DEAR CAPTAIN HOLMAN
© Brian Beesley, 2009
Winner, 2009 Coo-ee March Festival, Coo-ee March Section, Gilgandra NSW.
I’m writing, Captain Holman, to say thankyou for your note,
concerning Laurie’s death and for the way in which you wrote
about his ‘trust’ and ‘value’ to your unit and your men –
it’s hard to realise I’ll never see my lad again.
He started life at ‘Woodvale Park’, the eldest one of eight,
and almost twenty seven when he joined up with those ‘Great
Men of the West’, and marched to Sydney from the Castlereagh.
But cheers from Gil’s Australian Hall don’t echo much today.
Did Laurie ever tell you all about the Coo-ee March,
when five long weeks of slogging from Gilgandra put some starch
in ev’ry fibre of those boys, who blindly followed suit,
to warn ‘Australia Will Be There’, to give ol’ Fritz the boot?
The Coo-ees formed in Bridge Street with an air of hope and pride,
while ‘lovely lady marshals’ rode on horseback at their side.
And all around the Castlereagh the soothing sunlight glowed
upon the cheerful Coo-ees down the Balladoran road.
At Wellington, I’m told an old French lady seemed to cry
while throwing blood red petals at the Coo-ees passing by.
And further when each town turned out, so Laurie’s letter tells,
the children swarmed their ranks and placed a rose on their lapels.
Then finally, when Sydney’s green Domain came into view,
a colonnade of rose-clad arches called the Coo-ees through.
And roses, blood red roses, have now come to symbolise
the awful sacrifices and the pain of sad goodbyes.
Yet blood red roses cannot tell us what the fallen saw,
of squalor in the trenches and the carnage in this war.
Those men have lost their freedom out of all of what’s been done –
the world has lost its innocence – and I have lost a son.
I must admit I got caught up with all the pomp back then –
with Rev’rand Lee’s inspiring speeches, calling on the men
to join the ranks of ‘Hitchen’s Own’, for Country, God and King.
But tell me Sir, was Laurie’s death a ‘just and righteous’ thing?
I have a letter from the Army, stating his effects,
impersonal of course, but nothing more than one expects –
to them he was a number on a Regimental roll,
another man in drab khaki, without a heart or soul.
Yes, 4-8-4-0, Laurence L. Maguire, A.I.F.
A corp’ral in the 45th but offside with that ‘Ref’
who rules on fate. A Coo-ee from Gilgandra’s sunlit plain,
now resting somewhere south of Albert, from his last campaign.
His death was instantaneous, a bullet through the head.
I thank you for your candour; I was trembling when I read
your grievous lines and hoping all the while it couldn’t be –
he signed with Captain Bill two years ago – or was it three?
I’m left now with a disk, tobacco pouch, a belt, two cards,
some photos and a wallet, traded for a few dank yards
of thick French mud – a hollow ‘gift’ indeed. There must be more –
belief that Laurie’s death brings something wholesome from this war;
belief his soul found peace while it was drifting through the air,
when bugle notes farewelled him by the railway near Albert.
And you have seen the slaughter, Captain Holman, at first hand –
was there enough blood spilt to please our God and Motherland?
How many young men have to die before somebody shouts
enough’s enough? How many failed attacks will throw some doubts
towards our Gen’rals floundering behind the firing line,
who’s only thought is – crush the ‘Hun’ – to sip the victor’s wine?
No doubt when you receive this note the war will long be won –
we have the Kaiser’s measure and his Army’s on the run,
or so that’s what they tell us, when it’s almost to the day,
the boys wheeled into Miller Street and proudly marched away.
I know I’ll never get to Amiens or Poziéres,
to sit by Laurie’s gravesite and repeat some worn-out prayers,
so thank you once again for your kind words about my lad –
it’s good to get that off my chest, sincerely, Laurie’s dad.