Adelaide in the 1880s
Adelaide in the 1880s was a city overflowing with civic pride. Named in honour of Queen Adelaide, the German-born consort of King William IV, it had been founded in 1836 as the planned capital of a freely settled British province in Australia. It was laid out in a grid pattern, interspaced by wide boulevards and large public squares, and surrounded by parkland. By the time of its half centenary, it had become a comfortable place to live: from 1860 residents had been able to enjoy water piped in from the Thorndon Park reservoir, horse-drawn trams and railways made it easy to move around, and by night the streets were lit by gas lights. In 1874 it acquired a university; seven years later, the South Australian Art Gallery opened its doors for the first time.
It was here, close to College Town on the outskirts of the city, that Lionel George Logue was born on 26 February 1880, the eldest of four children. His grandfather, Edward Logue, originally a Dubliner, had arrived in 1850 and set up Logue’s Brewery on King William Street. The city at this time had dozens of independent breweries, but Edward Logue’s did especially well; the Adelaide Observer attributed its success to the good water and the ‘more than ordinary skill’ of the proprietor, who was able to produce ‘ale of a character which enables him to compete successfully with all other manufacturers of the nut brown creature comfort’.
Logue never knew his grandfather; Edward died in 1868, and his brewery was taken over by his widow Sarah, and her business partner Edwin Smith, who later bought her out. After several mergers, the original business was eventually to become part of the South Australian Brewing Company.
Logue’s father George, who was born in 1856 in Adelaide, was educated at St Peter’s College and, after leaving school, went to work at the brewery, rising to the position of accountant. He later became licensee of the Burnside Hotel, which he ran together with his wife Lavinia, and then took over the Elephant and Castle Hotel, which still stands today on West Terrace. It was, Logue recalled, a perfect childhood. ‘I had a wonderfully happy home, as we were a very united family.’
Logue was sent to school at Prince Alfred College, one of Adelaide’s oldest boys’ schools and arch rival of St Peter’s. The school enjoyed considerable success both academically and in sports, especially cricket and Australian Rules Football. By his own admission, however, Logue struggled to find an academic subject at which he excelled. His epiphany came unexpectedly: kept back for detention one day, he opened a book at random: it was Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. The words seemed to leap out of the page at him:
Then lagoo, the great boaster,
He the marvellous story-teller,
He the traveller and the talker,
He the friend of old Nokomis,
Made a bow for Hiawatha;
Logue went on reading for an hour, entranced by the words. Here was something that really mattered: rhythm – and he had found the door that led him into it.
Even as a young boy, he had been more interested in voices than faces; as the years passed, his interest and fascination in voices grew. In those days, far more emphasis was put on elocution than today: every year in Adelaide Town Hall, four boys who were the best speakers would recite and compete for the elocution prize. Logue, of course, was among the winners.
He left school at sixteen and went to study with Edward Reeves, a Salford-born teacher of elocution who had emigrated with his family to New Zealand as a child before moving to Adelaide in 1878. Reeves taught elocution to his pupils by day and gave ‘recitals’ to packed audiences in the Victoria Hall or other venues by night. Dickens was one of his specialities. Such recitals were an extraordinary feat not just of diction but of memory: a review in the Register of 22 December 1894 described his performance of A Christmas Carol in glowing terms: ‘For two hours and a quarter, Mr Reeves, without the aid of note, related the fascinating story,’ it reported. ‘Rounds of applause frequently interrupted the reciter, and as he concluded the carol with Tiny Tim’s “God Bless us every one”, he was accorded an ovation which testified in a most unmistakable manner to the hearty appreciation of the house.’
In an era before television, radio or the cinema, such ‘recitals’ were a popular form of entertainment. Their popularity also appears to have reflected a particular interest in speech and elocution throughout the English-speaking world. What could be called the elocution movement had begun to emerge in England in the late eighteenth century as part of a growing emphasis on the importance of public speaking. People were becoming more literate and society gradually more democratic – all of which led to greater attention being paid to the quality of public speakers, whether politicians, lawyers or, indeed, clergymen. The movement took off particularly in America: both Yale and Harvard instituted separate instruction in elocution in the 1830s, and by the second half of the century it was a required subject in many colleges throughout the United States. In schools, particular emphasis was put on reading aloud, which meant special attention was paid to articulation, enunciation and pronunciation. All this went hand in hand with an interest in oratory and rhetoric.
