Alice Gore-Jones-Updated!

Alice Gore-Jones (1887- 1961)

But on the pavement, where the shadows lie,

A maimed and wounded man goes limping by.’

The one volume of verse which Alice Gore-Jones left for us shows that even during the first World War, Australian civilians were questioning its purpose and its human cost. The poems she published in its aftermath show a rare empathy for the condition of the returned men.

Colin Bingham, a co-worker at the Telegraph, said that, ‘in lineage and in innocence’, she ‘belonged to a more gracious past’. He recalled telling her about the need to rearrange the tour program for the forthcoming visit of the Duke of York:

‘whereupon, without raising her eyes from a list of official engagements … she said sweetly “Oh dear, that means they’ll have to take out one of his Balls.”’[1]

But in fact, at least in her published work, her concerns and pre-occupations were those of her time. In some respects, she was ahead of it.

Alice Gore Jones was born at Toowong, then a village near Brisbane, in 1887. Her father was a prominent Irish born barrister. Her mother travelled widely, and often took her daughter with her. Alice was educated in Queensland and New South Wales, and like her contemporary Zora Cross, she began her literary career by publishing stories in the children’s pages of Australian magazines. From the outset, her pre-occupations are social and public. One of her early stories is about an aboriginal boy who gets an education, and an offer of a job in Brisbane, only to be killed by a snake bite, on the way to the city.[2]

In time, Gore-Jones was employed as a journalist on the features and social pages of Brisbane newspapers and magazines, most notably the now defunct Telegraph. She was active for a time in conservative politics[3], and in the forerunner to the press council. She continued to work as a journalist until the late 1940s, and to publish poetry into the 1950s. She had a broader experience base than many of her contemporaries: one of her first stories is occasioned by a visit to Fiji in 1900[4], and some of her poetry of the 1920s was inspired by a visit to Japan[5]. Her broad experience helps her reflect on what makes her home town different: 

A red cathedral's tiles, a tapering spire
Piercing her gaunt zinc roofs, the city lies.
Dim blue hills rise about her circle-wise,

And flame trees deck her steep white streets with fire.

                                                               From Brisbane

Gore-Jones' only collection of poetry in book form, Troop Trains was published in Adelaide in 1917. It contains a number of more or less conventional explorations of poetic themes: the urge to wander, the seasons, places and people, together with a series of poems about Pierrot, the sad clown.

But the most interesting poems in Troop Trains are  the war poems. These begin in a conventional way with the kind of jingoistic outpourings that were common enough in poems of that time. So, Anzac begins ‘Undying honour shall your name possess’ and ends with the thoroughly conventional statement:

‘For there amid the battle-dust was born-
Mocking disaster, undismayed by fears’

Star-white and radiant our Southern soul’.

However, as the war progresses its truth begins to come home:
‘When the sap in man and nature feels a swift and sudden stir,
And the pipes of Spring are pulsing through the perfume laden air,

Ah! the pity of youth’s pageant that the young dead may not share.’

                                                                    From Spring, 1916.

In most of these poems there is no doubt about the value of the fight. In The Lists she says ‘Honour, not death,/Has sealed their accolade’. But in some of the more powerful poems, an element of skepticism and religious doubt creeps in. For example, in The Soldier Gore–Jones mixes grief with tropical imagery in a way that is utterly unlike Rupert Brooke:

‘“Somewhere in France” to-night he lies,
Paying the bitter price,
“Somewhere in France” to-night he sleeps
With the sons of sacrifice.
There, ‘mid the mist and murk of war,
On the blood-red field of pain,
Can he hear the stirring banana-palms

With their patter like drifting rain?’

She concludes that he might not hear any of this at all and that ‘perchance, he sleeps too well’. When read as a whole, these poems have more elements of apprehension than of patriotism. The title poem ends:

‘Troop trains, troop trains,
Hear the bugle’s note,
Flags, and cheers, and music, and
A touch that grips the throat.’

                     From Troop Trains

The  last war poem in Troop Trains is Carnival, where there is a ‘painted clown’, ‘tinsel streamers’ and where ‘Trade waxes brisk’. It concludes with a pitying look at a returned soldier:

‘But on the pavement, where the shadows lie,

A maimed and wounded man goes limping by’.

Gore-Jones continued her nuanced examination of war and its aftermath in the poems she published over the next 5 years. ‘Younger Sons’, a pro-conscription poem which was published just before Troop Trains was released, reflects on the damage to families caused by the war:

… From the thronged grey streets of the cities,
From the flats where the Murray runs,
Resolute, eager, unflinching

Have gone the younger sons.’[6]

Gore-Jones blames the families who have not sent any sons:

'Though deep be the sin that sent them
To suffer such things as these,
With half our vigorous manhood

Still resting at home and at ease...'

From 1920, Gore-Jones turned her focus to the fate of the returned soldiers. She published a series of poems exploring and publicizing their plight. Sometimes she does so indirectly:

Carnival and his coloured rout

Down old Death with their merry shout.[7]

Gore-Jones’ old friend Pierrot returns:

Pierrot is back from the wars,
Pierrot who knows full well,
Under the tinsel smoulders,

The flame of their fiery hell.[8]

But her work is best when it speaks directly, almost with a propagandist’s voice. ‘Aftermath’, published in July 1920, is a call to support the injured, repatriated, veterans:

Now is the moment of our finer testing,
Now, in the sullen aftermath, not when
We spent ourselves with war’s fierce flame investing,

But in the salving of its broken men.[9]    

Her sympathy seems to have been occasioned by a visit to one of the rehabilitation workshops that were designed to help the wounded and shellshocked back to some semblance of normality:

Men move about the workshop clumsily,
Some limping with a crutch, some with their hands
Seeking lost brushes, or the hidden key
Of a bright pattern for their raffia strands
But he loved with eager youth’s delight
Swift action, and the leaping sea wind’s call,
The dimpled rush of dawn, the stir of night,

Sits in a corner moving scarce at all.[10]

                                                From The Wood Carver

When any war is over, the natural aim of those who did not fight, is to move on, and perhaps to forget. Historian Bill Gammage notes that from 1919 onwards, ‘stay at home Australians, weary of war, recoiling from its horror, and sickened by the number of its victims, tried to forget those tragic years as quickly as possible’.[11]

When we say ‘Lest we forget’, then, these later, uncollected poems by Alice Gore-Jones, are a reminder that we should remember both the battle and the aftermath.  

Best Book to buy: Gore-Jones, A, Troop Trains, Adelaide, Hassell, 1917.


[1] Bingham, C, The Beckoning Horizon, Melbourne, Penguin, 1983, p138.

[2] ‘Black and White’ by ‘Alice Gore-Jones, North Sydney’,  Australian Town and Country Journal, 24 December 1902, p40.  

[3] ‘Q.W.E.L.’ in The Telegraph, 16 February 1928, p14.

[4] ‘Samoci’ by Alice Gore Jones The Queenslander, 12 December 1903, p21.

[5] See ‘The Japanese House’ The Australasian, 29 January 1921, p43.

[6] Sydney Mail, 5 September 1917, p 28.

[7] ‘Carnival’ Sydney Mail 14 December 1921, p39

[8] “The Jester’ Australasian, 1 January 1921, p37.

[9] Sydney Mail, 14 July 1920, p 12.  

[10] ‘The Wood Carver’ Australasian, 5 June, 1920, p46.  

[11] Gammage, B, The Broken Years, Australian Soldiers in the Great War, Canberra, Australian National University Press, 1974, (1887-1961)


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