© Brenda Joy

Winner, 2018 Kembla Flame Award, Illawarra, NSW.

Though she’d been barely ten, she could well recall
how her Dad marched away to the ‘Coo-ee’ call
as recruit in the war that would end them all
     and her heart overflowed with pride.
For Gilgandra paid tribute to ‘Hitchen’s Own’,
to the boys who’d demand that the Huns atone
for the losses incurred in the Turkish zone.
     They would honour the men who’d died.

She could still hear the strains of the Coo-ee cheer
that resounded throughout her eleventh year
when the townsfolk would gather around to hear
     of the victories being won.
But the months dragged along, so the tensions grew
and the news from the Front didn’t quite ring true
as reports of disasters were filtered through –
     missing husband, or dad or son.

And the hardship of toil that increased each day
with the pain in their hearts that would not allay,
and they prayed for the men who were far away
     but their fears couldn’t be relieved.
As the elderly tired, so they felt the strain.
(Would they ever embrace their beloved again?)
So the Coo-ee became a subdued refrain
     while the psyche of a nation grieved.

When she entered her teens how she longed to know
of the father who’d marched many years ago
and the sense of her loss seemed to grow and grow
     for the heart of a girl will yearn.
There are moments a daughter has need to share.
She remembered her father’s embrace and care,
till at times it was more than her thoughts could bear
     as she pined for his safe return.

Then at last came the day when ‘the boys’ came back
and she ran to the train coming down the track –
but the man who emerged with his army pack
     was a shade of the one she’d known.
Like a tattered reminder of senseless war,
with a body no surgery could restore,
he would never be able to march – no more!
     How the cheers had a hollow tone.

In the throes of Depression, the times were tough;
(being heroes of war wasn’t quite enough)
while the treatment of those who had served was rough
     where the jobs and supplies were short.
Shattered men got no solace or accolade
for the depth of the sacrifice gamely made
and the semblance of gratitude soon would fade
     with privations the war had brought.

As the bitterness spread so the bond was feigned
in the home where relationships too were strained.
It was clear only memories now remained
     of the father for whom she’d pined.
For this stranger was lost in his inner hell
where distortions and demons of anger dwell
and no family offers of love could quell
     all the terrors that mazed his mind.

With his grip on his sanity less than whole,
came the nightmares that wracked his depleted soul,
with the shakes and the sweats he could not control –
     paralysed by his abject fear.
The nocturnal barrage that he came to dread
with the screams of the maimed trapped within his head –
and he prayed for the day he would end up dead
     with the ghosts only he could hear.

And she never was able to understand
what her father endured in that foreign land
where the gods of the battle enforced command
     to a torture beyond compare.
While the promise of Coo-ee was not fulfilled
(over half from the march were deformed or killed)
and the names Poiziers and Ypres just chilled –
     for the souls of the damned lay there.

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