In Australia, the growth of the elocution movement was also informed by a growing divergence between their English and the version of the language spoken back in Britain. For some, the distinctiveness of the Australian accent was a badge of national pride, especially after the six colonies were grouped together into a federation on 1 January 1901, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. For many commentators, though, it was little more than a sign of laziness. ‘The habit of talking with the mouth half open all the time is another manifestation of the national “tired feeling”,’ complained one writer in the Bulletin, the Australian weekly, at the turn of the last century.4 ‘Many of the more typical bumpkins never shut their mouths. This is often a symptom of post-nasal adenoids and hypertrophy of the tonsils; the characteristic Australian disease.’
The South Australian accent, with which Logue grew up, came in for particular criticism as a combination ‘polyhybrid of American, Irish brogue, cockney, county, and broken English’. One feature of this was ‘tongue-laziness’, and an anxiety to ‘communicate as much as possible by means of the fewest and easiest sounds’. This laziness was manifest in the clipping of sentences and in the slurring of sounds.
In 1902, aged twenty-two, Logue became Reeves’s secretary and assistant teacher, while also studying at the Elder Conservatorium of Music which had been established in 1898 ‘for the purpose of providing a complete system of instruction in the Art and Science of Music’, thanks to a bequest from the wealthy Scottish-born philanthropist Sir Thomas Elder.
Like his teacher, Logue started giving recitals; he also became involved in amateur dramatics. An event on the evening of Wednesday 19 March 1902 at the YWCA in Adelaide allowed him to show off his prowess in both. ‘The hall was filled, and the audience was very appreciative,’ reported the local newspaper, the Advertiser the next day. ‘Mr. Logue looks young, but he possesses a clear, powerful voice and a graceful stage presence. He evidenced in his selections considerable dramatic talent – scarcely mature at present, however – and an artistic appreciation of characters he impersonated and of stories he was telling.’ The newspaper’s critic said Logue had been successful in all the poems and excerpts he had tried, although he was at his best in W. E. Aytoun’s ‘Edinburgh After Flodden’.
Logue’s pride at such reviews was tempered by tragedy: on 17 November that year his father died after a long and painful battle with cirrhosis of the liver at the age of just forty-seven. The following day an obituary of George Logue was published in the Advertiser and his funeral was attended by a large number of mourners.
Now twenty-three, Logue was feeling confident enough to set up on his own in Adelaide as an elocution teacher. ‘Lionel Logue begs to announce that he has commenced the practice of his profession, and will be in attendance at his rooms, No. 43, Grenfell Buildings, Grenfell Street, on and after April 27. Prospectus on Application,’ read a notice published three days earlier in the Advertiser. At the same time he was continuing his recitals and even set up the Lionel Logue Dramatic and Comedy Company.
On 11 August 1904 the Advertiser published a particularly effusive review of an ‘elocutionary recital’ that Logue had given at the Lyric Club the evening before, under the headline, ‘Next to being born an Englishman, I would be what I am – a “common colonial”.’ Logue, the reviewer noted, was the ‘happy possessor of a singularly musical voice, a refined intonation, and a graceful mastery of gesture, in which there is no suspicion of redundancy’. It concluded: ‘Mr. Logue has nothing to fear from his competitors, and his recital was characterised by dramatic expression, purity of enunciation, and a keen appreciation of humour which won him the enthusiastic approval of the audience.’
Then came one of the first of several upheavals in Logue’s life. Despite his growing reputation in Adelaide, he decided to up sticks and move more than 2,000 kilometres westwards to work with an electrical engineering firm involved in installing the first electricity supply at the gold mines in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. The town had grown fast since the discovery of rich alluvial gold deposits in the early 1890s had set off a gold rush. By 1903 Kalgoorlie boasted a population of 30,000, along with ninety-three hotels and eight breweries. The day of the individual prospector was over, however, and large-scale deep underground mining had begun to predominate.
Logue did not stay long, but after completing his contract he had saved up enough money to relax for a few months while he planned the next stage in his life. Not surprisingly, he decided to continue on westwards to the more civilized surroundings of Perth, the state capital. Western Australia had been traditionally regarded as remote and unimportant by those in the east, but that had been changed by the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie, and Western Australia became a force to be reckoned with especially in the Federation debates prior to 1901.
