Troupes : Digger Field Theatres & Concert Parties (WWI)

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Established as a means of boosting moral and relieving monotony, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) concert parties (also known as field theatres) were organised by various divisions in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the United Kingdom between late 1916 and 1919. Some troupes also toured back home during the latter years of the war, offering insights into the war experience for the general public and as well providing entertainment for propaganda and enlistment purposes. After being demobilised a number of these soldier troupes turned professional, touring through the Australasian region, the United Kingdom, and the East well into the 1920s and even the early 1930s.
The most popular forms of entertainment offered by these troupes were vaudeville, revue, musical comedy, revusicals, and pantomime. One-off concerts, including those of a more ‘legitimate’ or ‘serious’ type, were also presented by various units and military concert bands. Such entertainments were rarely held close to the battle lines, however.
Concert parties were also formed back in Australia and New Zealand for the purposes of raising funds, increasing enlistment and boosting moral. Some of these troupes comprised returned soldiers only, while others involved a mix of returned soldiers and civilians. A number of all-civilian concert parties were also active during and beyond the war years (notably the Cheer-Oh Girls). These troupes were primarily involved in fund-raising.

All Diggers Company to Kookaburras ……. p.1
Merrymakers to Wombats ……. p.2

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ALL DIGGERS COMPANY

aka Mademoiselle Mimi Diggers

M Mimi Diggers 1 [GR Mar 1920, 13]

(1920-1922) The All Diggers Company of seven returned servicemen toured their three act musical comedy Mademoiselle Mimi around Australia for J. and N. Tait between February 1920 and ca. April 1921. A re-organised 5 member line-up later toured a series of revusicals around New Zealand for Fullers’ Theatres as half of vaudeville bill. The works included Mimi’s Spies and The Pommy Bride (both 1921). The troupe then played engagements in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney between November 1921 and March 1922. The company’s line-up included female impersonator Lindsay Kemble, Roy Glenister, George Jennings, Jack Lumsdaine and Lorne O’Brien.

Image source: Green Room Mar. (1920), 13.

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AMATEUR FROLICS COMPANY

aka No 1 Squadron A.F.C. Concert Party

(ca. 1918) The No 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, was based in the Middle East at Ramla, Palestine (now Israel). Although little is known about this troupe, the Australian War Memorial holds several programs for concerts staged in 1918. These were presented in association with the A.F.C. Orchestra. The shows typically comprised a first half of miscellaneous items and a second half musical comedy. Performers identified to date are: G. Hampton (music director), Lieut. Smith, R.J. Howie, Corporals Luxton, W. Taylor, and N. Clutterbuck; and Aircraft Mechanics J. Gilberg, J. Dagwell, G. Faulkner, C. Dawes (also stage manager), R. McGibbon, W. Shiers, and H. Lander.

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THE ANZACS

(1917) Comprising five returned soldiers and a non-military pianist, the Anzacs toured regional Queensland during early to mid-1917. Appearing on stage in uniform and with their fighting colours, their shows began in military camp setting, depicting life at Gallipoli, complete with camp fire and rifles near at hand (suggesting the ever-present danger of the enemy). After an introductory chorus the performers entertained the audience with individual specialty turns interposed with songs. The performers were: George Culley (humourist), Reginald Climo (bugler), Walter Vaughan (bones/singer), Val Le Var (bullet-proof conjurer), George Coates (singer), C. Young (pianist).

Not to be confused with the Anzac Concert Party (later Gallipoli Strollers)

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THE ANZAC COVES

(1916-1919) The first field theatre troupe to be established in the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.), the Anzac Coves was originally financed by the Australian Comforts Funds and comprised soldiers from across the A.I.F. The troupe’s immediate success led to other concert parties being quickly formed within most Divisions. Among the best known professional entertainers associated with the Anzac Coves were Harry Ross (1) and Ralph Sawyer.

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THE AUSTRALIAN DANDIES

aka Australian General Base Depot Concert Party [1]

(1918-1919) As with the Wattle Birds, little is currently known about this World War I concert party apart from it having staged shows at the Australian General Base Depot at Le Havre, France. Comments made in the Depot’s War Diary for November and December 1918 indicates that the troupe produced “splendid shows” at the Lismore Cinema for about 2,000 soldiers every Saturday evening during that time (ctd. Australian War Memorial, Item No 33/4/13).

