Troupes : Digger Field Theatres & Concert Parties (WWI)

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



aka The Mosman Merrymakers

Merrymakers [mosman library](1917-1919) Organised in Mosman, Sydney sometime around May 1917 for the purpose of raising funds for various patriotic movements, the all-female Merrymakers troupe was led by Doris North under the supervision of Mrs Keeling (president) and Mrs J. Adams (vice-president). Following its first performance, at the War Chest Fund held Mosman’s Repertory Theatre on 6 June, the revolving Merrymakers line-up appeared at fundraisers in Sydney, regional New South Wales and southern Queensland. The entertainment combined elements of refined costume comedy (including pierrot costumes) and revue – notably singing (solos, duos, trios and choruses), dancing, comedy sketches, and recitations etc. The company’s final performance was given at the North Sydney Coliseum on 22 August 1919.

1: Personnel incl. Yvonne Androusseau, Katie Clarke, Olive Clarke, Queenie Clarke, Nora Connelly, Enid Hirst (Mrs Moors), Eileen Mayor, Dorothy Nall, Doris Napier North (Mrs Ken Donaldson), Eileen Napier North, Kathleen Napier North, Sadie Napier North, Maida Scott, Bluie Slatter, Gwen Slatter (pianist), Sadie Tilburn, Kathleen Waddington, Valerie Wetherall, Beatrice Wenban.
2: In 1919 Doris North and Dorothy Nall toured the East with Frederick Shipman’s Fantastics – North as pianist and Nall as elocutionist.
Image source: Mosman Library.



aka 8th Field Ambulance Concert Party

AWM - Night Birds prog(1917-1918) Established in Egypt in 1915, the 8th Field Ambulance was assigned to the 5th Division in February 1916 and sent to the Western Front where it operated in both France and Belgium. Its entertainment troupe, known at one stage as the Night Birds, was active in France in 1917 (and likely 1918). It may have also presented concerts in Belgium at some stage. A program held by the Australian War Memorial credits the management of the troupe in 1917 to Staff Sergeant E. Kitson. The entertainment, which was accompanied by a small ensemble of musicians, included original sketches like “The Anzac Wafer” (described as a tragedy) and “Sommewhere.”

Performers identified to date are: Staff Sgt. E. Kitson, Eric Herford, Bill Gamble, E. Payne, P. Moore, H. Douch, Bobbie Roberts, (given names and rank unknown) – May, Peattie, Orr, Morrison, Lear, and Blanton. Musicians included: Fred Saunders (piano), Johnnie Moore (violin) and Horrie Playford (cornet).



aka The Aussies / No. 1 Command Depot Concert Party (8 Infantry Battalion)


(1917-1919) The Perham Stars formed at the Perham Down training camp in Wiltshire, England under the direction of Lieutenant Gustav Schemalleck. In late 1917 the depot moved to nearby Sutton Veny,  but the concert party decided to keep the name Perham Stars. By this stage the direction had been taken on by Ernest Nicholls (also business manager). Two other members with links to the Australian variety stage were Jack Lumsdaine and Arthur Boorman (known professionally as Arthur Riscoe). The concert party, which later became known as The Aussies, toured hospitals and other camps through until the end of the war. Its manager at that time was Lieutenant Boorman.

1: ‘A’ Training Group, 8 Battalion was established in England at Perham Downs (Andover, Wiltshire) on 8 August 1916 with the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Training Battalions assigned. It was renamed 1st Training Group 9 December 1916.
2: Englishmen Ernest Nicholls, an accomplished baritone, and comedian Arthur Riscoe were both in Australia at the outbreak of war and subsequently enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.). Nichols returned to live in Australia after the war, while Boorman/Riscoe remained in England and eventually established himself as a popular film comedian.
Image source: Australian War Memorial. Additional information and corrections sourced from Dianne Rutherford



Sentimental Blokes, 1919 poster [AWM](ca. 1917-1919) Named in honour of C.J. Dennis’ popular book of verse (a favourite with Australian soldiers during World War I), the Sentimental Blokes presented a typically vaudeville style entertainment, heavily- laden with comedy, songs, dances and sketches. Arguably the best known performers form the troupe in later years were female impersonator, Lindsay Kemble and basso, Roy Glenister.



