© Brian Bell

Winner, 2012 ‘The Bronze Swagman Award for Bush Verse’, Winton, Queensland.

(At the end of WW1, George Robertson received a letter from Hugh McCrae asking if he had any work. George replied that they would soon have “four soldiers back” and all the work was to be given to them.)

Four soldiers back to our backwater town,
fresh from the frontline, released from the crown.
Finished with bayonets and bullets and gore,
done with the terror – the nightmare of war.

Four soldiers back to the village they knew,
fresh to the changes the war put us through –
oversized factories, and each was a hive,
packing supplies to keep soldiers alive.

Such was the local investment in war,
helping an empire that cried out for more –
more of our produce and more of our kin,
maximum effort that’s led to a win.

Four soldiers back from the battlefront doom,
Mothers and others preparing a room.
Would that we had to find shelter for more.
Wish we had castles for each of the four!

Wish we had more than the barest of fields,
glibly depleted from stretching the yields.
Wish we had goblets and carpets of red.
Wish we could finish with thoughts of our dead.

Four soldiers back, but enlistments were ten.
We lost over half our finest young men,
makeshift the gravesites so hastily filled,
hillocks reminding how many were killed.

Stewart next door had a dream that is dust –
two butchered sons and how Stewart has cussed,
ranting and raving that life is unfair,
bearing as much as a Father can bear.

Four soldiers back and they’re well on their way.
We bade them farewell, then we started to pray.
The war may be over, but never they’d shirk.
Four soldiers back will be looking for work.

Back to employment at factory or farm,
lessening risk of them coming to harm –
jobs they had started before they left home.
How they look forward to toolbench and loam!

Henderson’s father awaits the return
of one who will find him a little less stern,
whose Mother has poured out an ocean of tears,
welled by his absence as weeks became years.

Four soldiers back will have stories to tell, 
months of exhaustion and moments of Hell,
tales about lifestyles abandoned, replaced
with battlefront scenes that are never erased.

One with a leg off and wondering why,
one who is deaf from explosions nearby.
We’ll need to be cautious and treat them with care,
and speak not of mates they have left over there.

Four soldiers back to their loved ones so proud,
waiting to celebrate, lively and loud.
They’ll see all the scars that the body can’t hide,
but none of the terror that’s hidden inside.

Yes, four soldiers back, with their medals and bars,
done with campaigning and littered with scars,
stowed into ships that are cresting the foam,
laden with treasure – our four soldiers – home.

Poet’s Note – “This version of the poem is not the altered version published in the ABPA magazine in August 2011”

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