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AUSTRALIAN FLYING CORPS CONCERT PARTY

aka A.F.C. Concert Party

AWM - AFC Concert Party prog(1918-1919) During World War I the Australian Flying Corps (A.F.C.) established at least three individual concert parties – The Flying Kangaroos, The (Flying) Kookaburras, and the Amateur Frolics Company. After the war ended on 11 November 1918, the Australian Imperial Forces returned to Australia in stages, with some elements performing reconstruction and military occupation duties in Europe. As the A.F.C. squadrons were gradually disbanded its entertainment units contracted into one troupe by early 1919. The last remaining troupe, billed as simply The Australian Flying Corp Concert Party, also comprised entertainers who had served in other corps and divisions.

  • For further details see: Program. Australian War Memorial.
Members of A.F.C. Concert Party included: Bob Hulme, Stan McIntyre, Ben Hall, Ern Petering, G. Kendrick, F. Leake, Alf Dunstan, Nat Gyles, Dick Loughlin, Les Williams, Bert Richardson, Ray Byrne, Arch Grant, Jack Cathcart, Ted McVinnish, Ivo Hall, E. Daniel, Will Salisbury, G. Patterson, Monte Phillips, Jock Cunningham, G. Metcalfe.

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THE BEAUFORT MERRYMAKERS

Beaufort Merrymakers [MP 20 Sept 1917, 25](1917-1918) Established in the town of Beaufort, Victoria, sometime around mid-1917, the Beaufort Merrymakers principle objectives was to help raise funds for various war-related charities and to help lift the spirits of those living in nearby regional communities. The company’s shows largely comprised songs, dances, recitations and comedy (patter and sketches). The costuming, particularly that of the ladies, was also a feature of the entertainment. In addition to shows at Beaufort the Merrymakers are also known to have played Ararat, Avoca, Lexton, and Amphitheatre. The company reportedly raised in the vicinity of £700, with the Red Cross a major beneficiary.

Personnel incl. Anthony Cavagna, G. Cougle, Elsie De Bare (accompanist), Alma Harris, Vera Derrick, Mrs Percy Kelly, J.G. Macdonald, R. Martin, Eric Mills, H.B. (Harry) Seager, Netta White, A.L. (Archie) Wotherspoon.
Image source: Punch (Melb) 20 Sept. (1917), 25.

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BLACK DIAMOND COSTUME COMEDY COMPANY

Black Diamonds - ad [B 1 Aug 1918, 47]

(1918-1919) Comprising six soldiers from the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.), the Black Diamonds toured largely through regional Australia from early 1918 through until possibly early 1919. The feature performers were: Fred Price (singer), Rob Vernon (singer), Charles Richmond (comedian), Frank Clune (piano/singer) and Messrs. Dinsmore and Gorrick (patter comedians/dancers). The troupe is also belived to have comprised a separate musical ensemble (the Black Diamond Musical Trio). Black Diamond shows included a selection of comedy sketches, songs (notably ragtime, sentimental, patriotic and comedy numbers), and a concluding dramatic scena “Matey” (set in a Y.M.C.A. tent on the Western Front).

Image source: Rexona advertisement. Bulletin 1 Aug, (1918), 47.

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THE BLUE DANDIES

aka 4th Australian Infantry Brigade Concert Party

AWM - 4 Aust Brigade Concert Party prog(1917-1919) Formed by soldiers serving with the four infantry battalions that comprised the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade (13th, 14th, 15th and 16th battalions), the Blue Dandies presented an array of entertainments, including revues, pantomime and musical concerts. As with most other World War I soldier entertainments the shows were based around whatever talents were available within the ranks – with the variety-based shows invariably including songs, dances, comedy and patter routines, and specialty acts.

Troupe members identified to date are: S. E. Dancey, Roy Houghton, J. Barham, R. Lloyd, W. J. Cobb, L. M. Croucher, R Fisher, N. Bunker, A. Sturgeon, W. Marshall, G. Wilson, J. Shearer, G. Reynolds and (initials unknown) Marshall-Lawrence, Gerrard, Mardi, Stanfield, Russell, Eastman, Hepworth, Kreutzer, and Line. Jack “Dinks” Paterson is also likely to have performed with the Blue Dandies.

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THE BLUE DIAMONDS

aka 7th Australian Infantry Brigade Concert Party

AWM - Blue Diamonds(ca. 1917-1919) Led by director/writer and comedian Ed Warrington, the Blue Diamonds was formed by soldiers from the 7th Brigade. The troupe sometimes performed with the 7 Australian Infantry Brigade Orchestra (at one stage under the direction of E. Rice). The troupe typically staged comedies, sketches and musical numbers. A program held by the Australian war memorial records that the troupe also staged a musical scena of trench life called “The Humour of It.”