aka 1st Division Artillery Concert Party

AWM - Serenaders prog(ca. 1917-1919) Comprising servicemen from 1st Division Artillery (Australian Imperial Forces), the Serenaders is believed to have been organised in France in 1917, the year after the Division relocated from Egypt. A program held by the Australian War Memorial indicates that the company was managed by Captain C.W. Smith and produced and directed by W.W. Muir. The musical accompaniment was provided by R.A. Leggett and H.W. Relf. Apart from Captain Smith the individual ranks of the performers is unclear, as they are all identified by the abbreviation Sdr (possibly standing for Serenader).

  • For further details see: Program. Australian War Memorial.
The names of the known performers are: Sdr.s’ Thomas, Leggett, Miller Smith Morea, Muir, Ellis, and Relf.



(ca. 1917-1930) After presenting more than a thousand concerts along the battle-lines of France, the Smart Set Diggers toured post-war Europe before returning to the Antipodes under contract to J. and N. Tait and later Fullers’ Theatres. The troupe, which made several tours of Australia, as well as the East during the mid-late 1920s, featured up to five female impersonators – notably Charles Holt, “Tiki” Carpenter, Ralph Sawyer and Bobbie Roberts.



AWM - Tropical Troubadours prog(ca. 1918-1919) A troupe of Australian soldiers from the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (A.N.M.E.F.), the Tropical Troubadours is known to have staged at least one show in Rabaul in April 1919. It was possibly one of several irregular concert parties active in the south-west Pacific during World War I. Performers identified with the troupe to date are: Lieutenants Peterson and Money, Sergeant Boult, Corporal Bruce, Privates Croker, Burrows, Westley, Crone (also music director); and Signor Mulderoni. Peterson and Wesley are billed in the April 1919 program as “England’s premiere patterlogists.”

  • For further details see: Program. Australian War Memorial.
The A.N.M.E.F. was a small volunteer force of approximately 2,000 men, raised in Australia shortly after the outbreak of the First World War to seize and destroy German wireless stations in German New Guinea in the south-west Pacific. New Zealand provided a similar force for the occupation of German Samoa.



aka Australian General Base Depot Concert Party [2]

Wattlebirds 1918 [Holland](1918-1919) Little is currently known about the Wattle Birds apart from being one of at least two concert parties operating out of the Australian General Base Depot at Le Havre, France. The company reportedly made its debut in the Depot’s Lismore Cinema on 4 November 1918 and continued staging shows into the New Year. Comments made in the Depot’s War Diary for November and December 1918 indicates that the troupe had been “producing some good concerts and on each occasion [had] proved that their party [was] indeed a talented one” (ctd. Australian War Memorial, Item No 33/4/13).

Image source: Paul Holland



Formed by members of the South Perth R.S.L. sub-branch, the Whizz-Bangs concert party appears to have been active during the late-1920s and early-1930s. Among the individuals known to have been associated with the troupe were Messrs. Buchan, Corpe (also stage manager), Hanley, and Rutherford (director). Perth’s Daily News records in its 30 October 1930 issue that the company was composed entirely of ex-servicemen and [that] the ladies of the show [were]… all gentlemen (3). In addition to the usual variety acts the Whizz Bangs reportedly also presented sketches and playlets illustrating experiences of the Great War.



aka 10 Australian Field Artillery Brigade Concert Party

(ca. 1917-1919) The Wombats was formed by soldiers from the 10th Field Artillery Brigade, a sub-unit of the 2nd Division Artillery (which operated at Gallipoli, in Egypt and on Western Front between 1915 and past November 1919). A program held by the Australian War Memorial for a concert in at the 4th Division Headquarters (Belgium, Jan. 1918) records the following performers: Mayne, Quinsey, Sampson, Cowan, Lawson, Slingsby, Sharpe and Chappel (no ranks or initials are given). The entertainment comprised songs (chorus, solo and duets), recitations, coon patter, conjuring, ‘Scotch’ comedy and a comedy film (screened by the Flying Squadron Cinema).



