Officer in Waiting
4 May - 12 June
The Somme Again
13 June - 24 August
Dompiere & Mont St. Quentin
25 August - 6 September
7 September - 10 November
11 November - 28 Feb 1919
The WWI diary of Percy Smythe was transcribed by his daughter Betty Smythe.
When my mother and father arrived in Sydney they lived with my grandmother, where my mother had a still-born daughter the next year. My father was eventually discharged as medically unfit and received a small pension for chronic bronchitis. He felt that he should have an outdoor life and so my parents moved to a small farm out from Bowral. They were there for two years, but due to a drought one year and a flood the next they became bankrupt. Still preferring an out-door life, my father obtained a position as groundsman at Duntroon Military College, and I was born while they were there. He had always wanted to be a writer and wrote many short stories while on service in the army. One of the professors at the college told him that to be a successful writer he needed a University Degree in English.
As he had left school at 12, he had quite a task before him. After the first World War it was only necessary for returned servicemen to study four subjects for University entrance. So, with almost no help from anyone, and in one year, he set to and studied English, French, Mathematics and Latin and obtained his Matriculation and a scholarship to Sydney University where he studied Arts. He graduated as a BA with honours in English, and then studied for, and gained, a Diploma of Education. He had to fund himself at this time as the Department of Education did not accept him because of his small pension.
They lived at KY (Koppin Yarrat— my grandmother’s home) then and after a while my mother took me to England to visit her parents who were then living in Yorkshire. I have a few clear memories of that time.
On our return my father began his publishing career, preparing translations of the Latin texts set for the Leaving Certificate and then for the Intermediate Certificate.
His first teaching position was as a junior English master at Barker College. While there he began to satisfy his desire to fly and had some gliding lessons. However the Depression was taking hold and he knew he would be the first to be dismissed and so obtained work at a Coaching College in the city. This began as a full time position, then half time and finally quarter time. He then made the bold decision to open his own coaching college and waited six weeks before his first student came. During these years he prepared and published Guides to the Study of all the set English texts and was writing a Guide to the Study of Romeo and Juliet at the time of his death in 1966. The College kept functioning until the early sixties.
In 1939 my father paid for and went guarantor for my grandfather and Wilf and Betty to emigrate to Australia — my grandmother having died a few years earlier. They came just in time, as the second World War was declared when they were between Columbo and Freemantle. Much to our surprise, even then, my grandfather maintained my mother should not have married but stayed in England to help her mother with Wilf and Betty.
My parents had two overseas trips; in 1954 and in 1961-2 and at last my father visited the War Memorial at Villers-Brettoneux and found Bert’s name engraved on the memorial wall there. He also revisited the scenes of the battles he had been in. He suffered from nightmares for most of his life, one recurring one of being caught up to his knees in mud. He often dreamed that Bert had survived the war and was home with them again.
My mother retained life-long friendships with Bess Ham, and Mrs. Wellington (who returned to England with her husband and son on the same ship as my mother and I). My parents visited them when in England, as I did too when I went travelling
My father maintained his interest in sketching, painting and writing stories and poems - a one-act play was presented on ABC radio about 1934 - but his educational writing took a great deal of his time.
I found the following poem among his papers when I was beginning the task of typing up the diaries, which came into my possession after my mother’s death in 1984.
The flautist played; and music, sweet and low
With soft caresses old-time memories woke,
And long past scenes from bonds of lethe broke,
And I beheld red poppies all aglow
Like fiery mantle drape the earth below;
I heard a heaven-rending sound that broke
The still of dawn, while sable clouds of smoke
Plunged dark and reeking round a scene of woe.
Men cower trembling in a shattered trench,
with noise and blood and foul smoke-gust,
While shrieking shreds of steel through soft flesh tear,
Brains frenzied reel; stark hands in death-throes clench,
The whole creation’s blasted into dust.
Hell’s fury falls on shuddering Pozières.