Members of the Blue Diamonds identified to date are: Ed Warrington, (no initials or rank) McIntyre, Eades, Teague, Bairnsfather, Perks, Reid, Klauer, and Oliff.

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THE CHEER-OH GIRLS

Cheer-Oh Girls [Mosman Library]aka Cheer Oh Girls’ Patriotic Revue Company

(1916-1928) Formed in Mosman, Sydney by Mrs Bennett White (aka Meta Hayter) as a means of raising funds for patriotic appeals, the Cheer-Oh Girls was an amateur concert party comprising around seven to ten women. Its debut was given at Mosman Town Hall on 10 November 1916. White remained with the troupe throughout its lifetime. Other long-time members were Dorrie Ward, Thora Wood and Edith Dickenson (accompanist). The Cheer-Oh Girls retained its connection with Mosman (many of the artists lived there) while undertaking numerous engagements and tours throughout Sydney and regional New South Wales. Molly Raynor (1921-26) later carved out a successful career as stage and film actress in Australia and Great Britain.

  • More details  (research notes)
  • See also: Byrne, Mary Lou. “Doing Their Share.” Doing Our Bit: Mosman 1914-1918. Mosman Library (Sydney). 19 July 2012. [sighted 13/01/2015]
1: Known performers were: Edith Angel, Amy Bice, Marjorie Cheffins, Kathleen Daniel, Edith Dickinson, Beatrice Edmunds, Gertrude Edmunds, Irene Edmunds, Edna Fenner, Gwladys Fimister, Bobbie Garrard, Grace Harris, Gladys Mitchell, Mrs Victor Morse, Miss Jack Neil, Molly Raynor, Nan Reay, Violet Roberts, Madge Roberts, Rene Ross, Nell Sedgeley, Sadie Tilburn, Joan Walford, Dorrie Ward, Mrs Bennett White, Una Wilson, Thora Wood.
2: Several other similarly-named all-female troupes are known to have been active during the war years. One, also known as Tighe’s Hill Cheer-Oh Girls, was based in Newcastle ca. 1919. New Zealand newspaper, The Dominion records that another Cheer-Oh Girls was presenting entertainments in Wellington ca. 1917 (15 Nov. 1917, 2). Mrs Bennett White also established another Cheer-Oh Girls concert party in 1940.
Image source: Mosman Library (Sydney)

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THE COO-EES

(1916-1919)  Established in December 1916 to provide Christmas and New Year’s entertainment for A.I.F. troops, the Coo-ees concert party continued to perform along and behind the battle lines in France and elsewhere through until 1919. The original troupe comprised six performers, but by early 1918 had been expanded to over 30, including an orchestra. Performers who found success on the variety stage after the war included Jock Thompson and George Harvey.

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THE DUM DUM DINKUMS

(1918) Led by Quartermaster Sergeant Bradley, the Dum Dum Dinkums variety company staged performances in various South Australian centres (including Adelaide) between ca. May and November 1918. These shows were almost exclusively undertaken as a means of raising funds for various war charities – including the Artillery Trench Comforts Fund, the Red Cross Fund, and to help purchase “ship comforts” for the troopship carrying the 6th General Reinforcements (A.I.F.). Comprising both servicemen and civilian performers, the troupe presented a combination of musical numbers, comedy routines, specialty items and comedy sketches.

Performers identified with the troupe are: QM Sergeant Bradley, Sgt Jackson (Maori war songs), Privates Quintrell and Bradwood, L. Powell, Alf. Clayton (piano), A. Black, N. Roberts, M. Ingham, Bert Datson (comedian), Seth Smith (banjo), Mrs Bradley, Miss Audley Bradley, Miss Bradwood, Mrs A. Black (piano), Miss Rooney, Miss V. Dudley, Miss Hodda, Miss H. Pomeroy, Maxine McKenzie (comedienne), Elsie Black.

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THE EMPTIES

aka The M.T.s

AWM - Empties prog(ca. 1917-1918) Formed from soldiers serving in France with the Mechanical Transport (aka Motor Transport) company of the 4th Division Ammunition Sub Park, The Empties concerts comprised instrumentals, vocal performances, monologues, sketches and comedy acts.

Performers identified to date are: Sgt. McKinley, Sgt. Muhlebach, L/Cpl. Muller, D’Arcy; Tom Kennedy, H. Kendall; Drivers – Thawnton, Hanna, Houston, Hall, Nomnus, Seaton; (no first names) – Bozey, Lefebore, Bushell, Maxwell, Karlie, Dimmie, Leon, Readie.

