Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gerard, Edwin Field (1891–1965)

by J. T. Laird

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Edwin Field Gerard (1891-1965), war balladist, soldier and farmer, was born on 22 May 1891 at Yunta, South Australia, son of Frederick Gerhard, blacksmith, and his wife Catherine, née McKenzie. The family moved in 1896 to the Kalgoorlie area, Western Australia, where Edwin was educated. He appears to have left school at 16, starting work, according to one account, as a coachmaker and signwriter, and according to another as a coachpainter. Employment as an underground trucker on the Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie goldfields may have been followed by a spell as a gold prospector. In 1912 or 1913 he worked his way to the eastern States, arriving in Sydney during the first half of 1914. Here he took up art studies, later to be relinquished in favour of writing verse. It was probably about this time, when anti-German feeling was rife, that he changed his surname to Gerard.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 6 January 1915, Gerard saw active service as a dismounted trooper with the 7th Australian Light Horse Regiment at Gallipoli from August until the evacuation in December and as a mounted trooper with the 12th Light Horse in Sinai, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. His published poems about the war appeared over the pseudonyms 'Gerardy' and 'Trooper Gerardy' in periodicals such as the Sydney Bulletin, the Kalgoorlie Sun and the Kia Ora Coo-ee (Egypt), and in two volumes, The road to Palestine and other verses (Melbourne, 1918) and Australian Light Horse ballads and rhymes (Melbourne, 1919). His 'The road to Palestine' (holograph) is in the Mitchell Library.

After the war Gerard pursued an indifferent career as a journalist in Sydney but in 1921 he obtained under the War Service Land Settlement Scheme a property of 850 acres (344 ha), The Pinnacle, near Grenfell, New South Wales, which he farmed until 1957 when he retired to Parkes.

During the 1920s and early 1930s he turned, at the suggestion of S. H. Prior, editor of the Bulletin, to the writing of verses on peacetime topics, most of them being published in that journal. 'Denman's reef', 'The tropical frog', 'Tinned-dog camp' and 'Old Bluey' are some of his better ballads about gold-prospecting and gold-mining camps; 'The horsey man', 'Cycling days', and 'The old buckboard' are typical of his nostalgic laments for the passing of old days and ways; and 'Fallow song', 'Header song' and 'Harvest song' are lyrical pieces celebrating farming life. Gerard also contributed to periodicals such as Reveille and Aussie more directly didactic verses commemorating Anzac Day or propounding the need for a more confident and courageous approach to life. All these post-war verses remain uncollected. Though in May 1950 the Bulletin announced that 'a collection of his best verses, now with the publishers, is awaiting book covers', the publisher, Frank Johnson, failed to bring out the projected volume, which Gerard had intended to call 'Rhymes of the restless years'.

Gerard writes best when working within the broad traditions of the Australian literary bush ballad; his ballads of war constitute his best group of writings. In these—notably 'Lofty Lane', 'Riding song', 'The horse that died for me', 'Two scouts', 'El Maghara', 'North of Jerusalem', 'South of Gaza', 'Garden post', 'Es Salt' and 'Esch-Scham'—he writes as the poet laureate of the Australian light horsemen, although not as their uncritical panegyrist. These poems are more firmly embedded in the shared experiences of historical events than are most literary bush ballads, but what they sacrifice in narrative particularization and inventiveness they gain in representativeness and realism. Gerard vividly recreates actual incidents of the desert war, and at the same time conveys the common sensations and feelings experienced—the constant movement, the harsh conditions, the hard fighting, the bloodshed, the successive moods of exhaustion, depression, mourning, and exaltation. His style, at its best, is vigorous, swift moving, vivid, and musical.

Throughout the war ballads we are conscious of Gerard's personal sensitivity and sincerity, his desire to pay tribute to the Australian dead, his respect for courage and endurance, his quiet patriotism, and a cautiously optimistic nature that sets him apart from the many disenchanted war writers. In his later years he showed himself as a gregarious, generous and modest person.

Gerard died at Parkes on 19 January 1965 after suffering from Parkinson's disease and rheumatic arthritis. He had married in 1921 and was survived by a son.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Richardson, The History of the 7th Light Horse Regiment A.I.F. (Syd, 1923)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924)
  • Aussie, 15 (1920)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Feb 1944
  • Bulletin, 10 May 1950
  • Champion Post, 22 Jan 1965
  • Keesing papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • F. Johnson papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Gerard papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • History of the 12th Australian Light Horse Regiment (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. T. Laird, 'Gerard, Edwin Field (1891–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gerard-edwin-field-6300/text10865, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gerhard, Edwin Field
  • Gerardy
  • Trooper Gerardy
Birth

22 May 1891
Yunta, South Australia, Australia

Death

19 January 1965
Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

Occupation