THE ANZACS AND THEIR WORDS
The First World War suddenly threw together people from vastly different backgrounds, people who had no other reason than the fact of war itself for living together in extraordinarily close and intimate circumstances. It also had a profound effect on Australian English.
In the Introduction to his Digger Dialects (1919) W.H. Downing comments: 'By the conditions of their service, and by the howling desolation of the battle-zones, our men were isolated during nearly the whole of the time they spent in theatres of war, from the ways, the thoughts and the speech of the world behind them'. This opening sentence of Downing's Introduction is interesting because it demonstrates the lexical inventiveness of wartime experience (this is the earliest recorded occurrence of the term theatre of war), and because it explains the reason for that inventiveness—since warfare is a new experience, those involved in it need a new language to adapt to their new situation, and to construct ways of coping with it. When Tom Skeyhill in 'Soldier Songs from Anzac' (1915) wrote 'We've forgotten all our manners/And our talk is full of slang', he similarly points to the break between civilian and war experience, and the need to find new terms that are able to express this experience.
It is inevitable that most terms do not survive their wartime contexts, for the end of a war brings to an end the need for the existence of such terms. This is illustrated by the following terms from Downing's Digger Dialects: belly-ache 'a mortal wound'; boy-with-his-boots-off 'a shell which bursts before the sound of its passage through the air is heard'; broken-doll 'an inefficient staff-officer returned to his unit'; camouflaged Aussie 'an Englishman serving with the AIF'; to go into cold storage 'to be killed during the 1916 winter'; lance-corporal bacon 'bacon consisting of fat through which runs a thin streak of lean'. This was also the fate of most of the terms picked up by the soldiers from foreign languages. Yet while these terms have been lost, the First World War produced a number of major Australian cultural icons, especially the terms Anzac, digger, and Aussie.
The term digger in the military sense is a transferred use of the meaning 'a miner on the Australian goldfields'. Throughout the twentieth century it retained the military associations established in the First World War (it was widely used during the Second World War, and during the Vietnam War the Americans still knew the Australians as 'diggers'). The term has also undergone a widening of meaning in many contexts 'digger' and its abbreviated form 'dig' are used devoid of their military connotations (as a synonym for 'cobber' or 'mate').
It was the First World War that produced the term Aussie for 'Australia' (1915: 'A farewell dance for the boys going home to "Aussie" tomorrow'), and for 'Australian soldier' (in 1918 the Sydney Truth writes: 'We consider the term Aussie or Ossie as evolved is a properly picturesque and delightfully descriptive designation of the boys who have gone forth from Australia'), and more generally for 'an Australian' or 'Australian' (1927: 'Our much prized Aussie hats').
Many other common Australian terms had their origin in the First World War. The firm J. Furphy and Sons Pty. Ltd. operated a foundry at Shepparton, Victoria, and water-carts were included among their products. These water-carts, bearing the name 'Furphy', were used in the First World War. Very quickly the term furphy came to mean 'a rumour or false report, an absurd story' perhaps because drivers of the carts were notorious for bringing rumours into the camps, or because the conversations which took place around the cart were sources of gossip and rumour. The term oil in the sense 'information, news' (a transferred use of 'oil' as the substance essential to the running of a machine) and its compounds dinkum oil, straight oil, and good oil all gained wide currency as Services' slang. The term possie for 'position of supposed advantage to the occupant; a place; a job' is now so entrenched in Australian English that few realise it had its origin in trench warfare as the term for an individual soldier's place of shelter or firing position. It is in First World War Australian military contexts that souvenir in the sense 'to appropriate; to steal; to take as a souvenir' first appears. The term plonk (probably a corruption of French blanc in vin blanc 'white wine') appears to have begun its Australian career during the First World War. It is in First World War Australian military contexts that many Australian idioms are first recorded: his blood's worth bottling, give it a burl, hop in for one's chop, come a gutser, rough as bags.