Installed in Perth, Logue set up another elocution school and also founded the city’s public speaking club in 1908. The previous year he had met Myrtle Gruenert, a clerk, who at twenty-two was five years his junior, and who shared his passion for amateur dramatics. An imposing young woman several inches taller than Lionel, she was of German stock: her grandfather, Oskar Gruenert, had come from Saxony in eastern Germany. Her father, Francis, an accountant, was proud of his Germanic roots and was secretary of the Verein Germania club in Western Australia. Francis had been unwell for some time and in August 1905 he had died suddenly aged just forty-eight, leaving behind his wife, Myrtle, forty-seven, Myrtle, then twenty, and her brother, Rupert.
Lionel and Myrtle were married on 20 March 1907 at St George’s Cathedral by the Dean of Perth; the event was apparently sufficiently important to warrant a write-up in the next day’s edition of the West Australian. The bride, as the newspaper reported, was beautiful in a wedding dress of white chiffon glacé silk. A white tulle veil, embroidered at the corners with floral sprays in white silk, was arranged coronetwise on her hair. After the ceremony, there was a reception at the Alexandra Tea Rooms in Hay Street, where Myrtle’s mother, dressed in a frock of deep blue chiffon voile, received the guests. The pair spent their honeymoon in Margaret River south of Perth, visiting the caves which had a few years earlier become a major tourist attraction.
The newlyweds went to live at 9, Emerald Hill Terrace. When their first child, Laurie Paris Logue, was born on 7 October 1908, they moved to Collin Street. Myrtle, with whom Logue was to spend the next four decades, was a formidable and energetic character. ‘My wife is a most athletic woman,’ he told a newspaper interviewer several years later. ‘She fences, boxes, swims, and golfs, is a good actress and a fine wife.’ She was, he once declared, his ‘spur to greater things’.
It appears to have been Myrtle’s idea, two years later, that the two of them should set off for six months on an ambitious round-the-world tour, eastwards through Australia, on across the Pacific to Canada and the United States and then, after crossing America, back home via Britain and Europe. The trip was to be paid for partly from money lent them by Lionel’s uncle, Paris Nesbit, a colourful lawyer turned politician. Little Laurie, whose second birthday they had only just celebrated, was to be left behind in the care of Myrtle’s mother, Myra.
The inspiration was, in part, a simple desire to see the world. But Logue was also keen to widen his professional experience. By now he had become a well-known figure in Perth through his recitals and the many plays he had directed or appeared in. He was also building up his private practice, working with politicians and other prominent local people to improve their voice production – even though, when asked by a reporter to name some of his patients, he was the soul of discretion: ‘Every public speaker likes his hearer to imagine his oratory is an unpremeditated gift of nature, and not the result of prolonged and patient study,’ he said, by way of explanation.
America, in particular, was home to many of the leading names in the field of elocution and oratory from whom Logue was keen to learn. Both he and Myrtle also apparently thought that if they liked what they saw on their travels they might settle abroad, sending for their son and Myrtle’s mother to join them. The many long letters that Myrtle (and, to a lesser extent, Logue) wrote home were to provide a vivid picture of their voyage.
They set off from home on Christmas Day, 1910, sailing eastwards around Australia, via Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane, with stops of several days in each. Sydney Harbour, according to Myrtle, was ‘wonderful – superb – no language can fit it’. She was less impressed by Brisbane, which she found ‘a fearful place – behind the times, unhealthy looking, and hot as Hades’. During the various stops, they had ample opportunity to visit friends and relatives; Lionel – or ‘Liney’ as Myrtle called him in her letters – impressed the other passengers with his skills at cricket, golf and hockey, and, ever the raconteur, drew on his prowess at public speaking to entertain the passengers and crew with his stories.
Not surprisingly, they were soon missing little Laurie and justifying to themselves the decision to leave him behind. ‘I don’t let myself think too much of my little son or else I should weep,’ Myrtle wrote in one of her first letters to her mother. ‘He was so sweet as I left, “Don’t cry mummy” – “Don’t let him forget me mother dear” . . . The six months will soon pass and we will come back, with wonderful experience and a new outlook on life broadened wonderfully.’
