Almanac Life: A Digger’s Words

You might have seen Facebook plastered with an interesting fact. For people born in 1900, life was pretty grim. They lived through both World Wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War and the Cold War and the Vietnam War. A social media attempt to provide a little perspective about the situation that we currently find ourselves in; our ‘covid normal’.


It got me thinking of my great-grandfather, born in 1904. I have a picture of me as a piggy-tailed toddler, hanging from the hands of a giant, my great-grandfather, Jack Dodd. I don’t remember him, but vivid stories had been told, woven and spun, throughout my life. I feel I know the cadence of his deep voice and hearty laugh, and the kind of man he was. By all accounts, he was quite a bloke. An icon of his Goolwa community.


Jack Dodd in uniform


A renowned story teller, his profile was often in the local newspaper. I’m sure it’s his creative blood that runs through my veins. I was lucky enough to find a recording of his voice in an oral history interview in the State Library of Victoria. It was like striking gold. A prolific keeper of diaries throughout his time in the war in Tobruk, he has left a legacy that has reached into 2020.


The thing I cherish most though, is his collection of poems. A member of the Lighthorse in South Australia, Jack enlisted in WW2, against his wife’s wishes, at 35 years of age. The poetry that remains was written when he was thousands of miles away, in a desert tent, on the wafer-thin paper of the Red Cross. His diaries are a record of the monotony of daily soldier life; the mail, the food and the flies. Interspersed with the relative exhilaration of bombings and soldier movement. In stark contrast, his poems are full of larrikin humour and heart.


Jack deserves a novel written about his life and his time in Tobruk. It might come yet. But it’s his poems that I want to share with you. What better way to honour the man, than with the continuation of his words. Some of his poems are homages to his wife, others filled with comedy and cheek. But, given the importance of the medical fraternity in our current situation, today seems the right time to share the ones that he wrote of the Red Cross. The medical men and women who worked tirelessly overseas to help those fighting in the name of their country.


It does help. Knowing that Jack was dealing with a situation that was unknown and scary, but he got through it. We will too. In the meantime we can thank those who are on the front line and carry on.



Our Rose of Palestine

By J.S. Dodd


To the Holy land of Palestine

Where the wounded Aussies doze

There’s a slender bright-eyed sister

Who’s as pretty as a rose.

And her bright eyes as they twinkle

Melt the toughest Digger’s heart

While her happy smile goes with him

When the time comes to depart.

Just like a ray of sunshine

When the day is dull and cold

Her very presence warms us

And we know her heart’s pure gold

And she rules us like a Princess

With her happy gracious way

While we’re thinking up a plan

That will prolong our stay.

But we can’t stay sick forever

So we think it would be fine

If only we could come back later

To our Rose of Palestine.




By J.S. Dodd


Each life has its crosses

And a soldier gets his share

From a trip across the ocean

To that envied Croix De Guerre.

There are crosses by the censor

Far too many so it seems,

There are crosses in his letters

From the girlfriend of his dreams.

There’s a cross that’s worn by heroes

Who faced a storm of lead

There’s a cross when he is wounded

And a cross when he is dead.

Then there’s that little cross of Mercy

That very few may own

To a soldier it is second

To that of God alone.

It’s a cross that’s worn by women

When we see it we believe

We recognise an Angel

By the Red Cross on her sleeve.


*Croix De Guerre – A French military decoration awarded in WW1 and WW2.




More stories from Nicole Kelly HERE


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About Nicole Kelly

Is a teacher, mother, writer and all-round lover of words!


  1. Kerrie O'Callaghan says

    Great story, loved your choice of grandpa’s poems.
    Brought a tear to my eye with memories of this man mountain who was a real larrikin at times but obviously a very sensitive soul. Known as the “mayor” of Goolwa by many, I was told by a Goolwa resident that he could walk with paupers & walk with kings & never be out of place!
    I remember him as a real character, & deeply loved.
    Thanks for the memories.

  2. Lee Harradine says

    Thank you for that. My father was at Tobruk, perhaps in the same SA Battalion, so it resonates.

  3. Just wonderful, Nicole.

    I cannot begin to imagine how you felt when you heard that recording of his voice.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    A touching piece, Nicole – with some lovely poems, to boot!

  5. Nicole Kelly says

    Thanks for the comments. It’s always a pleasure to write about family!

    Lee – grandpa was the 2/10th Battalion. Was that your father’s Battalion?

  6. DBalassone says

    Wonderful piece Nicole.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    Superb Nicole, loved the poems, thanks for sharing!

  8. Lee Harradine says

    2/48th, Nicole.

  9. Love it Nicole.

    Those Red Cross people and the nurses working in the hospital tents must, indeed, have been like an angel to a wounded soldier.

  10. Terrific piece Nicole. From what I’m led to believe, you had at least two other great grandfathers who served. They went off to World War I. What about the fourth one?

    Great to have that recording too.

  11. Daryl Schramm says

    Lovely piece all round. The sentiments in your article are timely and apt. The discovery of Mr. Dodd’s voice on a recording must have been a thrill for you Nicole. The poems are so readable for me who is not an avid poetry follower. Thank you for posting.

  12. Nicole Kelly says

    Thanks John. Yes, Edward Whitelaw enlisted in the 9th Lighthorse in 1916 and John O’Brien O’Callaghan in the 10th Infantry Battalion on 19th August 1914, only 15 days after war was declared!

    My other great-grandfather was in England and lucky to escape serving by being only 17 when WW1 ended!

  13. Hi Nicole
    Having spent the last 18 months or so (on and off) transcribing my Mum and Dad’s letters to each other from 1943-1945 when Dad was in the Army (nearly 500 of them), your piece certainly resonates. My Dad too wrote poetry, so thank you! Maybe you should write your great-grandfather’s story!

  14. Nicole Kelly says

    What a labour of love, Jan. It must be beautiful to read the words he wrote to her. Very special.

  15. Delphine Reynolds says

    Brilliant work keep it says Jack’s daughter Rae Reynolds she loved seeing the paper that was sent to her

  16. Ian Reynolds says

    Thanks Nicole he was one of a kind

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