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FAMOUS DIGGERS

Diggers ad 2(1919-ca. 1932) The Pat Hanna-led Famous Diggers toured Australasia constantly between late 1919 and the early 1930s, presenting variety entertainment that focused largely on themes relating to the Great War. For the first few years all female characters were played by males. The troupe was also well-known for the comic sketches played out by the duos Chic and Bert (Hanna and Will Crawford) and later, Chick and Joe (with Joe Valli).

New information has recently come to light which suggests that two affiliated Famous Diggers troupes were operating simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand between ca. April 1920 and December 1921. A research project is currently being undertaken and a new updated biography is planned for publication in 2017.

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FIELD ARTILLERY PIRATES

AWM - Field Artillery Pirates flyer(1915) Formed for a one-off concert on 21 October 1915, the Field Artillery Pirates presented an entertainment comprising instrumentals, recitations, comedy and vocal performances. The advertised performers, as billed in a program held by the Australian War Memorial were: Capt. James Hook; Lieut. Doherty; Bombadiers – Cowan and Cornish; Gunners – de May, Rhodes, Keighley, Ivers and Code; Private Phillips; Driver Keeami; and Mr Richardson (4th Officer). The concert is one of the earliest known entertainments staged within the Australian Imperial Forces during WWI.

  • For further details see: Program. Australian War Memorial.

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THE FLYING KANGAROOS

aka 7 Squadron A.F.C. Concert Party

AWM - Flying Kangaroos poster 1(ca. 1917-1919) Comprising servicemen from the Australian Flying Corps’ 7 Squadron Training Camp, The Flying Kangaroos performed at Leighterton Aerodrome, England (and possibly at its earlier location at Yatesbury), as well as at other bases, hospitals, fund-raising events and before the general public. Musical support was provided by several A.F.C. orchestras including the Leighterton Camp Orchestra and the No 2 Squadron orchestra. Performers included: Corporals – Norton, Nicholson, and Mochrie; Aircraft Mechanics – Lemke, Walters, Lockington, Robertson, and Dougherty; and Sergeant Gray. The entertainment generally comprised variety items (notably singing, recitations and comedy) along with comedy sketches.

  • For further details see: Program. Australian War Memorial.
7 Squadron was formed at Yatesbury in October 1917 as 32 (Australian Training) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, but was renamed, along with all of the Australian squadrons, in January 1918. The squadron relocated to Leighterton on 23 February 1918, where it remained until disbanded in March 1919.

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THE GALLIPOLI STROLLERS (1)

Gallipoli Strollers [SYM 25 Dec 1918, 14]

(1916-ca.1920) A troupe of wounded Gallipoli veterans, the Strollers formed in late 1916 as the Anzac Concert Party and after playing initial engagements in Sydney and regional New South Wales, travelled extensively throughout the Australian states up until at least 1920. Although the line-up changed over the years, the troupe typically numbered between seven and nine returned soldiers and a pianist (notably Monty Morris). A troupe known as Norman Croft’s Gallipoli Strollers was still touring as late as 1922, while comedian Will Hastings toured a similarly-named troupe in the mid-1920s.

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THE GALLIPOLI STROLLERS (2)

(ca. 1917-1918) This second Gallipoli Strollers troupe, which performed under the auspices of the Returned Soldiers and Sailors League, appears to have been exclusively associated with Western Australia. Initially billed as the Anzac Entertainers the eight members may have come together as early as 1917. The first established performance by the troupe as the Gallipoli Strollers was at the King’s Theatre, Fremantle (WA) in February 1918.

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GREEN DIAMONDS

aka 5th Australian Infantry Brigade Concert Party

AWM - Green Diamonds program(ca. 1917-1919) With its line-up including professional vaudevillian Bruce Drysdale (previously with Stanley McKay) and female impersonator “Tiki” Carpenter, the Green Diamonds presented a variety entertainment of songs, dances, comedy routines and farces in France around the end of the war. The concert party was formed from within the 5th Brigade, which itself comprised the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th infantry battalions.

  • For further details see: Program. Australian War Memorial.
Soldiers identified as being associated with the troupe are: F. Martin, H.E. Pierce, F. Hastie, Arthur “Tiki” Carpenter, J. Mossfield, L. McGowan, Bruce Drysdale, C. Daniels, R.A. Brodie, Val K. Royal (music director) and Lieut. W.T. Bastin (manager).

