WON’T YOU COME?
© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2018 Dunedoo Bush Poetry Festival Written Competition, Dunedoo NSW.                                                         

When the letters started trickling home from Gallipoli’s campaign,
and the brutal truth had finally emerged,
our unwavering allegiance to the king began to wane,
as political opinions had diverged.

As the rumours spread from town to town, through the word of mouth and pen...
there was mounting speculation and concern
for the welfare and survival of our bravest boys and men,
and for those who’d perished  ̶  never to return.

When I closed my eyes I heard the distant beating of a drum
and the melancholic sound of chiming bells.
I could hear a soldier calling me ... ‘Hey Coo-ee won’t you come
and support us in the Turkish Dardanelles?’

There were stories of atrocities and of carnage on the beach,
from survivors of that very first advance.
They had told of how the Turks had kept their trenches out of reach
from Australian troops, who’d hardly stood a chance.

They had clipped our lads like kangaroos on a Sunday arvo cull, 
and had plunked them as they tried to come ashore...
and no sooner had they rallied, in the brief ensuing lull  ̶
then the Turks began to pummel them with more!

When I closed my eyes, I smelt a fragrant eucalyptus gum
and the acrid stench of battle in the air.
I could hear that soldier calling me...’Hey Coo-ee won’t you come,
and avenge the boys who died at Sari Bair?’

When the government at home had called for additional recruits
to fulfil our obligations to the Crown,
it had soon become apparent that our brass were in cahoots
with the good old dukes and lords of London Town.

With enlistment numbers plummeting and their quotas in arrears,
they had held a referendum to decide
if Australians should be fighting as enlisted volunteers,
or as conscripts, with all liberties denied.

When I closed my eyes I saw again my closest boyhood chum,
who was killed the day the transports hit the shore...
and again I heard that haunting call of ‘Coo-ee won’t you come
and support us in this God forsaken war?’ 
                       
There were banners plastered everywhere, from Katoomba to the sea,
down across the Great Divide and through the scrub.
They had even hung a poster on the old acacia tree,
at the entrance to Gilgandra’s Royal Pub. 

When our Billy Hitchin took the floor on that Sunday afternoon, 
there was barely standing room around the bar.
They were packed into the rafters and had filled the new saloon,
with the biggest crowd we’d ever seen by far.

When I closed my eyes and yielded to the haziness of rum,
I could hear again that soldier’s frantic call.
He was begging me to join him now, with...’Coo-ee won’t you come?
As we’re fighting with our backs against the wall.’

There was Billy’s little brother Dick, and a couple of his mates,
and a dozen more of whom I’d never heard...
and although we’d laughed and jeered like drunken fools and reprobates,
we had hung on each and every single word.
 
In amongst those simple country blokes, who had gathered there that day,
were the founders of old Billy’s first brigade.
There were roustabouts and jackeroos from up Coonamble way,
and a swagman who had come to town and stayed.

When I closed my eyes, I saw again my broken-hearted Mum,
who had wept the day that I had  marched away...
and again I heard that soldier crying, ‘Coo-ee won’t you come
and avenge the boys who died at Suvla Bay?’

So I packed my swag and walked away from the only world I knew,
as I said good-bye to family and peers.
We were marching to the beat of Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous,
as the crowds rejoiced in melody and cheers.

By the time we got to Sydney Town, we had gathered quite a crew
and had snowballed by a multiple of ten!
They were hailing us from Penrith, to the foreshores of the ‘Loo,
as Australia’s best and fairest fighting men.

When I closed my eyes I heard the distant terrifying hum
of a thousand guns and cannons on the shore.
There were ghostly voices whispering...‘Hey Coo-ee  don’t you come!
For there’s nothing here  ̶  but blood and guts and war!’


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