Browsing the National Library's online newspaper Trove I made a heart-warming discovery. It was the 1917 reproduction of a poem by my great-uncle James Gorey, who enlisted under age to serve in the First World War and who died just before the Armistice in 1918.
He probably wrote the poem in 1916 when he was 22 years old. It was in response to military authorities blocking the supply of alcohol to troops in France.
Given the privations they suffered in the trenches, occasional liquor must have been a welcome relief.
The cheeky poem, written in bush ballad style, gives us a rare insight into James' personality.
With the passage of time, little was known about him because he never had the opportunity to marry and have children.
We had only a couple of posed photographs in military uniform and his formal war records to remember him.
I found a couple of snippets previously — his brother's diary and a letter that James wrote to another country newspaper.
The poem was more revealing because of its character and humour. He didn't send it through official mail, knowing the censors would have had a laugh before blacking most of it out or throwing it in the bin.
James sent it to Australia with a returning comrade, Private W.O. Faithful of Eldorado in North East Victoria. Private Faithful knew its value and gave a copy to his local newspaper, the Chronicle in Wangaratta. It was published there on 27 January 1917.
We've fought upon Gallipoli and toiled on Egypt's plain,
We've travelled far across the sea to face the foe again,
We've braved the perils of the deep, and faced them with good cheer,
But now they give us cause to weep, they've gone and stopped our beer.
We wouldn't mind if they had stopped the pickles or the cheese,
They might have cut the marmalade and issued fewer peas,
But it’s a sin to drink red vin or for a cobber shout,
Which kind of sets me wondering they've cut the champagne out.
They stopped our rum, we didn't mind, while we had been to soak,
But now they've gone and stopped our wine, it's getting past a joke,
Each countenance you see is sad, within each eye a tear,
The greatest injury we've had is cutting out our beer.
For you must shun the flowing bowl and turn you from the wine,
And water drink to cheer your soul if it should chance to pine,
You must order coffee now to toast the folks at home,
And spend your cash on chewing gum and honeycomb.
There's microbes in the water lads, so drink it with a will,
And every mother's son of us will jolly soon be ill,
And when we are on sick parade, the doctor he will cry,
The lads, I fear, must have their beer or else they will surely die.
Sadly, James was wrong about the cutting of beer supply being the "greatest injury".
He was wounded in action on 3 October 1918, just 39 days before the Armistice. He sustained shell wounds to the right arm, head and back. Treated initially by the 5th Field Ambulance he was transferred to the 16th General Hospital at Le Treport on 5 October where he died on 13 October.
Here's an audio version of the poem: