Digger (soldier)
Digger is an Australian and New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 military slang term for soldier
A soldier is a member of the land component of national armed forces; whereas a soldier hired for service in a foreign army would be termed a mercenary...

s from Australia and New Zealand. It originated during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...



There are numerous theories about the origin of the term. Before World War I, the term "digger" was widely used in Australasia
Australasia is a region of Oceania comprising Australia, New Zealand, the island of New Guinea, and neighbouring islands in the Pacific Ocean. The term was coined by Charles de Brosses in Histoire des navigations aux terres australes...

 to mean a miner
Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, from an ore body, vein or seam. The term also includes the removal of soil. Materials recovered by mining include base metals, precious metals, iron, uranium, coal, diamonds, limestone, oil shale, rock...

, and referring to a Kauri gum-digger
Kauri gum, a fossilized resin detracted from kauri trees, is used for chewing or tattooing, and often is made into jewellery. The gum comes from kauri trees found in Agathis australis forests. The trees once covered much of the New Zealand North Island, before Māori and European settlers caused...

 in New Zealand. Renowned soldier and military historian, Captain Cyril Longmore 44th Battalion AIF, first recorded the Australian troops doing trench digging practice on Salisbury Plain prior to embarking to Turkey and being called "diggers" by their mates as the origin of the term. Another story for the origin of this term dates it to 25 April 1915, during the Gallipoli campaign. Following the landing at Gallipoli
Landing at Anzac Cove
The landing at Anzac Cove was part of the amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula by Australian and New Zealand forces on 25 April 1915. The landing, north of Gaba Tepe on the Aegean coast of the Peninsula, was made by soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and was the first...

, General Sir Ian Hamilton
Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton
General Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton GCB GCMG DSO TD was a general in the British Army and is most notably for commanding the ill-fated Mediterranean Expeditionary Force during the Battle of Gallipoli....

 wrote to General William Birdwood
William Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood
Field Marshal William Riddell Birdwood, 1st Baron Birdwood, GCB, GCSI, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, CIE, DSO was a First World War British general who is best known as the commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915.- Youth and early career :Birdwood was born...

, the commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), adding in postscript
A postscript, abbreviated P.S., is writing added after the main body of a letter . The term comes from the Latin post scriptum, an expression meaning "written after" .A postscript may be a sentence, a paragraph, or occasionally many paragraphs added, often hastily and...

: "P.S.—You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe."

However, there is no hard evidence to suggest that Hamilton's message is the reason why digger was applied to ANZAC troops in general. One other theory is the fact that ANZAC troops were especially good at digging tunnels between their own trenches and the enemies, and were regarded by both sides as diggers, one being derogatory and the other more in jest. The job of digging between the trenches was very hard, especially when both sides' diggers met in the tunnels. ANZACS believed that it was a compliment to be referred to as diggers, because it indicated you were good at a very difficult job.

W. H. Downing, in Digger Dialects (1919), a glossary
A glossary, also known as an idioticon, vocabulary, or clavis, is an alphabetical list of terms in a particular domain of knowledge with the definitions for those terms...

 of words and phrases used by Australian personnel during the war, says that Digger was first used to mean a New Zealand or Australian soldier in 1916. It appears to have become popular among New Zealand troops before being adopted by Australians. The word was not in wide use amongst soldiers until 1917.


While New Zealanders would call each other "Digger", all other nationalities, including Australians, tended to call them "Kiwi
Kiwi (people)
Kiwi is the nickname used internationally for people from New Zealand, as well as being a relatively common self-reference. The name derives from the kiwi, a flightless bird, which is native to, and the national symbol of, New Zealand...

s". The equivalent slang for a British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 soldier was "Tommy" from Tommy Atkins
Tommy Atkins
Tommy Atkins is a term for a common soldier in the British Army that was already well established in the 19th century, but is particularly associated with World War I. It can be used as a term of reference, or as a form of address. German soldiers would call out to "Tommy" across no man's land if...

. However, while the Anzacs would happily refer to themselves as "Diggers", British soldiers generally resented being called "Tommy".

Football team

Between 1998 and 2003, the term was used in the name of a team in the Victorian Football League
Victorian Football League
The Victorian Football League which evolved from the former Victorian Football Association , taking its new name as from the 1996 season, is the premier Australian rules football league in Victoria The Victorian Football League (VFL) which evolved from the former Victorian Football Association...

, the Bendigo Diggers
Bendigo Bombers
The Bendigo Bombers Football Club is an Australian rules football club based in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia playing in the Victorian Football League .-Brief history:...

. This was partly in reference to Bendigo's history as a centre of the gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

-mining industry. The team changed its nickname to "Bombers" when it became aligned to Essendon
Essendon Football Club
The Essendon Football Club, nicknamed The Bombers, is an Australian rules football club which plays in the Australian Football League...

. In 2001, Athletics Australia
Athletics Australia
Athletics Australia is the National Sporting Organisation recognised by the Australian Sports Commission for the sport of athletics in Australia....

 suggested that it would use "Diggers" as the nickname
A nickname is "a usually familiar or humorous but sometimes pointed or cruel name given to a person or place, as a supposedly appropriate replacement for or addition to the proper name.", or a name similar in origin and pronunciation from the original name....

 of the Australian athletics
Athletics (track and field)
Athletics is an exclusive collection of sporting events that involve competitive running, jumping, throwing, and walking. The most common types of athletics competitions are track and field, road running, cross country running, and race walking...

 team. The proposal was withdrawn after a public outcry and protest from the Returned and Services League of Australia
Returned and Services League of Australia
The Returned and Services League of Australia is a support organisation for men and women who have served or are serving in the Australian Defence Force ....


Further reading

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