Sydney born Harley Cohen was one of the first to enlist in WWI. His service number in the 4th Battalion was a very low 37. He was a slight figure, only 5′ 3″ tall and weighing in at a shade over 8 stone. He was university educated and had a great interest in the arts, especially music. His civilian occupation was listed as clerk, but he had also worked in the pastoral industry.
At the horrific Battle of Lone Pine, Cohen was hit by shrapnel in the face and right eye. He lost sight in the eye, and was medically discharged.
While he was recuperating in hospital back home in Sydney, the sacrifice of his mates was very much on Harley’s mind. He wrote a song in their honour, which became known as, They Were There, There, There. The music was composed by Mr Bert Rache.
Soon afterwards Harley and another veteran founded a musical group. Initially known as The Anzac Concert Party, it later became The Gallipoli Strollers. There is Harley on the far right; hard to miss with his eye patch. All eight members had been wounded, and ruled unfit for further active service.
The group toured the country, entertaining audiences but also promoting patriotic spirit. Heavy casualties at Gallipoli and in France had reduced the number of volunteers. Harley Cohen contributed many other songs, including Women You Have Nobly Done Your Share. He also wrote poems (often very amusing) which he performed as monologues.
The original song, They Were There, There, There, remained very popular.
Here is the first verse and chorus.
It was recorded by the well known Australian baritone, Peter Dawson.
Harley’s signature appears on the bottom RHS of the image below, ‘With best compliments from your friend the composer…’
Harley Cohen became quite famous in his own right. I was amused to see that he was signed up as a celebrity product endorser.
The performances by the Gallipoli Strollers were a mixture of pathos and humour. Here is an example of Harley’s sense of mischief. It was published in the Dungog Chronicle;
HARLEY COHEN’S LITTLE JOKE
Fun at the Gallipoli Strollers entertainment is always hilarious, but last night at Grafton there was an unrehearsed item that caused no end of fun. Each night the company for one item groups itself on and round a table on the stage. During this item Pte. Hector Gray puts in sideplay, during which he bites Pte. Harley Cohen’s ear. Harley had on one or two occasions received a nasty nip, so he decided to stop it, and for that purpose covered his ear with bitter aloes. When Gray gave his usual bite, consternation spread over his face and he immediately commenced spitting, while the members of the company and those of the audience who had been let into the joke fairly bubbled over with mirth. It is safe to assume that ear-chewing will be cut out by Pte. Gray.
Harley Cohen’s contribution to the war effort was very impressive. He died in 1971.