The Nurse Without a Smile

 

Bert's article "At the Dardenelles" published in the Jerilderie Herald and Urana Advertiser on 9 and 16 July 1915 inspired an unknown author to write this poem, which was published the following week, 23 July 1915.


The Nurse Without a Smile

“The worst of these nurses is that they do not smile enough. They all get about as sober as a captured spy. I’ve been working overtime making them smile whenever they come near.”-
Private Bert Smythe of Jerilderie, writing from Birmingham hospital.

 

When the boys were in the trenches, they
     were grinning all the while,
For the motto of Australia is to take it
     with a smile:
Grisley Death was there beside, and they
     took him as a Joke,
As they held their places blithely in the
     line that never broke:
When the bullet found its billet, and it
     left them limp and weak,
They could always raise a chuckle, though
     they felt too sick to speak;
And, lying in the hospital, they said: “It
     might be worse
Than stopping here to try and raise a
     giggle from the nurse,”
The shrapnel of the enemy made gaps
     along the line;
But it never stopped the smiling, never
     made the boys resign
Their title clear to laughter, as trench by
     trench they won,
And said, ”A fellow has to laugh to see
     those beggars run.”
They quizzed the stretcher-carriers with,
     “Cabby, what’s your fare?
I’ll tell my clerk to write a cheque as soon
     as we get there.”
And Bertie, in the hospital, still helped
     his side to win
When he was working overtime to make
     the nurses grin.
Our brave Australian boys went out
     to storm the Turkish fort,
To do the thing in Battle that they used
     to do in sport;
Though the nation was decadent, as we’ve
     heard the wowsers say
The world has got a different tale to tell
     of them to-day.
“They never could be serious,” the
     Jeremiahs cried;
 “Not us,” the soldiers answered; and they
     laughed, and fought, and died;
Beneath the keen and callous stars, on
     every death-strewn hill
They lie with clay-cold faces that are
     smiling, smiling still.
They blazed a rough and bloody track to
     heights of endless fame;
They charged, and laughed, and charged
     again, and counted it a game;
And when, in hard won trenches, they
     could get a moment’s rest,
Along the line from flank to flank, they
     swept a rippling jest,
White Fear, that rode across the night,
     unnoticed passed them by,
As every gay battalion sent its laughter to
     the sky;
No man is heard in agony his evil luck to
     curse,
While Bertie from Jerilderie pokes borak
     at the nurse.   

 

 

Bert’s response to it was found in two letters home to his family:

2 September 

That chap that wrote that piece of poetry in The Sun about a remark of mine had a neck I must say. You can post me a copy of it if you happen to have one. I’d like to see the Jd rag that has my letter in it if you can manage it. I’d like to see it in print. I forget what I said. Hope I didn’t let out any trade secrets ---

 

and then 3 October

Thanks very much Viola for sending me that piece of doggerel. As soon as I heard about it about a month ago I was consumed with a fierce curiosity to see it. If ever you meet the beggar that wrote it you can tell him he has an infernal cheek. If there’s one thing I abominate it is being called “Bertie”. It’s too much like La-de-dah Algenon. Don’t mind “Bert” but the other ---

 

 

 

 

 

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