A LETTER FROM THE FRONT
© Brian Beesley
Winner, 2011 'Coo-ee March Festival' - Coo-ee March Section, Gilgandra, NSW.
Dear Mum and Dad, how are you both? Still anxious I suppose.
The years have drifted slowly from the day I caught a rose
while marching down that long and dusty, winding, western track.
My hopes remain this war will cease and I’ll be coming back.
Those eager Coo-ee ranks, which stood in Miller Street that day
are much depleted now, because ol’ Fritz got in our way
at Mouquet Farm and Pozières and also at Fromelles,
where we became acquainted with a first-hand glimpse of Hell.
It only took one battle under heavy German fire,
and loss of trusted mates like Billy Hunter and Maguire,
to make me understand about the rank stupidity
of fighting someone who, in peace, would share a beer with me.
The blind belief in noble causes running through my head,
encouraged by the Rev’rand’s speeches, now is surely dead.
The milling crowds, the sights and sounds on that October morn,
when Gil rejoiced with fervent pride, have also thinly worn.
But after all I’m in this war, a Coo-ee through and through
and would not shirk my duty to my Company or you.
That’s how this game pans out you know, it’s mate looks out for mate,
a bond of sheer ‘esprit de corps’, to numb the hand of fate.
We’re holed up in a little town called Villers Brettoneux,
the word ‘round here says Fritz is building up for one last show.
I guess this place won’t count for much when all the fighting’s done,
unless the locals glorify our stance against the Hun.
We have a new Commander now; I can’t recall his name,
they say he’s pretty savvy at this dreadful killing game.
His background’s engineering and he doesn’t suffer fools;
he’s one of us and has no time for English public schools –
which makes me think this conflict has a strong patrician ring,
so now we fight for one another, not for God or King.
Our losses are appalling; hardly any ground is claimed –
I wonder if those two look on and ever feel ashamed.
We got the news some time ago that Captain Bill had died;
he passed away in hospital embraced in Coo-ee pride.
And yet I doubt his patriotic view would be as clear,
if he had made it to the Front and seen the slaughter here.
Remember Leslie Greenleaf, that young Pommy mate of mine?
He featured in some action when he came back to the line.
Our Company was ‘called-up’ overnight. When morning crept
across our Front, we heard a soldier scream, so Greenie leapt
out of the trench and ran, with nothing but a haversack,
toward the chilling, woeful sounds and brought the beggar back.
Turned out to be our Captain, with his leg all shot to bits,
now Greenie’s tunic models courage where a medal sits.
An eerie silence sweeps across the lines before stand-to;
it’s then my thoughts drift homeward to Gilgandra and the view
across that endless, sunlit plain, where sheep and cattle run;
perchance I’ll see it one more time before my days are done.
And yet this place has changed us all – for better? I’m not sure.
I only know we’ll take some frightful mem’ries from this war –
the constant crump of groaning guns; the raging battle’s noise;
the tortured face of wounded men who, yesterday, were boys;
the wretched mud; the crawling lice; the searching Maxim guns –
I think the dead and buried are indeed the lucky ones.
But spare a thought for Fritz as well, our sufferings are his,
and if there’s something worse than death, then I know what it is.
I’m sorry if I’m sounding apathetic and depressed;
I need to write to get this hellish madness off my chest
but as the war drags on to please the bootless Chiefs-of-Staff,
more women weep while staring at a cherished photograph.
I often look back to that day, in front of Garling’s store,
when I was one of ‘Hitchen’s own’ committed to this war;
a war that feeds off sacrifice made freely by good men
but those returning must ensure it never dines again.
I know the ‘Brass’ will censor most of what I’ve written here
but never mind, they tell us that the end is almost near.
The war has broken Fritz at home; four months will see it won.
So until then, God bless you both, love Jack, your faithful son.