Journalist moved by plight of homeless digger

Name: Jack Reid
Date: 1915-1918
Unit: Australian Artillery
Location: Middle East, France, Belgium

Jack Reid was always someone who spoke his mind and so it was little wonder that he eventually became a journalist.

His Scottish father had been a school teacher and a poet who was believed to have been the first Queensland poet to be published, but Jack entered journalism in a round about way.

His father died when he was young and he was taken into the office of his uncle, George Reid, a Sydney barrister who later became Premier of New South Wales and the fourth Prime Minister of Australia. But being a law clerk didn't suit Jack's temperament so he took off and "hit the wallaby", heading out Charleville way. Two of his brothers, who had served in the Boer War, had taken up soldier settlement blocks in the Murgon/Wondai district and they urged him to join them there.

He applied for a block of land at Boat Mountain but the elements conspired against him and he gave it away to become a stock and station agent and free-lance reporter on the Wondai Times.

When war broke out, he was married and had one young daughter. After his second daughter was born in 1915, he mounted his favourite horse Jack Johnson, named after a famous American black boxer, and rode to Brisbane where he and his horse "joined up together".

By the time he arrived in Egypt the Light Horse were no longer required so he joined the artillery because they used horses to pull their guns.

He fought in France and Belgium, taking part in his last battle at Mont St Quentin. He was so impressed with that battle and the way the Diggers had fought, that he eventually named his home Mont St Quentin.

While awaiting a ship to return to Australia, he wrote pieces for the Aussie newspaper. Back in Australia he joined the Queensland Government as Editor of the Queensland Agricultural Journal, rising eventually to be Editor of Publications for the Department of Agriculture and Stock.

Having retired at 65, he then became editor of the Road Ahead for the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland. Despite his protestations they refused to let him retire until at age 80 he insisted.

His admiration for the Australian soldier and his strong sense of justice shone through, particularly when he saw former servicemen living rough on the streets.

He was so moved that he wrote a poem which was published in the Daily Standard in September 1924.

Scrapped!

I saw them march down a Brisbane street,
Thro' the press of a roaring crowd.
Heard the rythmic beat of their tramping feet -
And the cheers were long and loud
I saw them tramp to the trooper's side,
At the wharf at Pinkenba;
From there to glide o'er the swelling tide,
To the blood red fields of war.

And then a group on the trooper's poop,
Eyes strained for a sternward glance,
At the receding rim in the distance dim
Of their land of golden chance.
I saw them press to the ship's taff-rail,
Above the thudding screw.
And stand spray-sprinkled, eyes glare-wrinkled,
A hard-faced stiff-lipped crew.

And thence once more on Blighty's shore
An eager steel-ribbed mob,
And once again on Salisbury Plain,
Learning points of the blood-lust job.
I saw them go thro' the drifting snow
From Amesbury's station yard;
They rattled along and chortled a song,
With the spirit of Nap's Old Guard.

Thro' sleet and chill up "One Blanket Hill"
They toiled with their weighty packs -
A load "a la donk" and the game "dead cronk"
With scorn in their eyes for the "Jacks".
Their "Auld Lang Syne", a draft for the line
From the "bulsh" of the Base Bull ring,
To laugh at their luck in a cattle truck,
With no care what the fates might bring.

I saw them go up the road thro' Vaulx,
'long the valley to Noreuil;
They were there in the flare light's glare
Where our guns stood wheel to wheel.
I saw them tramp up the shell-holed ramp -
A full battalion's strength,
Then struggling back on the Corduroy track,
But fifty along its length.
And then astrode of the Menin Road,

Aswing to the whizzbang's whine
With will expressed in lips tight- pressed
They surged onto the line.
They were over first when the barrage burst
In the front line's fiercest test,
An unbeatable band in No Man's Land-
And half of them went west!

From the calmer North they hurried forth
To stem the March high tide
At Villers-Brett - shall one e'er forget
How the Dinkums fought and died?
How like a rock they stood the shock
Of each menacing Feld-Grau wave!
'Twas "C'est bien pour Amiens"
And the cause they Scrapped to save.

From day to day I saw them stay,
On the job to see it through,
Nor yield command of No Man's Land,
Fought each dawn a Waterloo,
From Hamel on to Beaurevoir
They showed again and again
That all the praise of epic lays
Falls short of their due as men.

I saw to-day down Sandgate way
A Digger broke to the wide,
With wife work-spent in a dripping tent,
Hungry kids in the mud outside.
His vigour sapped, a war wreck scrapped
Who fell to the Jingoes' joke -
Just one of the stiffs pooled by the "ziffs" -
Spent and -bent 'neath the urgers yoke.

Oh! There are many like him minus spirit or vim,
Tried and dried in the furnace of war.
Of the old mob, all he wants is a job
A fair and square deal and no more.
Let the patrioteers remember the cheers
They gave the boys when they went.
They prated of "dooty", collected the booty,
And got six per cent when they lent!

'Twas ever thus, grab-all catches the bus,
The feluce, the fizz and the fees.
The same old story - to the Dinkums the glory,
To the bunkums the OBEs.
O'er a world war torn a day was born,
Peace came with victory -
Not the peace that breathed o'er Eden,
But that wreathed Gethsemane.

Jack Reid
Hawthorne


Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Journalist moved by plight of homeless digger, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/journalist-moved-plight-homeless-digger
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