(1916, 1917-1918) Organised and managed by George H. Bull for the purposes of fundraising, the Y.M.C.A.’s Returned Soldiers Concert Party was primarily active from May 1917 until March 1918. Although Bull presented some one-off concerts in South Australia in 1916, as well as a season in Broken Hill in September, his touring company did not begin operating until May the following year. During its short existence the company played regional South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania with a line-up comprising mostly wounded soldiers, some missing a limb. The only non-soldier was their mascot, twelve year-old “boy wonder” Wallington Ayre, who sang in the baritone range. Each show typically took the form of a camp fire concert and included singing, elocutionary items, instrumental numbers, conjuring, card manipulation, and jokes. The last known engagements were in Tasmania.

1917. Courtesy of Aussiemobs at Flickr
Troupe members (1916) incl. Pvt. John Dillon (recitations), Sgt. Harrell (3rd Light Horse), Pvt. S.M. Penny (singer), Pvt. R.A. Pomroy (10th Batt. – pianist/secretary).
Troupe members (1917-1918) incl. Pvt. E.J.H. Combes, Pvt. C.J. Crispe, C. Crossley (9th Light Horse – cornet/trumpet), Cpl. S. Humphreys, Pvt. H.C. King (52nd Batt. – tenor), F.W. Lee (14th Batt. – basso), Sgt. L.H. Lewin (12th Batt. – card manipulator/ conjuror), Pvt. S.H. McMurray, Pvt. Alex. M.L. Paterson (6th Field Ambulance. – elocutionist), Pvt. R.A. Pomroy (10th Batt. – pianist/secretary), Pvt. W. Scott (3rd Light Horse), Pvt. W.A. Sheppard (10th Batt. – orator), Cpl. A.J. Wooding, Pvt. F. Wooton.
1: Wallington Ayre is identified as a native of Ballarat, Victoria. An article published in the 14 November 1917 edition of the Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser (Vic) records that two of his brothers had enlisted – one was then in France and the other in camp in Australia.
2: George H. Bull, reportedly from Adelaide, also performed with the troupe as a singer. W.J. Richards was the Y.M.C.A. rep and advance manager during the 1917/1918 tour. Funds raised were used to provide assistance to wounded soldiers.
3. The company reportedly played a concert at the Melbourne Town Hall in 1917 under the patronage of the Governor of Victoria, Sir Arthur Stanley. No details have yet been located, however.
Standing L-R: S. Humphreys, C.J. Crispe, S.H. McMurray, F. Wooton, E.J.H. Coombes. Sitting L-R: S.M. Penny, R.A. Pomeroy, George H. Bull, A.J. Woodong.  Observer (Adelaide) 26 May 1917, 23.



A second Y.M.C.A. Returned Soldiers’ Concert Party was briefly active in regional Victoria in late-1918. This troupe was organised by W.J. Richards, as part of his attempt to establish local Y.M.C.A. committees. Richards had previously served as the Y.M.C.A.’s rep and advance manager for the first concert party. The earliest known performance for this troupe occurred in Narracan on 15 November. The last known show was in Warnambool on Christmas Night. The concert party members identified to date were: Cpl. B.A. Brudenell (8th Batt, tenor), Sgt Kedgell (magician), Sapper Montgomery, Lieut. Norman (secretary), Cpl. Phillips, and Pvt. Vaughan. The troupe was managed by a Sgt. Goodsall. As with the earlier Y.M.C.A. Concert Party entertainments, the shows were presented within a camp fire setting.

1: One several occasions one or more of the soldier entertainers were unable to perform due to injury flare-ups. Local amateurs (both male and female) were brought in to assist these shows.


Concert programs are courtesy of the Australian War memorial. Image citation details for entries without expanded biographies are noted at the bottom of the overview. All other image details are provided in the expanded PDF biographies.
For information concerning copyright issues see “Copyright” attachment in the AVTA “About” page.
Banner images L-R:  Smart Set Diggers, Anzac Coves, All Diggers Co, Smart Set Diggers, Digger Pierrots.

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