At Play

digger-newssheet-2-dec-7-1918-jpgThe ‘sunburnt colonials’ who arrived at Brightlingsea’s Australian Engineers Training Depot in the autumn of 1916 were young fit men, sons and grandsons of the pioneers who had made Australia and New Zealand into the thriving communities they had become.  Looking for adventure of any sort they were willing to work, willing to fight and willing to have fun.  Within a matter of weeks, sporting, recreational and theatrical clubs had sprung up and a printing press was churning out regular bulletins of entertainments in the town.  A report of an address in December 1918 by military officers after the end of the war included, …all ranks and ratings looked very soldierly and also seemed unexpressably (sic) bored.  The firework display later that night was particularly tripey. (Brightlingsea Museum)

The Wallaby Sports Club Committee met above the Depot Clothing Store at No.94 High Street to arrange cricket, football and boxing matches.  On Thursday 23 August 1917 the  Sports Committee sponsored a Grand Sports Day and Gymkhana to be held on Keeble’s Meadow (in the area of the present-day Lower Park Playing Field).  Lasting several hours the Sports Day included a Sack Race, a Half-Mile Bicycle Race, a Potato Race (what?) a Wood-Chopping Competition, an Egg and Spoon Race, a Tug-o-War (both on foot and mounted), a Bandsmens’ Race where each had to play his instrument as he ran, a Thread-Needle Race and a Gas Helmet Race (self-evident), a Wrestling on Horseback contest, a Hop, Skip and Jump and a  Gretna Green Race (presumably carrying a bride), all to the accompaniment of the Depot Band playing selections of military and popular tunes of the time.  The following year on Monday 5th August there was another Grand Military Gymkhana.  (Brightlingsea Museum)



The Australian Engineers Entertainers who had organised the Anzac Carnival also produced many theatrical events in the town, especially in the winter months.  Concerts and plays were frequently held in The Empire Theatre and The Masonic Hall, like this theatrical programme that included the short play ‘Saturday Night in a Village’. (Brightlingsea Museum)


Australian and British officers were billeted in The Manor House, at that time owned and occupied by Herbert Sullivan, nephew of Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.  The officers took part in the general entertainment but they also organised their own events such as officers’ dances, bowls tournaments and boxing matches at the Manor House.  Did you notice the girl in the middle?  Can anyone tell us who she was?  (Photographs taken by Major R.J. Dyer, donated to Brightlingsea Museum by his family)