© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2017 ABPA Victorian State Championship, Corryong, Victoria.

When our Bobby returns from that terrible war,
we will welcome him back with a cheer.
We’ll carry his swag as he marches ashore,
and we’ll sing and we’ll dance on the pier.
There’ll be banners and streamers from Woolloomooloo
all the way down to Circular Quay…
in the glorious colours of red, white and blue –
for the whole of Australia to see.

When our Bobby returns they’ll be queuing for seats
in the bars of the local hotels,
and crowds will be gathering out on the streets
and the church will be ringing its bells.
There’ll be tears from the girls and the maidens will sigh
when our Bobby comes marching along,
and children will laugh when he passes them by
and the minstrels will sing him a song.

But illusions and dreams are so often dispersed
in the hazy confusion of life,
and ours were about to be shattered and cursed,
and erased by a surgical knife.
It was Bobby who stood all alone at the rail
with a dumbfounded look on his face…
he was brutally crippled and dreadfully frail,
and supported by crutches and brace.

He had recognised Mum at the edge of the crowd
as we chanted and shouted his name…
but Bobby, who’d once been so fearless and proud,
had returned to the gangway in shame.
Then another beside him had offered a hand,
and our Bobby came marching ashore –
and somewhere behind us, a welcoming band
played an end to that terrible war.

There were cheers from the boys, but my mother had cried
for the crippled, the marred and insane.
She’d wept for the millions who’d needlessly died
and the mothers who’d waited in vain.
“Oh my Bobby, my Bobby, my beautiful son,
I have frantically prayed and implored
that you would return when the fighting was done,
by the grace of our merciful Lord.

“You have always been my inspiration and joy,
and an idol to your little Sis,
but Bobby, my beautiful, innocent boy…
it disturbs me to see you like this!
You are bleeding, my son, from a heart full of stone,
and a soul full of ashes and steel.
They’ve cut you and scarred you right down to the bone,
through a wound that can never congeal.

“I remember the day at the Mulligans’ farm,
when you left on the back of their dray.
They’d said that a change wouldn’t do any harm
and was better than harvesting hay.
But if only they’d known what the future would bring,
then perhaps they’d be harvesting still…
instead of forsaking their lives for the King
and a marker on Battleship Hill!

“The newspapers said you’d been slaughtered en masse
in the trenches whilst trying to sleep.
They said you’d been sprayed with a poisonous gas
which had culled you like cattle and sheep.
Come on home with us Son… for it’s all in the past
and it’s time to rebuild and revive.
It’s finished and finally over at last,
and with thanks be to God, you’re alive!”

Now our Bobby is back, but he’s wondering why
he feels older than twenty one years.
The children and maidens are passing him by
as he searches in vain for his peers.
He stumbles and falls as he rambles and raves
of the carnage and chaos in hell…
and steadies his nerves with the drink that he craves
from the bar at our local hotel.

When our Bobby awakens from nineteen-fifteen
with his banner of freedom unfurled…
I wonder if he will be overly keen
to return to this brutalised world?
On his reckoning day, when he kneels at the cross
and the angels have asked him to dance –
I wonder if Bobby will notice the loss
of the leg he left lying in France?

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