and said to a 34th Serg. "Sergeant, give my pay book to Major Blacklaw" and then "Sergeant I’m done. Shoot me" "I cant" said the sergeant "All right Sergeant" he said and put a revolver bullet through his head.

18th Fritz has just bombed and shelled "Hell-

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fire corner, the camp we have just left, and the casualties were 200. What a lucky escape for us. Spent the afternoon in salvaging. Out of 685 men who went into the trenches 83 answered roll call and 3 out of 16 officers. The battalion’s rations were sent into the lines but they were all fed out of one co’s rations

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21st Left rest camp to go back to Leddingham, there to reorganise. It is a small scattered village 40 miles from Ypres. We went out in motor buses and were shelled going out. We passed through Poperinghe, Steenworde, Caselle (army h’q’rs) and got to Leddingham 10 p.m.

23rd billeted in barns of French peasants, and play a programme every afternoon. Mac cooks for us so are living well.

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24th As chat parades can be better described verbally than in writing, I leave that for the pleasure of amusing fastidious friends of the future. 25th A Runner’s lot is not always a happy one This is a page out of the life of one these unfortunates. ACT I TRAGEDY
Time – 2 a.m.
Scene – Dug-out of an erasable old major and an equally irr-

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itable captain
Enter runner with dispatch.
Disturbs major – a grunt, no more.
Tries again, ! ! ? * - Turns over on his side again.
Another shake.
Major jumps out of bed and with a few kicks, brushes, etc
assails runner from the room.

SCENE road.
excited runner &

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several of his mates
Describes Act I
"They cant do that" he said
"But they have" said one of his mates
"Have they" he said "But I tell you they cant"
"They did anyway" returned his mate
"I’ll see the sergeant" he said "They cant do that"
Exit Runner leaving mates laughing, muttering "They can’t do

[Page 31] 28th Mr Flynn, our bandmaster has been taken to hospital with a touch of trench fever & trench feet. I don’t think I mentioned that our billet is an ex-pigsty & our neighbours pigs.

Nov 4th In every French homestead is a square which is surrounded by the house, stables, barns etc and in this square is thrown, slush straw, manure and

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in fact everything that smells. Bruce Bairnsfather has rightly named this square a rectangular smell. even dead sheep etc. are flung into this & considering the back door opens out on to it and pigs roam off it into the house, it can hardly be called sanitary.

Nov 6th Perhaps a word about the New German gas is worth recording.

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It’s most "German" feature is that it caries syphilis germs, according to latest investigations. Contact with the gas causes large blisters, and at times even eats the flesh anywhere perspiration gathers. If the eyes are subjected to the gas, as when testing for gas, it is likely to cause temporary blindness, very much resembling

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sandy blight.

Nov 5th In these country villages where there has been a death, a cross is placed on the gatepost & at times on the street corner.

Nov 9th Left Ledinghem for the line. Were conveyed in motor wagons to within 17 Kilos of our destination and billeted in a fine house in Vieux Berquin. We passed through, Happe, &

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several other towns but it is advisable not to record names.

Nov 10th Rested at V.B. for the day.

Nov 12th Left V.B. at noon in motor waggons for the line and arrived at Rossignol Camp near Nieppe at 9 p.m.

Nov 13th The men went into the line at 5 p.m. The band remained out to do fatigue, guard & to practice.

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The sector is called La Toquet, and within 3 hours of taking over our scouts discovered a sunken bridge over the canal 3 feet under the water by which means the germans were able to capture N.Z. patrols, Tommy mail sergeants with mail etc for the last 3 months

19th Two of our birds had their sentence read out to-day, both were sentenced to be shot

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but both had their sentences commuted to 10 years P.S. A Cowles was sent away to do his time, while J.H. Bagnell was sent to the front line, his sentence being suspended.

21st The band went & played at Steenwurck at the 27th Batt Aus Art. Camp. Were transported in G.S.Waggons, our insides and seats suffering accordingly.

22nd The battalion came out of the line last

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night. There has only been 5 casualties this spell in one being fatal

23rd We gave a concert to the battalion first night out which was a great success.

24th British have made a 5 mile advance near Cambrai, led by the tanks whose motto was "England expects that every tank this day will do its damned-ist.