The next leg of their journey across the Pacific proved more traumatic; Logue spent the first eight days of their voyage from Brisbane sick in his bunk and not touching any food at all. It was not just the waves: the drinking water they had taken on in Brisbane was bad and many of the passengers were sick. Logue was convinced he had lead poisoning. ‘He is the worst sailor possible, poor old dear – I don’t know what would happen to him if he were alone,’ wrote Myrtle. ‘He has fallen away to a shadow.’
Things looked up after they reached Vancouver and dry land on 7 February. From there they continued by train through Minneapolis and St Paul to Chicago, where they took a room in the YMCA overlooking Lake Michigan for five dollars a week. The city, wrote Myrtle, was ‘supposed to be one of the wickedest in the world’, but contrary to what they had expected, they loved it. They intended to stay only a week or two, but in the end remained for over a month.
Life in a big American city was a fascinating cultural experience. Myrtle was especially impressed by the drugstores, where you could buy anything from patent medicines to cigars, by the cafes and by the sheer number of automobiles. However, the lack of manners of the local women, who ‘stare, put their elbows on the table, butter their bread in the air with their elbows on the table, pick their chicken bones and use toothpicks at every conceivable opportunity’, was not appreciated.
The Logues were the toast of the town. Thanks to friends of friends, some of whom they had met on the ship, they were invited to dinners at smart homes and in fancy restaurants and managed to attend some prestigious functions. They also took in a number of plays and shows. Lionel was witty and good company; as Australians, he and Myrtle must also have been something of a novelty for the locals. It was not all play, though. By day they went to Northwestern University, where they attended classes and lectures given by Robert Cumnock, a professor of elocution who had founded the university’s School of Oratory, and whom Myrtle pronounced ‘simply charming’. Logue also gave recitations and talks to students about life in Australia.
Then it was on via Niagara Falls to New York City, which amazed them with its sheer size. ‘I got in an underground railway yesterday and rode nearly an hour, and when I got out, I was still in New York,’ Myrtle wrote in amazement.5 They were also struck by the sheer number of foreigners in the city, many of whom struggled to speak even the most basic English. Broadway, with its miles of ‘electric light advertising’, dazzled them with its brilliance, and Logue took his wife to her first grand opera. They climbed the Statue of Liberty and enjoyed the amusements of Coney Island. Here, too, the various introductions they had brought from home ensured they were quickly introduced into local society – and treated to some very expensive evenings out on the town. These provided a stark contrast to the harshness of New York life: ‘New York is indeed a city of atrocities and lawlessness,’ Myrtle wrote to her mother. ‘The papers read like Penny dreadfuls, we are never without a revolver, a beauty which Lionel bought on arrival.’
As he had in Chicago, Logue sought out experts in his field, among them Grenville Kleiser, a Canadian-born elocutionist, who wrote a number of inspirational books and self-improvement guides on oratory and elocution. Logue also addressed the local public speaking club and gave talks at the YMCA. During a side trip to Boston, he met Leland Todd Powers, a leading elocutionist who had established the School of the Spoken Word, giving an address to students there and also at the prestigious Emerson School of Oratory.
Intriguingly, during his time on the East Coast Logue also met the future President Woodrow Wilson, who was then head of Princeton University. ‘An American of the finest type,’ Logue declared in an interview with the Perth Sunday Times about his journey when he got back.6 ‘He has keen piercing eyes that seem to look you through and through. A man of great intellect and character, but thoroughly genial and unassuming. Many people think he will be the next President of the United States.’ An avid collector of autographs, he treasured a letter written by Wilson in his neat and classical scholarly writing.
It was time to move on. On 3 May Lionel and Myrtle boarded the Teutonic, of the White Star line – the company that the following year was to launch the ill-fated Titanic – bound for London. Their time in America had been one long adventure. ‘We have had a lovely time in America and it is a delightful place to live – but a very bad place to bring up children,’ Logue wrote to his mother-in-law. ‘The Americans are a wonderful and strange people – it is a country of graft, dishonesty and prostitutes . . . And yet it is one of the most fascinating countries in the world.’
