Bean gets Beaned

Further to Bert's previous letter where he copies out two poems from Gunner Frank E. Westbrook, additional information has come to light with many thanks to Bill Woerlee from The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre.


It was not often that Captain Bean received the unbridled wrath of the men in Egypt. However his critique of Australian behaviour in Egypt despatched in January 1915 raised the hackles of the troops. Not that there weren't Australians behaving badly, there were and these men were okay at admitting to that, but it was a small minority causing the trouble but that was painting the rest of the troops with the same brush, which they felt was unjustified.





(From Captain Bean, Australian Press Representative with the Troops.) Mena Camp, December 20.

It would be a deceit upon the people of Australia if it were reported to them that Christmas and the approaching New Year have found the Australian Imperial Force without a cloud in the sky. The weather was perfect. Christmas morning itself broke as clear and crisp as a midwinter day on the wrong side of the Darling River, and one cannot imagine any better praise than that. All the camp looked ideal, with lines as straight as an architect's drawing, and streets and kitchens which the medical officers, by dint of a good deal of insistence, have managed to maintain as clean as a model dairy. The big new white wooden mess huts, which are now ready for most of the corps, and which are being provided for all, were decorated with palm and eucalyptus, and some of the men who take a pride in their regiments had marked the regimental boundary with neat designs in white and colored stones. Extra delicacies had been provided in many cases by funds subscribed by the officers, and in many others by the men themselves. Often plum puddings, with other extra courses, and sometimes extra beer. The columns that swung down the hills on their various church parades, with their big shoulders and long Australian limbs all swinging together, look half as powerful again as an ordinary regiment. General Birdwood watched them all till the last man was digging his heels into the sand at the rear of the last company, and one could not help wondering what he thought of them. He has seen many sorts of soldiers, under many different conditions, during his short and brilliant career, but one could not help wondering whether he has ever commanded a more magnificent force than this. He may turn them into that perhaps, but to the casual observer everything was right with the force.

Too Much Liquor.

The last week has been one of some anxiety to those who have the good name of Australia at heart. Cairo is one of the great pleasure resorts of the world, and a place where the soldiers in any neighbouring camp can always have a reasonably enjoyable time during their hours of leave, provided they exercise the same amount of restraint as the ordinary tourist; but certain scenes have occurred and have become more common during the past few days which go a good way beyond that, and which are already affecting the reputation of Australia in the outside world. It is idle to contend that the Australian is at present making quite the impression which Australians hope he will make either on civilians or upon the great soldiers under whose eyes they come. I was speaking the other day to one of the most distinguished men in the British army. "They are as fine a body physically as I have ever seen," he said. "But do all Australians drink quite so much?" The truth is that there are a certain number of men among those who were accepted for service abroad who are not fit to be sent abroad to represent Australia. They may, some of them, have been men who have seen service in South Africa or the regular army, or they may have appeared hard bitten and used to hardship, but in recruiting an army, just as in picking a cricket or football team to represent Australia, the inclusion of a man who has not got the necessary moral qualities, however splendid his physical qualifications may be, is apt to do more harm than good.

"Old Soldiers."

There is only a small percentage - possibly 1 or 2 per cent. - which is really responsible for the occurrence about which Cairo is beginning to talk. The great majority of the men are keen, intelligent, well-restrained young Australians, whom you will meet enjoying their hours of leave in front of the cafes or in the Museum or the Zoological Gardens or the postcard shops dressed as neatly as any of the other soldiers in the town, and behaving themselves in a way which any rational Australian or a holidaymaker would behave. They have the material in them, not merely for as good a force as the New Zealanders or the Territorials, but a better force, because the Australians here, besides having the best physique, are man for man, more highly strung, and if anything quicker witted. But there is in the Australian ranks a proportion of men who are uncontrolled, slovenly, and in some cases what few Australians can be accused of being - dirty. In a certain number of cases it is noticeable that these men are wearing the South African ribbon. Possibly they are the men who since returning from that war have never had any settled occupation, and who were therefore the first to enlist when recruiting for the present force was begun; or it may be that the discipline in the South African campaign was very much slacker than that required of troops before they will be permitted to go to the front m the present class of warfare. Or it may be merely that a certain class of old soldiers is given to the very childish habit of showing off before the young soldier and giving him examples of the sort of thing that he thinks may with impunity be done by anyone who knows the ropes, whatever the reason. It has been noticed by too many people to admit of doubt that while many of the most capable and splendid members of the force are men with South African experience there is a class of old soldier who, so far from being the most suitable member of the force, is the least suitable of any among young soldiers. Take these men at their true worth. "It's the likes of them that are going to spoil the game for the rest of us, and lose us our leave," I heard one youngster say a few days since. "The fellows are getting a bit fed up with them down among our lot."

A Handful of Rowdies.