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28th We are still in our comfy huts in Rossignol camp near Nieppe and all round us is the flash and roar of the heavy guns. To the right of us is Armentieres, Houplines. In front La Toquet, Le Bizet, Plugsteert, and to our left Messines & Passchendale. This will give an idea of our position All round us the roar of the guns intermingle causing what is

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called drum-fire. The sky at times is lit up with a ruddy glow that is for all the world like an Australian sunset on a hot day. Our second concert last night was a great success.

Dec 1 Orders came out this morning to turn up our hats and put the badge in the side. We have been

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transferred to the first Army Corps.

1st Taken in a M.T. to Steenwerck to play at a vaudeville show by "Anzac Coves". A permanent pierrot troupe. Billeted in town and having a fine time.

6th Two German Balloons came over to day dropping pamphlets containing glowing & exagger-

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ated reports of German successes which did not in any way intimidate as was intended.

8th The Colonel has been singing out because of the band being away & has asked for us through Division with a result that we have packed up and return to Romarin to-day so are back with battn.

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11th A Fleet of 7 gothas came over dropping bombs. 4 small balloons were sent over which automatically releases pamphlets.

12th More gothas 10 this time. One got separated from the rest and made for Fritz’s line. One of our fighting planes darted out from the clouds & got over the Gotha

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and straightway a flame appeared on the gotha about the engine and in a short time down she came, the man tumbling down in front of the machine. Our plane looked like a small spec over the huge gotha. The remainder of the gothas went on a bomb-dropping expedition with a result of 14 horses

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killed, 1 man & 5 wounded. Played at football match between 36th & 9th M.Gs. result 3 – 3.

13th Saw one of our dumps go up & got marching orders for to-morrow.

14th Left Romarin for Jesus Farm, the 2nd Div. taking over from us. Have heard the the plane that brought

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down the Gotha on the 12th was a "Dolphin", a new British plane of which there is only one on this front. It has been officially stated that 9 out of 10 of the Gothas were brought down, 3 being accounted for by the Dolphin

16th Large fall of snow, and Cold weather generally. Rumor & the papers say that the Germans are

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massing to make a big advance on this front. And preparations have been made to meet it.

20th The Germans bombard heavily every night all the way from Armentiers to Passchendaele, but the expected advance has not taken place. We can see the 2 lines of observation balloons, ours and Fritz, and often

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Fritz puts over a shrapnel shell or two with the object of bringing down our balloons. Nearly every evening a squadron of our planes go on a bombing expedition over Fritz’s support camps.

21st The valves of our instruments are frozen every morning and we have to keep them warm or they will freeze again.

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25th Dec. Xmas. Issued with plum puddings cigarettes raisins etc. and with what we bought ourselves we had a fine time. A Concert all the afternoon.

26th Went to Panto. Dick Whittington & his cat at Steenwork by Anzac Coves. The roads are frozen hard and you are risking your neck walking on it. The ground is so hard

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it will turn a pick

1918 1st How did we spend New Year ? riotously. At 12 we banged tins and made all sorts of rows, played Auld lang syne Shook hands with each other and generally acted like kids. XMAS I don’t think I quite did justice to Xmas so will continue

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Having been provided with the aforementioned additions to our commissariat department, we hied ourselves to the the nearest refreshment bureau and there purchased several goblets of thirst quencher, and various viands. At dinner after having toasted everyone we could think of we finished by toasting our-

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selves, and – er – I fear we waxed excessively convivial. After dinner everybody was called upon to sing or do something equally silly and although there was very little music there was plenty of noise. We applauded everybody because at this time of the year it is better to be polite than truthful. It is kinder anyway.

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3rdJan Shifted back to Merris for a rest. A few words about the snow. It is damnable stuff. It freezes the ground and makes it hard enough to turn a pick. And if you fall !! We made a slide over a frozen pond and if anyone is tired of life I advise them to take on sliding.

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The winter is very wintry at present and my feet are more painful than pleasant

5th 2 of our aeroplane pilots tried to kiss one another in mid-air & thereby hangs a tale.