The Logues docked in Liverpool on 11 May and took the four-hour train journey down to London. The English countryside, proclaimed Myrtle in a letter to her mother, was a ‘wonderland, picturesque to an extreme, green fields all divided off into lots of these beautiful hawthorn hedges, and the canals with the barges being towed along by an old horse and man on the tow path’. But her first impressions of the capital of the Empire (after dinner and a walk around Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square) were not especially positive; it looked ‘provincial’ compared with New York.
London quickly grew on them, however, and Myrtle was soon enthusing about what they saw. They did the obvious sights such as the British Museum, the Tower of London, Madame Tussaud’s and Hampton Court and, of course, Buckingham Palace – to which Logue, in future years, was to become such a frequent visitor. Myrtle was not impressed by its exterior: ‘It’s a dirty, ugly grey old place, hideous beyond description, and in front of the gates is the beautiful new memorial to Victoria unveiled a month ago,’ she wrote. ‘This beautiful piece of work throws into relief the bare monstrosity of Buckingham Palace.’
They made plenty of visits to theatres where they saw, among others, the great Charles Hawtrey, whom they loved, and the Australian-born Marie Lohr, whom they did not: like all English girls, she was too thin and had reached fame far too quickly for her own good, thought Myrtle. She and Logue also ate out a lot, although they were disappointed by the fact that all the restaurants in London closed much earlier than in New York.
They travelled to Oxford, too, where friends of friends invited them for Eights Week, the annual competition in which the colleges’ rowers battle it out on the river. They spent the mornings visiting the various colleges and were delighted by the sight of the hundreds of gaily decorated punts from which the men in white flannels and girls in pretty dresses watched the rowers. A friend also took them punting, and they lay back in the cushions as he propelled them along the river under low branches, pointing out all the sights. They left Oxford with the greatest reluctance, after what Logue described in a letter to his mother-in-law as ‘six days in paradise’.
One of the highpoints of their visit to Britain was on 22 June when they were among the crowds who turned out on the streets of London for the coronation of King George V, the ‘sailor king’ who had succeeded his father, Edward VII, in May the previous year. London was a seething mass of humanity and its streets decorated with so much bunting and so many electric lights that it looked to Myrtle like fairyland. People had begun staking out the best vantage points the evening before, sleeping on the pavement, and everyone had to be in their place by six o’clock the following morning. A friend of Logue’s named Kaufmann, whom he had met on the Teutonic, managed to get him a reporter’s pass allowing access right up to the doors of Westminster Abbey.
Armed with the pass, Logue and Kaufmann strolled down at 9.30 and were permitted by the police to pass through to a position just a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace from which they enjoyed a magnificent view of the King and Queen in their golden carriage. ‘It was a very enthusiastic crowd, but the English are all afraid to make a noise,’ he wrote to his mother-in-law.
The next day was the royal progress into London proper, and Logue and Myrtle had seats in the Admiralty stand, just outside the new Admiralty Arch. Although they had to wait from 7.15 a.m. until 1.30, the time flew by and they ‘behaved like kids when the King and Queen came by in their beautiful state carriage with the eight famous cream horses, each with its postillion and leader’. The Logues also found time to visit Edith Nesbit, author of The Railway Children, and a distant cousin of theirs, at her beautiful home in the Kent countryside. It was a trip that Myrtle in particular found enchanting.
They had originally intended to travel on to Europe but now there was a problem: Logue had invested a large chunk of savings in shares in the Bullfinch Golden Valley Syndicate, which had created huge excitement on the Perth Stock Exchange the previous December after claiming to have struck gold in a new mine near Kalgoorlie. The company’s predictions proved hopelessly exaggerated, however, and the share price collapsed a few months later, taking most of the couple’s savings with it. They cabled Uncle Paris to send some more money, but appreciated the need to economize and went instead to stay with relatives in Birmingham for a few days.
On 6 July they set off for home from Liverpool aboard the White Star Line’s SS Suevic, a liner designed especially for the Australian run, and later that month the couple arrived back without mishap at King George Sound, Albany, Western Australia. ‘Had enough of travelling for a time?’ Logue was asked in the same Perth Sunday Times interview about his travels in which he had mentioned his meeting with Woodrow Wilson. ‘That I have,’ he replied. ‘Australia is the finest country of the world.’