But they are really doing very much more serious thing than losing other soldiers their leave- they are losing Australia her good name in the outside world, and those Australians who happen to be living in Cairo or in touch with the world outside the camps have the mortification of looking on while day by day the reputation of Australia slowly vanishes before the actions of a handful of rowdies who do not really represent the country. The Territorials have not our physique, and some of the Lancashire regiments seem to be composed largely of mere children, but by dint of hard work they have become thoroughly smart soldiers, although both among them and the New Zealanders there has been a certain amount of the hard living which will always be found where great numbers of men are collected. None who is not deaf can hide from himself the fact that the talk at present current in Cairo attaches to the Australian force rather than to the Territorials, or, as far as I can judge, to the New Zealanders. One does not wish to give the idea that things have reached the state of a scandal or anything approaching it. Steps will doubtless be taken to correct it, as they have been taken before, and the Australian force will be doing itself credit before it has finished its training and will be worthy of the majority of the men comprised in it. The New Zealanders have just taken steps to got rid of a certain number of men who were doing little good in their force, and the same or some similar steps will no doubt be taken with the Australians. But it is just as well that the Australian public should be aware of the present reasons for the return of the majority of the men who are returning or have returned since the expedition sailed.

Weeding Out Wasters.

It is easy for a man to return to his native village and reap a certain amount of hero-worship, on the ground that he was invalided, or to pitch a story before an admiring crowd, at the local hotel, of how he showed them that he was not going to stand any nonsense and finally pitched in his resignation. The facts are that a certain number of men had been invalided through serious sickness or accident neither of which was their own fault, A certain number were also sent back some time ago from Albany and Colombo, because some of them, no doubt on conscientious grounds, and others for reasons best known to themselves, refused to be vaccinated. A few others have been and will be sent back because they have contracted certain diseases by which, after all the trouble and months of training and of the sea voyage, they have unfitted themselves to do the work for which they enlisted. And a percentage will probably find their way back from here, the reason for whose return has been that they have damaged their country's reputation, and a few of them have been got rid of as the best means of preserving it.

Among the Light Horse.

Although the Australian Light. Horse camp at Maadi is nearer to the city than Mena camp, and infinitely easier to leave without permission, there seems to be little trouble from rowdy spirits among the Light Horse, for that matter, in the Artillery, part of which is at Maadi. This may be partly due to the fact that a certain class of waster, some of whom manage to get into the infantry, never gained entrance to these corps, but I think that to some extent it is due to the fact that while Mena is away out at the Pyramids, with only an Arab village in the neighbourhood, the Light Horse camp is next door to the new gardens suburb of Maadi, where many of the English inhabitants live, and those inhabitants have gone out of their way to provide attraction in the camp, of which I have heard both men and officers speak most warmly. At the entrance of camp, for example, they have set up out of funds raised in the suburb a huge handsome open Arab tent for the men, fitted with tables and chairs for reading and writing accommodation for 150 men. Near it is a smaller tent supplied with all the English newspapers for the officers. Next door to this is a store with a stock of tobacco, post cards, writing paper (with the camp address printed in the corner, which is run by the Maadi people themselves, one of their own number acting as salesman. The camp is not in every way ideally situated, it is on dusty ground, for one thing, rather than upon desert sands, as the Pyramids camp is. The horses trample this into a fine powder on windy days, or even still days; when the horses are being led to the water or exercised, the clouds of dust raised as they come into and out of the lines are apt to cover everything in camp. But Maadi has made the best of it. The lines are, if anything, even more neatly picked out with borders of whitewashed stone and devices in front of the tents than they are at Mena. They have even planted a few palm trees in improvised garden plots in front of some of the more important quarters of the camp, and I saw a map of Australia sown in barley dropped from a fodder bag already springing into existence. They are still somewhat short of tents in some of the Light Horse troops at Maadi, but I have not heard a single complaint. The inhabitants have given them concerts in the camp, and have even arranged for the officers and some of the men to get an occasional warm bath in their private houses. The Y.M.C.A. representatives are undertaking the provision of somewhat similar comforts at the Pyramids camp, and the importance of it at a big permanent camp cannot be overrated. As one passed the tent at Maadi on the afternoon of Boxing Day, half-full of Light Horsemen writing letters to Australia, one could not help wondering how many families will receive news weekly from their brothers or sons in Cairo that would never have heard if it had not been for the public spirit of the people of Maadi in setting up that tent.

Letters for Home.

That reminds one of another matter. Enormous numbers of letters have been written by the Australian forces abroad over 300,000 were estimated to have passed through the Army Post/office before we reached Egypt. Of late the New Zealanders and Australians have been sending cables to an extent which has never been approached in Cairo. The normal number of cables from Cairo to Australia before the war was from two to five per day. Since the troops have arrived it has risen to 40 or 50, but in the five days preceding Christmas it rose from 42 on December 20 to 123, 196, 312, and 466. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself 155 were sent. The number received from Australia has averaged 30, but during Christmas week it rose to 80. On Christmas Day 319 were received, and a message came through the day before from Adelaide to say that 1,000 messages were waiting there to be sent through to us. It is probable that the mails from Australia will have been proportionately quite as heavy. One thing people at home can do for the men of this force is to write to them. The anxiety with which the men look forward to letters from home cannot be exaggerated. Every day men come up to me under the impression that I know more than they do about the mails, and ask me if I have had any news of their letters and when they are likely to receive them. Part of a mail arrived from England on Christmas Day. It was the latest we have received, and it left Australia just after we did. Several mails have been passed through the canal since we have landed here and gone on to England. Perhaps it was inevitable, but if they were in special bags, as they surely should have been, it is hard to see why they could not have been landed. The men are remarkably patient in this matter. They take it as one of the unavoidable incidents of war. Considering what help a letter can be to a man under circumstances like these, one wonders if the particular incident was unavoidable.


