© Ron Stevens

Winner, 2008 ‘Coo-ee Festival – Open Section,’ Gilgandra, NSW.

The crowd’s increasing year by year
while medalled ranks are in retreat,
till dawn invests this atmosphere
with soft-approaching phantom feet.
They’ve risen from the Dardanelles,
Sandakan’s evil torture-track,
from meadowed soil in far Fromelles,
the local lads come drifting back.

Alive again and stout of heart,
they take their place in this review.
From rusted wreckage near Stuttgart
a pilot’s left the bomber’s crew.
An agent-oranged youth escapes
from Vietnam’s malignant loam.
The ranks are filled with spectral shapes
as local boys come floating home.

Look, there’s a brave bell-bottomed lad
whose ship lies shelled and deeply holed.
And see, a digger winter-clad,
defrosted from Korea’s cold.
From Libyan sand and Borneo,
El Alamein and Singapore,
they knew how they were needed, so
the local boys are here once more.

The crowd’s projecting through the air
each image personal and dear:
light-horseman Granddad, framed with care
and blest by Gran for year on year;
an uncle, cousin, childhood mate,
from shallow graves in foreign ground.
They’ve reappeared to congregate
in ghostly lines, without a sound.

No movement; we are fused as one
by local pride, thanksgiving for
the phantoms bathed in dawning sun
as bugle notes descend and soar,
to hang a moment, fade; as do
the spectral boys, more duty done.
We face the cenotaph to view
more humbly now our rising sun.

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