Back home, Logue was able to draw on his experiences in Britain. When a special coronation programme called Royal England was staged in the New Theatre Royal in Perth that August, Logue was chosen to provide the commentary to accompany a show of ‘animated pictures specially cinematographed by C. Spencer from privileged positions along the route’.
Logue could scarcely have imagined that one day he would be consulted by the King’s son on his speech defects, yet this (and other such performances) were turning him into a notable figure on Perth’s social scene. In December 1911 his recently established school of acting, which included many well-known local amateurs, gave their first performance: on the evening of Saturday the 16th they appeared in his production of One Summer’s Day, a comedy by the English playwright Henry Esmond. Two days later an entirely different cast appeared in a production of Our Boys, the proceeds of which were to go to a local nursing charity.
Myrtle, meanwhile, was also beginning to make an impact: in April 1912 the West Australian reported she was opening a ‘school of physical culture (Swedish) and fencing for women and girls in the Wesley gymnasium’, a lofty and well-ventilated hall at the back of Queen’s Hall. Myrtle, the article claimed, had ‘recently returned from abroad, where she had the advantage of studying the most up-to-date methods in force both in England and America’.
The following month, Logue’s troupe was back at His Majesty’s Theatre with a production for charity of Hubert Davies’s drawing room comedy, Mrs Gorringe’s Necklace. The beneficiary this time was the Parkerville Waifs’ Home. ‘Mr. Logue and his pupils are heartily to be congratulated,’ declared the West Australian. ‘There was nothing mechanical about it, no dependence placed upon mere recitative, and the whole thing was a frank and genial appeal to ordinary human nature.’ Myrtle, too, joined him on stage: her performance as Mrs Jardine was a ‘very artistic bit of work in voice, act, and general manner’, the newspaper found.7
Logue’s own elocutionary recitals, meanwhile, were drawing large and enthusiastic audiences. ‘The announcement of a recital by Mr Lionel Logue was sufficient to comfortably fill St George’s Hall last night, and those who attended were amply repaid for venturing out on a showery evening,’ read one review in August 1914 which described him as ‘a master of the subtle art of elocution in all its branches’.
Logue appears to have gone down particularly well with women in the audience – as was noticed by a local newspaper reporter when Logue went back to Kalgoorlie to serve as ‘elocutionary adjudicator’ at a Welsh-style Eisteddfod, which, according to the account, sounded somewhat reminiscent of a modern-day television talent show. ‘Mr Lionel Logue,’ the reporter noted, ‘is a very good-looking young man and a number of goldfield girls were not slow to appreciate it. Two of them followed up the competitions every evening and spent most of the time gazing soulfully in the direction of the judge’s cabinet. It might be interesting for those young ladies to know that Mr Logue has a charming wife and two beautiful children.’8
Logue was also enjoying plaudits for his work with his elocution students. In September 1913, at a dinner in the Rose Tea Rooms in Perth’s Hay Street (organized by the Public Speaking Club, which Logue had founded five years earlier) several of his pupils ‘testified to their appreciation of that gentleman’s abilities and to the success of his tuition,’ according to one contemporary account. To the amusement of the twenty or so present, one speaker wondered whether Logue might turn his considerable talents to making the large number of politicians and others who posed as public speakers stop talking nonsense and switch to common sense instead. Logue replied in suitably humorous tone, describing the proper use of the mother tongue as ‘the first evidence of civilization and refinement’.
However comfortable their life in Perth, Lionel and Myrtle’s eyes had been opened by their world tour and they seem to have been slowly coming around to the idea of trying to make a new life abroad, perhaps in London. Any immediate prospect of a move had been dashed by the birth of their second son, Valentine Darte, on 1 November 1913. Then on 28 June 1914 the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in faraway Sarajevo forced them to put their plans on hold indefinitely.
For Australia, as for the mother country, the First World War was to prove hugely costly in terms of death and casualties. Out of a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.
As in Britain, the outbreak of war was greeted with enthusiasm – and although proposals to introduce conscription were twice rejected in a plebiscite, a large number of young Australian men volunteered to fight. Most of those accepted in August 1914 were sent first not to Europe but to Egypt, to meet the threat posed by the Ottoman Empire to British interests in the Middle East and the Suez Canal. The first major campaign in which the joint Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) force was involved was at Gallipoli.
