End of Romantic Career.
The career of Mr. Tom Skeyhlll, whose death is reported from New York, was, for its sheer romance, almost without parallel. From the most humble beginning, he eventually achieved fame throughout the English-speak- ing world as poet, lecturer, author, playwright, and philosopher. To most Australians, how- ever, he will best be remembered as "Sig- naller" Tom Skeyhlll, the blind poet, who in 1917 toured Australia, lecturing on his ex- periences at the war, and delivering recruit- ing addresses.
A native of Victoria, he was working as a telephone attendant when the war broke out, and at the age of 19 years he enlisted, sailing from Australia with the first contingent. He filled In many hours on Gallipoli writing verse, not with the idea of turning to pro- fitable account, but merely to give expression to the inspiration as it seized him. One ex- ample is:
The tang of frost upon the air
The constellations blaze on high:
An ev'nlng star Rleams wondrous fair,
Then disappears ... I wonder why? A burst of fire upon the right
A scream of agony afar.
A soldier's soul speeds through the night
To Heaven's gate ... it was the star.
To the stretcher-bearer he dedicated the following lines:
When the chlorine gas is winging,
And the trench alarms are ringing. You will hear the beggar singing;
Yes, you'll hear him gaily singing
To the pulsing tune of shrapnel that is shrieking
And when all the place is reeking. Though his helmet may be leaking, Still you'll see the beggar seeking
To separate the gasping from the dying and the dead. When the aeroplanes are strafing
You will hear him loudly laughing.
And at times you'll hear him chaffing. Yes. at times you'll hear him chaffing
As he helps some wounded fellow to a dressing
When the ambulance disburses He's as tender as the nurses.
And there's virtue In his curses.
Yes, there's virtue in his curses.
He's a linseed poultice lancer, and the bravest or
After the evacuation of Gallipoli he was transferred to France, and after having en- gaged in many stern fights he was wounded and he became practically blind.
Not only was his sight diminished to such an extent that he could see only the faintest glimmer, but oftiimcs he suffered acute at- tacks of inflammation of the eyes which com- pelled him to spend days at in time in bed. Yet his great affliction left him undaunted. Even when In the grip of one of these attacks he would bravely leave his bed to fulfil a lec- turing engagement. He continued to express himself feelingly in verse, and also showed that he was an orator of no mean order. His commanding presence, and faculty for giving voice to vivid phrases caused him to be much sought after as a platform speaker. Immedi- ately he became a national figure, but he did not allow the improvement in his financial position to diminish his interest in his late comrades, and it is estimated that the War Chest, Red Cross Society, and other patriotic organisations benefited to the extent of £ 10,000 as the result of his efforts. His lecturing tours In the United States were even more successful than those which he had conducted in Australia. There, his services were eagerly availed of for the campaign in support of the famous Liberty Loan. He was credited with having raised 100,000,000 dollars on behalf of U.S.A. war funds, 25,000,000 dollars having been raised at a meeting which he addressed for 25 minutes at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on October 9, 1918. His eyesight had suddenly been restored to him in May of that year. Following several days of pain in the back of his head, he under- went a slight operation on the vertebrae of the neck. Almost immediately he had an improvement in his eyesight, and in response to specialised treatment it gradually improved until finally he was able to write and use a typewriter.
After four years in America he returned to Visit his parents at Hamilton (Victoria) in 1921, with a wide reputation as an orator, author, and philosopher. He had filled many roles during his absence from Australia, but, perhaps, his greatest achievement was that of exhaustively investigating conditions in Soviet Russia. He was commissioned by the American Affiliated Lecture Bureau to carry out this adventurous and, at that time, somewhat hazardous undertaking. Owing to the re- fusal of the Reds to allow him to enter the country, Mr. Skeyhlll gained admission to Russia by sleighing across the frozen Gulf of Finland, and by using forged passports and a disguise. Once across the border he was taken under the care of friends, and was en- abled to visit the big cities and centres of political activity. Having seen Russian con- ditions free from the customary stage manage -ment that is provided for visitors to that country, Mr. Skeyhlll declared that Russia offered a tragic lesson to the world, and he warned his fellow-Australians to resist to the utmost the teachings and influences of ex- tremists, lest their own country might be afflicted with the ruin, chaos, and despair that were everywhere in evidence in Russia. He returned to America, and his lectures for years afterwards commanded great attention in the United States. An honorary degree was conferred upon him by the University of Ohio. Still later, he turned his hand to writing stories and plays, but continued to find time to express himself in characteristic verse. ____________