The term Anzac appears in 1915 (in C.E.W. Bean's diary) as an acronym formed from the initial letters of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, originally used as a telegraphic code name for the Corps. In the same year it was used as an abbreviation for 'Anzac Cove' at Gallipoli, and then as a term for the 'Gallipoli campaign'. In 1916 it was first used to refer to a member of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who served in the Gallipoli campaign. In honour of the fact that they fought at Gallipoli, the Anzacs were commanded in 1919 to attach a small brass 'A' above the colour patch on their sleeve.
During the war the term 'Anzac' was used in various compounds: an Anzac button was 'a nail used in place of a trouser button', Anzac soup was 'shell-hole water polluted by a corpse', Anzac stew was 'an urn of hot water and one bacon rind', and an Anzac wafer was 'a hard biscuit supplied to the AIF in place of bread'. These terms did not survive their wartime contexts, although the Anzac wafer survives transformed into the Anzac biscuit (and, more recently, the Anzac cookie).
One of the most recent widenings of the word Anzac has enabled it to take in someone who is not a soldier at all. Anything but. This is the stereotypical (and largely stereomythical) lean bronzed Aussie male, perceived as the successor of the dinkum Anzac (who, by the laws of mythologising, must surely have been lean, bronzed, and handsome too). Aussie lifesavers are at the crux of the stereotype. The nexus between the myth of the dinkum Anzac and the myth of the bronzed and burnished lifesaver is caught allusively by that old warhorse Bruce Ruxton: 'RSL president Bruce Ruxton called gay servicemen fairies at the RSL State Conference. He said it was "unbelievable" that the Australian Defence Force allowed an army float in this year's [Sydney Gay and Lesbian] Mardi Gras. Ruxton added, "The big bronzed Anzac is now turning into a fairy"' (Brother Sister News, 11 July, 1996).
It was during the First World War that an extremely important compound was formed. This was Anzac Day. The first Anzac Day was proclaimed by the acting prime minister George Pearce to be held on 25 April 1916, and some 60 000 to 100 000 people took part in Anzac Day activities in the Domain in Sydney. In Egypt, Australian soldiers commemorated the day with a religious service followed by sports and entertainments. In London, 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets to a service at Westminster Abbey attended by Lord Kitchener and the King and Queen. The tradition continued, with marches of AIF troops in various cities, from 1917 on. The actual term Anzac march, however, is not recorded until 1945, and Anzac parade is first recorded in 1966. Preparations for the first Anzac Day are reported in Truth (Sydney) 9 April, 1916:
What? We're going to have an Anzac Day,
A night of Fireworks and Illumination.
For which ratepayers they will have to pay
To hold high revelry and jubilation,
Strange conduct this is, truly be it said,
To hold a picnic o'er Australia’s dead.
This earliest quotation points to an ambivalence in the concept of celebrating death, and it is the beginning of a complex series of ambivalences that have surrounded the day, expressed most clearly in Alan Seymour's 1962 play The One Day of the Year.
The term dawn service (sometimes called dawn parade) is much later than Anzac Day. Our earliest citation appeared in the Annual Report of the WA Branch of the Returned Services League 1929:
Anzac Day, 1929, will be historic, for on that day the first commemoration took place at the unfinished State War Memorial beautifully situated in King's Park. It was in the breaking dawn of April 25th, 1915, that Australian troops landed on the beaches of Gallipoli. Afterwards, both at Gallipoli and in France, the hours preceding sunrise were usually chosen by the High Command for the launching of some great enterprise. It was, therefore, appropriate that the first duty of the day should be to lay a wreath on the unfinished State Memorial at dawn in remembrances of our dead comrades. ... The moon hung low in the West whilst the grey dawn peeped above the dim outline of the Ranges. Eerie figures stumbled over boulders strewn at the base of the Monument, now discerned against the crimson sky. Below the sleeping city, and from across the peaceful river a chill Easterly wind. There is a hush, and the first wreath is laid, followed one by one until the loving task is done. Momentarily heads were bowed, and then the crashing shot from a gun near by. The Reveille completed the simple dawn service.
While a relative latecomer on the scene, the dawn service has grown in popularity, such that in some parts of Australia the numbers that attend the dawn service rival those that attend the Anzac march.