Sunday, 8 March 2015


In December the word of the month from Oxford Australia is Billzac, a term for a typical Australian soldier. It was formed from Billjim and Anzac and first appeared in the newspapers in 1916.

Billjim, first recorded in 1898, was a term for typical man in the street. I have found an early use of the word through Trove digitised newspapers in the North Queensland Register of 13 March 1899.

The earliest mention of ANZAC I have found in a Trove search is 7 June 1915, when the Adelaide Register and other newspapers reproduced the text of a cable from Major-General Sir Ian Hamilton to the Minister for Defence, Mr Pearce:  "I received information from Anzac that enemy reinforcements had been seen advancing from Maidos towards Krithia. Consequently Gen. Birdwood arranged to attack the trenches in front of the Ginn's post at 10 p.m."

In Avoca, the term Anzac was used by the Avoca Mail in December 1915 in an advertisement for the programme of the Navarre annual races:
Advertisement for Navarre Annual Races appearing in the Avoca Mail of 21 December 1915.
The patriotically inspired names for the races in the programme for the Navarre meeting helped to distinguish it from a race meeting to be held at Lexton only  a few days before hand. Both meetings advertised that they would donate the proceeds to patriotic funds.

In November 1915 the Avoca Mail reported on hospitals at Anzac: at that time the term Anzac meant the place, not the soldier. The first reference in the Avoca press to Anzac as a term for a soldier was not until January 1916, in the Avoca Mail.

The word 'Billjim' appears only once in the Avoca Free Press in 1918. I have found no matches for 'Billzac'. Neither term shows up in a search of the Avoca Mail.

The Avoca Mail does not appear to use the term digger for soldier in the issues that have been digitised (all issues for 1915 through to the end of 1918). The term was used by Corporal Bob Harrowfield in a letter published by the Avoca Free Press on 28 September 1918:
We marched (?) leisurely along, and passed thousands of American troops. They are fine lads, very enthusiastic, and gave us a hearty greeting. There, is a very friendly feeling between us, despite chaffing by both sides. The American dislikes "Sammy, '' so we call him "Teddy," and he knows that "Digger" will always do us.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Letter from Mr Reg. Johnson

Reginald Campbell Johnson (1895-1984), known as Reg or Rege, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1914. He was a farrier, aged 19. On 19 October 1914 he sailed with F Company of the 8th Infantry Battalion on HMAT Benalla. A number of other men from Avoca were in the same Company and also on board the Benalla.

The camp at Mena near Cairo, Egypt, photographed 1915. Photograph in the collection of the Australian War Memorial ID A02741.

On 30 January 1915 the Avoca Free Press published a letter from Reg to his parents  dated 13 December 1914. In his letter Johnson mentions:
  • Watty, probably his brother Walter Henry Clarence Johnson (1888-1953), who enlisted at the same time and was also serving with the 8th Battalion
  • Dave, probably Dave Summers (1893-1916), who had played with Johnson in the Avoca Brass Band.
  • Billy French's accident to his knee; French was repatriated early in 1915 because of it.
  • camping near Cairo only about half a mile from the great pyramids pyramids at Giza. Johnson mentions the Sphinx, an Indian wounded by Arabs, two New Zealanders being stabbed, and two men who died falling from the pyramids.

THE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE. (1915, January 30). Avoca Free Press and Farmers' and Miners' Journal (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), p. 2. Retrieved January 4, 2015, from

Johnson fought at Gallipoli and was wounded on 25 April 1915 with gunshot injuries to his face. He spent five months in a Manchester hospital and returned to Australia later in 1915. (National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920; Johnson Reginald Campbell : SERN 679 : POB Avoca VIC : POE Surrey Hills VIC : NOK Johnson Henry, page 12)

Related posts: