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Croft McKenzie's diaries

Remembering Croft McKenzie The precious wartime diaries of former Carlton footballer Private Croft McKenzie have been made available to the club by his descendants, some 98 years after he first put pen to paper. (Narrated by Sam Docherty)

The Carlton Football Club is indebted to Croft McKenzie’s descendants for access to the diaries. For the purposes of this article, select extracts of the diaries appear as follows;

First Diary

1917

Saturday 22nd December
We embarked this morning and left Port Melb. at 11.30am. The sea was a dead calm and it was very hot.  Dad, Mother & Vera were there to wave us off. Also Barbara, Muriel, Don & Angus. I thought until today that I was very callous but I had a lump in my neck as big as my hand.

I believe Dad felt my leaving the most of all and it was only through a keen study of his movements that one could notice anything.
 
Sunday 23rd December
Just completed my first full day and we are now out of Victorian waters. We got up at six, got everything stowed away and had breakfast.  At ten we went to Church parade.  After dinner we were given our first lesson in boat drill.
 
1918

Friday 4th January
I think we crossed the equator today and it has been raining for the last two hours.  I was hoping to see a tropical rain but this shower is quite normal.  We have had a sweating day and it is still very hot.  McWilliams told me they took £103 yesterday at the canteen.  One of our lads Cicalese, (Joseph Vincent), had a narrow escape from being killed last night.  He was sleeping where we were told not to, and a heavy piece of quartering fell on his face and smashed his nose.  Strict submarine orders now and lights out at 6.30.  We can’t even smoke after that time.  We had an alarm just after dinner today.  I suppose I will have a game tonight.  I did and police sergeant snapped us but of course we were only playing crib so there is no chance of serious trouble.  He found money about but I think all is well.

Tuesday 8th January           
The boy Cicalese whom I mentioned a few days ago as meeting with an accident died last night.  He developed hemorrhage of the brain. We buried him overboard this morning. A most impressive ceremony.
 
Tuesday 29th January
Reveillie at 5am and we started to go on board the boat at 8.30am.
 
Friday 1st February
We had a siren alarm this afternoon and most of the lads looked very serious when they came up.  Honestly, this boat is a death trap if we get torpedoed when all the troops are down below.  There are nearly 500 men on these decks and we all have to get up a four ft. wide gangway.  It would be impossible for the men down below to get on deck in less than ten minutes.
 
Tuesday 5th February (Taranto Italy – en route to England)
This is a very pretty camp and we spent the morning walking round the camp. The British Government are building a permanent camp here and at present there are 17,000 men here.

Thursday 14th February
Dad’s birthday and here I am away in Vivoin–Beaumont. People will not realize what this ride is like.  Just imagine eight men in the old fashioned “dog box” of the Victorian railways for seven days and nights. Had one spell of five hrs in Italy otherwise we have been in the carriage all the time.

Saturday 16th February (Codford, England)
Porridge and curry for breakfast and after that we were medically examined and also dentally. In the afternoon I went along the road to a football match. It was not a bad game.

Sunday 17th February
My birthday today and it was quite different to any other I have had. First we had to wait till dinner- time to have a wash as the water pipes were frozen. Instead of going to church I went for a walk to the village of Wylye.

Tuesday 26th February
Australian mail in this morning but I was not among the lucky. I may strike one in the afternoon batch. No luck.

Thursday 4th April
The football team is going to London tomorrow and I am picked to go. Coy S. M. asked me today if I would accept a stripe and I told him I would.

Monday 15th April
Spent the whole day down on the range shooting. I did not do too well as I am not used to resting the barrel on anything. I got 35 out of 40 when we had to shoot properly without the aid of any rest. I have not received any letters in this mail yet. We will spend tomorrow on the rifle range also and I hope it is not so cold and miserable tomorrow.

Wednesday 17th April
Another wet day and we have been shooting in it all day. We have now completed our practice and started the classification. So far I have scored 44 out of a possible 50 in the classification and if I can keep going at that rate I will win a “marksman’s” badge.
Received four letters today from Mother, Vera, Barbara and Beryl and they were very welcome indeed as I had not received any for a long time.

Monday 22nd April
Spent the whole morning throwing and firing live bombs. It is not a bad game but I would sooner be throwing them than be thrown at. They will soon frighten me if they get throwing too many of those things about.