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ISSUES COMEDY COMPANY

(1923)  Featuring Ed Warrington (ex-Famous Diggers), Roy Glenister (ex-All Diggers Co), Hugh Torrance and Franklyn Mayne, the ten member ensemble was described as a “New Digger Company.” The troupe appears to have been put together for a one-off season in Fremantle beginning 27 October 1923. Advertising indicates that the entertainment was to be presented in “ten stunts and one attack,” with the highlights being “A Dud Dream,” “Cairo” and the Issues Quartette (led by Hugh Torrence).

  • Famous Diggers and All Diggers Co [above]

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KANGAROOS [2]

aka Concert Party of the Australian Graves Detachment

Kangaroos AGD 1919 2 [AWM]Little is currently known about this entertainment troupe apart from its formation as part of the Australian Graves Detachment. A photograph held by the Australian War Memorial records that the troupe included at least two female impersonators (and a baby impersonator). A sign proposing that Bunbury should be declared the capital of Australian suggests that the detachment may have had a connection with Western Australia. Another photograph indicates that the troupe comprised at least nine performers and staged a pierrot-style entertainment.

Image: 2 August 1919. Source: Australian War Memorial.

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KANGAROO KONCERT KOMPANY

AWM - Kangaroo Koncert K, 26 Sept 1917 [P1](ca. 1917-1918) A concert party formed from with the A.I.F’s Signals Corp, the Kangaroo Koncert Kompany was based in England, possibly at its first camp in Hampshire and certainly after the Signallers were relocated to Shefford, Herfordshire. Among its members were: Lieutenant McCutchan; Sergeants. Edwards and Bashford; Lance Corporal Stradling; Corporal Duggan; [Misses] Gibson and Carter; [Mrs] McCutchan; and Sappers – Dignum, Mathews, Clarke, Halley, Robbins, Joy and Arnold. The troupe appears to have specialised in revues, musical comedies and farces – with known production being Mrs Tite’s Boarding House (musical comedy) and “Fleecing the Lamb” (farce).

  • For further details see: Program. Australian War Memorial.
A program held by the Australian War memorial indicates that the Kangaroo Koncert Kompany’s production of Mrs Tite’s Boading House (Sept. 1917) included Miss Gibson, Miss Clarke and Mrs McClutcham. The identity of these performers (and their relationship to the Signals Corp or A.I.F.) is unclear.

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THE KOOKABURRAS [1]

National Collection(1916-1919) One of the first Australian concert parties to begin operating along the battle lines of Europe during World War I, The Kookaburras (aka The Kooks) were established in late 1916 and continued through until 1919.  Among the artists associated with the troupe were George Long (female impersonator), George Jennings (vocalist) and Johnny Marks (later a member of the Famous Diggers).

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THE KOOKABURRAS [2]

aka No 2 Squadron A.F.C. Concert Party

Kookaburras program 1 [AWM](ca. 1918). Little is currently known about this Australian Flying Corps entertainment company apart from two concerts staged in 1918. The shows comprised individual comic songs, dances, comedy items and musical selections from the orchestra, along with the sketches “In the Eighties” and “Leave in Paris.” Performers identified to date are: A. Moran (female impersonator), Lieut. Paxton, Sgt. Cobban; Cpl. Slatter; Aircraft Mechanics – H. Cullen (female impersonator), Moore, Hanson (also music director), Gribble, Humphrey, Pathe, S. Williams, T. Robertson (also scenic artist), Shakeshaft, Moran, Spurrett, and Dunnet. Known directors were Lieut. D.C. Allardice and Warrant Officer W.C. Wynn.

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THE KOOKABURRAS [3]

aka No 14 Australian General Hospital Concert Party

AWM - Kookaburras 3 prog(1917-1919) Established within the 14th Australian General Hospital (Abbassia, Cairo), this Kookaburras concert party staged shows at the hospital base, for other local military personnel and citizens. A program for a concert at the Eldorado Theatre, Port Said in May 1918 records that the troupe, supported by the 14th A.G.H. Orchestra, presented a largely musical entertainment. Items included solos, duets and choruses, comedy songs, instrumentals and song scenas, along with a comedy quartet, recitations, a burlesque scena and a conjuring act. One member of the troupe, singer Chris Kilner became a member of the Famous Diggers [above] during the 1920s.

  • For further details see: Program. Australian War Memorial.
Known troupe members were: C.G. Cooke, C. Kilner, J. Hargreaves, E. Bosworth, R. Robson, W. Leonard, R. Newson, J. Nairn, W. Dimmick. H. Frankland, C. Newell, and A.E. Smith (music director).

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Published on July 27, 2012 at 11:19 pm  Comments Off on Troupes : Digger Field Theatres & Concert Parties (WWI)