© Keith Lethbridge
Winner, 2009 ‘Bronze Swagman Award for Bush Verse’, Winton Queensland.
They came from the south and the great nor’ west
Where the brolgas dance and the eagles nest,
To scrape their boots on a city mat,
And to warm their skull in an army hat.
They were timber cutters and diggers of wells,
With never a thought for the Dardanelles,
But to join their mates from across the land
And march to the beat of an army band.
They cleaned their rifles and trained to kill
And to carry a pack in an army drill,
To force down rations and not complain
Of the blazing sun or the driving rain.
They came from the farm and the shearing pen,
The wide-eyed boys and the whiskery men,
From the mining camp and the factory floor,
And a prayer went out as they left this shore:
Then into a thundering cloud they ran
And the ship was tossed as the storm began,
But the tough old sergeant had trained them well
And they’d follow him straight to the jaws of Hell.
So the gear was stowed in a canvass sack
To be carried up high on a soldier’s back,
And the sergeant bellowed: Button your lip!
We didn’t come here for a fishing trip!
Then the night grew dark and the moon was gone
And the scuttlebutt said that the fight was on,
So the sergeant issued a sharp command,
To head for the boats and prepare to land.
Then over the edge to the landing craft
To be suddenly rocked from the fore to the aft
And the sergeant muttered: You heard the plan!
Were you hopin’ to live forever man?
Then the Turkish armoury roared again
To shatter the lives of a dozen men
And somebody shouted: Be steady now!
As a body went spinning across the bow.
No place to run and no place to hide,
It was on to the shore or over the side,
With blood-soaked bodies and cries of fear
There was never a moment to shed a tear,
Then the beach came up with its sand and rock
And they looked for a leader to ease their shock
The one they followed for months gone past,
But the tough old sergeant had breathed his last.
So now they were left with a leader gone,
And nobody ready to guide them on,
But the battle was fought at a hectic pace
And another man rose to take his place.
So they dug their cover and inched ahead,
With a thousand maimed and a thousand dead,
With the cliffs above and the beach below
And the mid-day sun with its searing glow.
Then the flies descended, as flies will do,
To cover the dead and the living too,
While destruction rained from the cliffs above
In a battle that only a fly could love.
Then many a soldier buried his mate
But prayer and sorrow would have to wait,
For the battle raged and the toil was hard,
To advance for an inch or defend a yard.
Then day after day and night after night,
Bloodied and battered, with no respite,
Though many a wounded comrade fell,
They stuck to the task and performed it well.
Unbearable months of fear and doubt,
Then came the order: We’re moving out!
So the walking wounded limped to the shore
And those who could travel went home once more.
Back to the mothers who shed a tear
And the wives who waited in hope and fear,
Back to the lovers, loyal and true,
With the courage to start their lives anew.
But some returned to a different fate,
And the pain of a lover who didn’t wait,
With crippled body and tortured mind
And a war that could never be left behind.
Not the cutting of cane in the blazing sun
Nor the loneliest camp of a cattle run,
Could ever erase the pitiful plight
Of a soldier’s tears in the dead of night.
You can wrap it in glory, if that’s your way,
Or march at the dawn of an ANZAC Day,
You can flash your medals with national pride,
Or preach up a storm on the mountainside,
But all I ask is a moment’s thought
For those who suffered and those who fought,
Who left as boys but returned as men
And prayed it would never occur again.
For there’s neither triumph nor peace of mind
To think of the thousands left behind,
And for every battle a terrible cost,
Regardless of whether it’s won or lost.
Those shearers, labourers, teachers, cooks,
The singers of songs and the writers of books,
They ask no pity and no regret,
Just take good care that you don’t forget,