Tuesday 23rd April
Spent the whole of the day on Lewis Gun instruction and were warned to go to the war “soon.”  It probably means next Sunday………
……..Well the time is drawing near when we will be leaving England and although the whole lot of us feel a bit nervy at times I am glad we are going over.  Elcare Riedell says, “For Christ’s sake keep your damn block down.”  And very good advice it is too.  The weather is warming up a bit again so the odds are that we will strike things pretty lively over there.  Our Division – the 5th – is mobile and we have no idea where we will be going to.  I don’t think it matters much where you go but everyone says it is much better in the infantry – than in the artillery.
 
Thursday 25th April
Anzac Day. We were granted a holiday and this morning there was a memorial service held in the cemetery and the band played hymns, etc. We were issued with steel helmets, first aid dressings and now we are completed with kits. This afternoon George Wallis and I spent the afternoon at the New Zealand Camp sports and although there was nothing startling at the sports we enjoyed the roll about in the sun.

Friday 26th April
This is the last entry in the diary as Burns has to pack up and get back to Aussy. Therefore I am finished. I don’t apologise for the writing or anything else in it but am satisfied that it is a complete chronicle of all doings of the 14/29. It is a good job I can’t write the future but all I can say is that at present I don’t feel a bit afraid. Of course we will all get jumpy when we get near the front but we might have the luck to get a good “blighty.”


Second Diary

This will carry on to a certain extent the diary which Sgt. Burns took home.  Everyone is keen on my writing on, so I will to the best of my ability.  I have kept skimpy notes in the line and from them and memory I will have to fill up the gaps.  Getting ready to leave Blighty for France.
 
Sunday 23rd June               
Artillery very active today and tonight we watched a “hop-over” in the distance.  There is a fascinating madness in watching it but it must be terrible to be in.  Lord knows how anybody gets through it.
 
Monday 8th July
I have now been put in the raiders or fighting patrol and we crawl around on hands and knees half the night. It is not much of a game.

Tuesday 16th July
Arrived in front line about midnight very tired with wet feet. I changed my socks and was put in a bay to live. Fritz owned this trench a week ago and it smells like it. There are a good few dead Fritzes lying at the back.

Wednesday 17th July
Jerry put a barrage down on the trench about nine o’clock and raided 5 Platoon in the bomb block. He killed two and wounded six others. I was disappointed at the behavior of some of the old soldiers, but I suppose we new men do not know the danger. Olsen and Reed have been recommended for decorations over the stunt.
I had to help to carry one of the dead men out this morning. The hardest job I ever did in my life.

Thursday 25th July
Still ploughing the mud. God knows how the men stood the life on the Somme in 1916 when the slush was over their knees. No wonder some of them look strained in body and brain.

Saturday 27th July
Instead of going out for ten days we landed in support trenches of another sector. Very muddy here also. They are loading us up for a hop over the bags. I am wondering what it will be like and who will be “missing.”

Sunday 28th July
The Barrage opened at 12.30 pm and at +3 we started forward astride the Bray-Corbie road. It is fascinating following the barrage and one is full of confidence. Many were full of rum - same thing. We got 140 prisoners but they killed all the Fritz on our (?) sector.

Monday 29th July
The barrage was perfect and kept his head down until we were on top of him.  He had no escape and we showed him no mercy. I could not kill him with his hands up but someone else did. We had 110 casualties.

Tuesday 30th July
Still occupying the new line. We are the most forward post of the Battalion and we were nearly outed today by two gas shells which landed right on the parapet.

1st August              
Relieved at 12.30 and walked all night.  What a mess (we) are in.  Some have no putties and some have not much trousers left.  Others are wearing leggings on top (of) boots or anything they could find in the German dug-outs. Motor lorries picked us up and ran us back to Cardonnette which we reached at midday.  Slept the rest of the day.
 
5th August              
Left Cardonnette and passed through Douai (Daors Vecquemont) to Diggers Support just near Villers Brettoneux.  They tell us we are going to start the biggest stunt of the war.
 
Tuesday 6th August
Still loading us up and all night we can hear tanks and guns going forward by the hundreds. It is going to be some stunt.

