The War had many a bright moment even for the diggers so far away from good old Aussie. For instance there was the day the diggers got wild with the English A.P.M. And somehow lost him in the canal. I did my best with artificial respiration, but the bugger had me beat. We had one of the best laughs over that we’d had for many a long day.
Angela Thirkell published Trooper to the Southern Cross in 1934 under the name of Leslie Parker. It’s a fictionalised version of her own journey to Australia with her husband in 1920. The ship was unreliable (sabotaged by its previous German owners) and the lower decks were full of diggers, and also a load of criminals (murderers, deserters and so on) being transported home.
Thirkell was Kipling’s second cousin, and sometimes seems determined to out-Kipling Kipling in her relish for physical horseplay, and her declaration of realism about war and soldiers:
You don’t want to hear about the fighting on the Canal, where the worst misfortune I had was when my horse put his foot into a hole on the Turkish side, and the hole was all full of a Johnny Turk who had been buried long enough to be pretty far gone. Talk of an escape of gas! All that Canal bit has been written about by real writers. Some of them were good on the job and some weren’t.
The book is tremendously entertaining, and the main reason it works very well is the language and narrative style she gives to her narrator (whom she obviously enjoys making as blokeish and Australian as she possibly can). I’ve been reading the book for the Sheffield Hallam Popular Fiction 1900-1950 group, and will be putting a full review of it on their website in a day or two.