In response to the Bean piece, a poem began to circulate in Egypt and was published in the Egyptian Mail. Unhappy soldiers sent copies to their loved ones in Australia and edited versions were published in local newspapers brave enough to carry the counter critique.


To Our Critic. 

from an Australian soldier in Egypt.

Ain't you got no blanky savvy, 
Have yer got no better use,
Than to fling back home yer inky 
Products of yer pen's abuse?

Do you think we've all gone dippy, 
Since we landed over here? 
Is a soldier less a soldier
'Cause he sucks a pint of beer?     

Have yer got no loving mother 
Waiting for yer over 'ome? 
Do yer own no smiling sister 
Over there across the foam? 

Do yer thinks they likes yer better 
For yer tales of drink and shame? 
Do yer think they'll praise yer action 
In defamin' our fair name? 

One swallow makes no summer,   
Three shickers not a force; 
Where a few makes it a welter, 
You condemns the lot, of course! 

Do yer think ye'r Gawd Almighty. 
'Cos yer wears a captain's stars?
Thinks us blokes is dirt beneath yer, 
Men of low degrees, and bars? 

Say, yer cannot be Australian! 
Let us say in our defence,   
Yer can read it on our coinage
"Honny soit qui mal y pense." 

Cease yer wowseristic whining, 
Tell the truth and play the game, 
And we only ask fair dinkum 
How we keep Australia's name.

We're not out to fight the devil,   
On a new Salvarmy stunt, 
To reform the Arabs' morals, 
While we're waitin' for the front. 

Let me ask you, Mr Critic, 
Try and face things with a smile; 
Don't be finding all the crook 'uns,     
Studying them blokes all the while.   

Then write home nice and proper, 
'Bout the boys that's all true blue, 
And they'll like you better, Mister- 
This is my advice to you!  

Sgt F.E. Westbrook, 4th Battery
A.F.A., 1st A.I.F. Mena

Bean responded:



(From Capt. C. E. W. BEAN, Official Reporter with the First Australian Expeditionary Force.) CAIRO, Feb. 28, 10.45 a.m.

An article in which I stated that the Australian troops were not responsible for certain rowdiness in Cairo some months ago, but that it was due solely to a small percentage of unsuitable men, seems to have been so twisted and misquoted by a certain newspaper (or newspapers) as to appear to be an attack on the Australian troops in Egypt. That is exactly opposite to what was written by me or intended. Readers of my articles and cable messages know that the condition of the Australian force in Egypt, the way in which it has carried through its strenuous and tiring training, and the condition in which it is emerging from it are such as would make Australians, if they could only see it, very proud indeed. The newspaper article alluded to also contains sweeping criticisms on the whole of the officers, who were never mentioned in my article, and the criticisms are quite unjustified. Such offences as took place were military offences. Nothing else occurred which does not happen in Australia and other cities every day. The newspaper article referred to omits the fact which I was careful to state, and which it is immensely important not to omit that all the men returned to Australia are not unsuitable, but that a large proportion consists of men whose health has broken down often through hard work and exposure, and who are bitterly disappointed at not being able to go on.


On Our Critic's Apologies

So you crayfished, Mr Critic,
From your journalistic stand;
In an impolitic manner
You have surely shown your hand.

Seems you were not sure when writing,
Of your subject or your theme,
In your milk and water scrawling
You neglected all the cream.

Now you're sorry that you missed it,
Least ways that is what you say;
And back home in fair Australia
There's the very deuce to pay.

What they've got there, let me say it,
If at home they name our name,
There are our loved wives and mothers
Who will bow their heads in shame.

Will your "pardon me's" bring solace,
Or dispel the haunting dread?
Your apologies bring respite
For the bitter things you said?

Will they give us back our comrades,
Who our presence there will shun;
Will they shatter all the fabric
That your venomed pen has spun?

Will they calm a sister's dreading
Of an unnamed ghastly fear?
Compensate for nights sad vigils,
And the satly, unseen tear?

Will they build and mend the remnants
Of a father's shattered pride;
Will it soothe the wounded honor
Of the absent soldier's bride?

For our loved ones, wives and mothers,
All have felt the poisoned dart
Of your journalistic venom
With your subtle, cruel art.

So you say you're sorry, Mister?
We sincerely hope you are,
And we trust you'll tell our loved ones
In our southern home afar.

So just set your pen a jigging,
Write and never mind the rest;
But inform them all sincerely
We're behaving just the best.

There's a few we know who's throwing
Mud upon Australia's name;
But the rest's not going to carry
All the burden of their shame.

So just train your pen and send home
Just the plain, unvarnished truth,
And you'll gain the firmest friendship
Of Australia's bravest youth.

F.E. Westbrook






NEXT    >>