Friday 9th August
Advanced another two miles and captured hundreds more prisoners but our casualties were also heavy. We lost 14 officers. Wonderful work in the air today but one could write 50 pages on these two days alone.  I will always be able to tell people about them.

Tuesday 27th August
A few hundred yards from here is the biggest gun I have ever seen – the barrel is over 50 ft. long and it is set in concrete. The rear staging is about 25 ft. high and some of the girders must be five tons weight.  She is worked by electricity.
 
Thursday 5th September            
Received orders to move again and we marched through Peronne, and over the bridge while his artillery was trying to blow up the bridge and we had to wear gas masks as the streets were full of gas.  Fritz is burning in all directions.
 
Saturday 7th September             
Reached Soyecourt about noon after a very long advance.  Messed things up terribly this stunt because half the cows can’t read their maps.  They brought us back in the evening to a safer place.
 
Sunday 8th September
Moved forward again. We have been in five different positions in the last 36 hrs. The troops are very tired and angry and to make matters worse it has been showery. Norman Maclure was wounded in the foot today.

Monday 30th September
Last night we were told to make a line in front of the town and going out we stumbled into a Fritz strong post. We captured six prisoners but our old mate Ted O’Brien was killed on his gun. He was one of the best soldiers in the Batt. We then retired and finally were put into shell holes just in front of the town.


All day snipers have been trying to get us. Gratton and our Officer Friday were both hit. At night a German led his horse right onto our post. He did not live to tell anybody. Just before dawn we went back behind the town. It has been a terrible stunt all through the Yanks messing things up at the start. We suffered severe casualties and any man who got out of it should be thankful. It is a bonza revolver that I souveniered. Had a sleep today while the 14 Brigade went forward with tanks. We had nothing supporting us.

Tuesday 1st October
Came back through Bellicourt for a rest but had to sleep on the side of the road as there are too many dead lying in the trenches to put us in them. However the rum issue put us to sleep and after the sun rose we found clean trenches farther up. The dead here are very thick and they are mostly Yanks.

Wednesday 2nd October
Slept nearly all day and night.  It is glorious to be warm again.  It almost makes one cry to see all these young men lying dead in thousands around us.  The cream of the world.  This is not the correct way of settling international arguments.

Saturday 12th October                
The Battalion was officially disbanded today owing to lack of reinforcements, but a mass meeting was held and we are now out on strike.  I was elected delegate for B Company.  The case looks pretty hopeless but one never knows and it is terrible to think the old Battalion is smashed.
 
Mid November
Big events have taken place in the war. Turkey surrendered and then Austria shied the towel leaving Germany on her own for a few days. Then she came to Foch with the white flag and it looks as if the war is over.

Wednesday 25th December
Enjoyed this Xmas much better than last but still I was a little disappointed with the dinner. I will be home for the next anyway.
 
Tuesday 31st December
Had a short parade in the morning and lost 5 f. at Poker in the afternoon.  At night we went to a dance room and danced the old year out.  The party consisted of Hyatt (C. Hyatt), O. Shaw, Bill McKenzie and I and we had a supper out of one of my parcels.   Thus ends ‘18 which has been a good one and probably the most eventful of my life.
I am thankful that I came through it unscathed and that the war has ended successfully.  The men have won it and it only remains to be seen whether the Heads spoil their work.  If a league of nations is not formed the war has been in vain.
 
1919
Third Diary


Tuesday 28th January
At Last. Received twenty-one letters today – mostly Aussies and I feel quite excited about it. It means a jolly lot of writing now but I guess it’s worth it even if one does have a rough spin with mail.

Thursday 4th September
Woke up this morning passing through the Heads. Came up the channel and anchored off Gellibrand at 8.30am. At 10pm we are still waiting for a doctor.


The Great Adventure is nearly over and this little scrapbook finishes when we hit the wharf. I have been one of the lucky ones and am just as fit as I was when I left in ’17, but I am two years older.


I don’t suppose I shall ever have another two years so full of travel and excitement.


I am very pleased I came and the only sore point of the homecoming is the evergreen memory of Digger Pals who will never return. They gave their lives for this country of ours and - well - it’s up to us. The doctor has passed us and the tie rope is on the wharf.


She’s drawing in.


One feels a bit excited now.
I wonder who I will see first.


-       C.R. McKenzie