Reprint: C. J. Dennis in War Time by Dora Wilcox

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In the British military hospital, which, with its 2,000 beds, and its quarters for M.D.'s, sisters, and orderlies, housed the population of a small town, came many sick and wounded Dominions men.

A Maori might be seen there, lying between a South African and a French-Canadian, and by December, 1916, the English nurses had begun to realise that Australians belonged, mentally and physically, to a race apart.

When, in that month, the V.A.D. went on duty in Ward H5, she was surprised to see the man from Monaro deep in a book, for never before had he shown any interest in literature.

"What is it? Is it good?" she asked.

"Bonzer!" he answered, handing it over. She was still more surprised to find that it was a volume of verse. It was, in fact, the first copy of "The Sentimental Bloke" that she had seen.

It went the round of the ward. All the Australians read it, all the New Zealanders, and many of the British Tommies; pages from it became incorporated in the general talk.

"You're looking down on your luck this morning," someone would say, and the Digger would reply:

"Too right. Sister. Me flamin' spirit 'as the flamon' 'ump!"

When the war was over, and the V.A.D. carne to Australia, she met C. J. Dennis at a luncheon party in Melbourne. Remembering those past days in the hospital, she looked at him with reverence. Was he, she wondered, the herald of a new form of Australian poetry -- a poetry which should be "understanded of the people," and give delight to simple and unlearned men?

She wonders still . . .

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 1938

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 22, 2010 8:43 AM.

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