Far From Home

© David Campbell

Winner, 2017 Betty Olle Poetry Award, Kyabram, Victoria.

We are bringing them home with due care and respect
so a nation can honour their loss and reflect,
while their families gather to weep for the sons
and the brothers and fathers who fell to the guns
of an enemy fighting on some distant shore,
yet another sad chapter in man’s endless war.
But the headlines conceal all the sorrow and pain
that accompanied those who were waiting in vain
for a word or a sign in those days long ago
that might tell them the story they needed to know.
They were left without closure, alone with their grief
in a silence that gave them no chance of relief.

Far from home, far from home,
many men went to die,
no-one knows where they lie,
far from home.

For the fallen still missing, their fate yet unknown,
there’s a heartache remaining though decades have flown,
and while photographs linger to cushion despair,
there is always the anguish that’s so hard to bear
in the knowledge that thousands just vanished from sight
when consumed by the madness of war’s darkest night.
In the carnage of Flanders the earth ran with blood,
while the Somme was a nightmare, a graveyard of mud,
where a life was worth nothing as men fell and died
with no eulogy spoken, a tribute denied.

Far from home, far from home,
far from where they were born,
and the people who mourn,
far from home.

All we had were the stories that some lived to tell
of the chaos and slaughter in that far-off hell,
bodies buried by nature, with no-one to say
who they were, how they perished, and where they now lay.
They were lost in the meadows that flourished through time,
in the fields and the forests that banished the crime
to the pages of history, firmly held fast
in the myths and the legends of days now long past.
But anonymous headstones can never suffice
to remember the soldiers who paid such a price,
so the search must continue across foreign ground
in the hope that their destinies may yet be found.

Far from home, far from home,
yet their voice is still heard
in a phrase or a word,
far from home.

All it takes is a remnant, a fragment of bone,
for identification, the chance to atone
for those long years of silence, no more than a name
in a family record, one spark of a flame
from that raging inferno we call the Great War,
which destroyed life and loved ones as never before.
Then a new generation can find some release
in a question that’s answered, a soul now at peace.
Though the drums are all muffled, their beat echoes still
in the heat of the noonday and night’s bitter chill,
and the men will come marching to their soft refrain,
as the ghostly battalions head homeward again.

Far from home, far from home,
there is much still to learn
as the slow seasons turn,
far from home.

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