© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2016 Serious Section, ABPA WA State Championship, Toodyay WA.

When our Bobby returned from that terrible war,
he was broken and scarred to the bone.
He’d folded his swag with a bunk on the floor,
and had slept in the dairy alone.
When the demons were gone, he’d emerged from his cave
looking wasted and woefully frail…
and borrowed a razor to lather and shave
from a bucket he’d found in the bail.

In a calico shirt and his new dungarees,
he’d resembled the rest of the crew…
and though he’d appeared to be sound and at ease,
he was hardly the Bobby we knew.
There were shadows that darkened the china blue eyes
that had once been unclouded and warm,
and lurking behind his complacent disguise
was a phantom devoid of all form.

He would tremble whenever the demons would come
from the blood-spattered trenches of France,
and welcome them in with a bottle of rum,
as he drank himself into a trance.
They would taunt him with images, faces and smells
of the dying, the dead and decayed;
from Pozièrs down to the bowels of Fromelles,
where the bones of his comrades were laid.

He would cringe in the darkness as shrapnel would burst
in the trenches surrounding his shed,
and scream at the shadows who cackled and cursed
with the voices inside of his head.
When the shelling was over and finally done,
and the smoke of the battle had cleared…
he’d sleep with his hands on a make-believe gun,
till the demons had all disappeared.

I would stop by his shed, on my way to the yards,
with a billy and afternoon tea,
and though we would bond over checkers and cards,
he’d remained like a stranger to me.
He would try to amuse me with verses of song
he had learnt in some faraway land,
but blunder the words as he shuffled along
to the beat of some mystical band.

I was only a kid, but I soon understood
that our Bobby was losing his mind.
He’d fought for a cause that was noble and good,
but had left something sacred behind.
He had traded his innocence, conscience and soul
for a medal, a stump and a peg…
and somewhere in France, in a desolate hole,
they’d interred what was left of his leg.

He had shown me the mess that the doctors had made
with their scalpels and carpenter’s saw,
then wept for the lads of the Fifteenth Brigade
as he knelt by his peg on the floor.
He would ramble and rave to remember a name,
when his memory started to clear…
then bury his head in confusion and shame,
till their faces would slowly appear.

He would then introduce me to some of the boys
who’d been spared from the horrors in store…
for midst all the carnage, the chaos and noise,
they had died on Gallipoli’s shore.
There was Billy from Brighton and Andy from Bell,
and another named Jindabyne Jack…
and some other bloke who’d been struck by a shell,
in the very first mortar attack.

Now that Bobby is back, he can always be found
in the bars of our local hotels…
still cursing his peg as he stumbles around
from Le Pozièrs down to Fromelles.
Though the fighting is over and freedom restored
to a world that has suffered and burned –
I wonder if history books will record
that our Bobby…has never returned.

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