16th Little did I think I would ever usurp the personality of a female but there it is c’est le guerre. I have been doing a little acting

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of late at battalion concerts in "the Burglar and the Girl" and several other sketches of tragic & comic nature. Of course I know my feet are rather small for the part, but the audience must look at what I have got and take the rest for granted.

17th We went to play at "A" Co’s billets last night and it was raining, not good

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old Aussie rain, but wet sloppy French stuff, and coming home the road which led to our billets we were surprised to find it metamorphosed into a river. Seeking a drier path by the roadside, I found the gutter i.e. 6 ft of water instead of 2 ft and said more about France in 2 minutes than I could have thought in a week.

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31st Jan. Left Meteren for canteen Corner, a muddy camp about 2 kilos from Steenwerck.

3 rd Feb. Played at church parade and presentation of prizes by General Birdwood, over 20 men were decorated with D.C.M’s & M M’s one with both.

5th Left Canteen Corner for Blighty Leave.

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Not a single shaft shall hit
Till the God of Love sees fit

The black cloud of to-day is apt to shut out the sunshine
of to-morrow

Is it legal or moral for a man to marry his widow’s neice?

Has there been more Xmas’s or Good Fridays next Xmas

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I fear he’d waxed excessively convivial.
With the fine fermented liquor he’d had strife
He had gazed upon the vintage when twas crimson
When bacchanalian revelry was rife
He’d partaken of therassic lubrication
And with ambrosial nectar he was lined
I regret to say he was non compos mentis
In fact "he was blind"

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youth is a blunder
Manhood a struggle
Old age a regret

German Planes
T.P’s B.P’s
"Taube" "Gotha" 75? across
"Albatross" "Rumpler"
"Newport" [Nieuport is French]

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The boys have often said to me when coming from the line
He bargained for a minnie & old Fritz’s 5.9.
But they never dropped a hint to us when asking us to come
That the 3rd would be teetotal and we wouldn’t get our rum

And we need it Yes we need it after lying in the cold
And the other divvies get it at least that’s what Ive been told
So be a pal and scout around & find out what you can,
And all your cobbers in the lines will thank you to a man

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This kind of struck my fancy for I’d often thought before
That the fighters need a warmer and no wonder they feel sore
I’ll try and find the reason why they will not issue some
For a girl without her mirror’s like a soldier without rum

We saw the orderly sergeant cpl and he only
smacked his lips
The orderly sergeant rolled his eyes & fancied taking sips
We saw the Clerk in the orderly room who prayed for Blighty
I said its plain there’s nothing here we’ll come back New Year’s

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Then we saw the S.M. & we saw the S. Cook
And if they could have done it they’d have killed us with a look
The cook was looking healthy and the S.M. well
He asked me if I’d like a little C.B. for a spell

So we went round to the Q.M. and he wasn’t quite polite
So we stole round to the Q.M. Store when he was out of sight
We looked in every corner until night began to fall
And vainly tried to find a secret panel in the wall

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Then we went back to our billets to think the matter out
While one went round to find out if the colonel was about
But he had gone on leave so our enquiries had to stop
But don’t get thinking cobbers that were going to let it drop

We’ll find the missing issue if we have to go to Haig
& if his answers seem confusing and his answers rather
We’ll ring up Mr Bottomley the soldiers strongest chum
And ask him can he find out why the 3rd don’t get their rum

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Repertoire Sketches

Luv of mine II
Lightning II
Instrumental It. I
Great Recitation I
Sick Parade
Burglar & Girl
Scenes in Restaurant
Dirty work at the X roads

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Sketches in Embryo

Lady & boil 2 doctors
Living statue
Making hit with barmaid Swing doors.
Intern them all

[Acronyms – p 6,9 ADBD = Australian Divisional Base Depot]

[Transcriber's notes:
p 9,12. Hazebrook = Hazebrouck
p 12,13, 27.Poperinge= Poperinge
p21, 39. Passchendale = Passchendaele
p27. Caselle = Cassel
p27. Steenworde = Steenvoorde
p27. Leddingham = Ledringhem
p34. Ledinghem = Ledringhem
p39. Plugsteert = Ploegsteert]

[Transcribed by Peter Mayo for the State Library of New South Wales]