Digitised @SLQ: The Link: a weekly circular letter linking Queenslanders at home and at the front

First published in Brisbane on June 20th 1917 as a weekly until, it is assumed, the end of World War I, this modest newsletter sold for 1 penny an issue or 3/3 for a half year (delivered) subscription. In keeping with its aspiration to "link Queenslanders at home and at the front", free copies were made available for sending to soldiers in overseas battle zones. The editor, John ‘Jack’ Crampton Andrews (1897-1990) enlisted in 1915 and returned home medically unfit in February 1917, the consequence of an ankle injury sustained at Marseilles, in September of the previous year. The son of an Australian Army captain and unquestionably committed to the Australian war effort, Jack Andrews may well have been seeking a means of contributing to the cause he so passionately espoused.

State Library holds just nine issues of  The Link published between August 23rd 1917 and August 28th 1918 – and as far as we can determine these constitute the most “complete” set of issues held in any Australian library institution. Of unique value as a primary source work, this hitherto obscure publication offers us a revealing insight into the lives and attitudes of Queenslanders who were affected by the war experience on two fronts.

In its own unassuming way it is also a piece of our history, bearing testament to the opening up of the social and political divides which Raymond Evans writes about so compellingly in Loyalty and Disloyalty, a work which explores the home front experience in Queensland during and immediately after World War I. A case in point is The Link’s lead story in volume 1, issue 11, provocatively titled Australia watching her Defenders who Fear to Fight in France...

I say boys, this isn’t good enough!
Men who ought to be working, fiddling and singing silly songs to the Red flag while their mates are in France, don’t join this lot.

Men who are not Australians, not Britons, not anything, leading men who have decent blood in their veins, don’t join them.

Although much of the content - homespun poetry, short humorous pieces, “fashion notes” and personal stories from the home and war fronts - is determinedly light-hearted, there is as well an underlying, serious note which reflects the attitudes and social mores of the last two years of the war. The historical interest of this publication is in the overriding themes which are about the war effort at home, the need to support Australian soldiers at the front and the reflected evidence of wartime deprivation in Queensland.

If there is a discernible refrain threading through the snippets of wartime experience, questionable attempts at humour, reportage on fund raising activities at home and advertisements for soldiers’ hampers packed with tins of “nourishing Australian chocolate” or “pure dairy butter”, it is about the compelling need to support the troops at the front. And by 1917 this entreaty is underwritten with a note of disillusion and despair:

How many of you…will remember days in the desert, how many recall with bitterness that the light-hearted belief in Australia has had a shock, how many at home can look through their stereoscopes at this group of men who waited trustfully, sure Australia would not fail them, and then go on failing those mates…mates who have kept Australia for you, for your old mother and father, for your little ones?

In the dreadful trenches of the Somme, men, your mates, the fellows who worked and played, more than all the mates who trusted you, lift anxious eyes day after day. They are tired out doing your work and theirs, and they feel it is sung in sarcasm now when anyone sings “Australia will be there!”

In the poem Wanted some Cheers the rallying call for support is extended on behalf the returning troops:

But what was the matter with Brisbane,
The band made the welcoming noise,
Good people who live because of these men!
Is this how you welcome the boys?

You may be giving and paying,
Is that the full price of your skin,
Can’t you put everything else aside,
And cheer when the boys come in!

The inherent reprimand voiced in these pieces is counterbalanced by an appreciation of the suffering endured by the relatives and spouses of absent soldiers: The poem On Active Service begins:

Last night I went into your room
 So more than empty since you went away;
You of the merry voice and laughter gay,
Gone from its sunshine into war’s grim gloom…

and A Love Song  echoes the same experience of separation, waiting and apprehension:

 Dear hands! whose strong grip meant so much to me,
 Tonight I wonder what your Task may be,
The Southern Cross and battlefields of France,
Are, oh, so far apart, and yet perchance
Strong hands, you feel midst rack and flare,
The pressure of an old time kiss on them, that bear
The messengers of death, and know how deep I care.

The Link  came to our attention via the initiative of the John Oxley Library’s World War I digitisation programme. Rooted in Queensland soil, focused acutely on its mission of support, it is in all likelihood the only serial publication of its kind. It is a small miracle that this slender newsletter survives almost 100 years later, ready to launch itself at the click of a mouse button, bringing to us the lost voices of Queensland people living out the last months of the Great War.

Libby Fielding, State Library of Queensland




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