The Australians landed at what became known as ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915, establishing a tenuous foothold on the steep slopes above the beach. An Allied attack followed by a Turkish counterattack both ended in failure, and the conflict soon settled down into a stalemate that lasted for the remainder of the year. According to figures compiled by the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs, a total of 8,709 Australians were killed and 19,441 wounded. Gallipoli had a huge psychological effect on the country, denting Australians’ confidence in the superiority of the British Empire. The Anzacs quickly acquired hero status – and their heroism was recognized in Anzac Day, which has been commemorated since on 25 April.
Logue was already aged thirty-four and had two sons, but nevertheless volunteered for military service. He was rejected on medical grounds: after he left school, he had fallen heavily while playing football and smashed his knee, which ended any serious sporting activities – or chance of serving in the army. ‘I joined a rifle club, but was obliged to give it up as I couldn’t march,’ he said in a newspaper interview which appeared during the war years. ‘I am afraid as a soldier I should lay up for a few weeks after the first long march, and would only be an unnecessary expense to my country.’
Although spared the horrors of Gallipoli, Logue nevertheless set out to do his bit for the war effort. He put his energies into organizing recitals, concerts and various amateur dramatic performances in Perth in aid of the Red Cross Fund, French Comfort Fund, the Belgian Relief Fund and other charities. The programmes were often a curious mixture of the deadly serious and the comic. During one performance by the Fremantle Quartette Party in July 1915, Logue began with what the reviewer described as a ‘graphically descriptive recital of “The Hell Gates of Soissons”, which deals dramatically with the glorious martyrdom of twelve men of the Royal Engineers in checking the German advance to Paris in September last’. Later he had his audience roaring with laughter at several ‘delightfully humorous trifles’. The reviews, as on this occasion, were invariably glowing and the houses full.
Logue had so far concentrated on elocution and drama, but he attempted to apply some of the knowledge of the voice that it had given him to help servicemen suffering speech disorders as a result of shell shock and gas attacks. He scored success with some – including those who had been told by hospitals that there was nothing that could be done for them. Logue’s achievements were documented in some detail in an article that appeared in the West Australian in July 1919, under the dramatic headline ‘The Dumb Speak’.
His first success appears to have been with Jack O’Dwyer, a former soldier from West Leederville, in the Perth suburbs. Earlier that year, Logue had been sitting on a train next to a soldier and watched, intrigued, as he leant forward to speak to two companions in a whisper. ‘Mr Logue thought the matter over, and just before he got to Fremantle he gave the soldier his card and asked him to call on him,’ the newspaper reported. O’Dwyer, it emerged, had been gassed at Ypres in August 1917 but had been told in London that he would never speak again. At Tidworth hospital on Salisbury Plain suggestive and hypnotic treatment was tried but failed. And so, on 10 March 1919, the unfortunate man had gone to see Logue.
Logue was convinced he could help. So far as he could tell, the gas had affected the throat, the roof of the mouth and the tonsils, but not the vocal cords – in which case there was hope. At this stage, though, it was only a theory. He had to put it into practice. After a week, Logue managed to get a vibration in O’Dwyer’s vocal cords and his patient was able to produce a clear and distinct ‘ah’. Logue continued, trying to show him how to form sounds, much in the same way as a parent would teach a child how to speak for the first time. Less than two months later, O’Dwyer was discharged, quite cured.
Logue described the treatment (which he made clear to the newspaper that he’d provided without charge) as ‘patient tuition in voice production combined with fostering the patient’s confidence in the result’ – the same mixture of the physical and psychological that was to prove a feature of his future work with the King. As such, it was in sharp contrast to rather more brutal methods, including electric shock therapy that had been tried on patients in Britain – apparently to no avail.
Encouraged by his treatment of O’Dwyer, Logue went on to repeat his success with five other former soldiers – among them a G. P. Till, who had been gassed while fighting with Australian forces at Villers-Bretonneux on the Somme. When he came to see Logue on 23 April that year, Till’s vocal cords weren’t vibrating and what voice he could muster had a range of just two feet. Logue discharged him on 17 May after he appeared to have made a full recovery. ‘In fact, I could not stop talking for about three weeks,’ Till told the newspaper. ‘My friends said to me, “Are you never going to stop talking?” and I replied, “I’ve got a lot of lost time to make up.”’