Sunday, April 25, 2010

Anzac Day

‘They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow,
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We shall remember them.’

Anzac Day. Up and down the country and around the world these lines from Laurence Binyon’s poem 'For The Fallen' will be recited. A few blogs back I commented on Byron’s legacy of war poetry. Binyon’s poem is not as bellicose as some of the early First World War ones. But it does represent a tradition.

But there are other viewpoints. Here’s one from Siegfried Sassoon

The General

‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Soldiers down the ages have groused about their leadership. But in the carnage that was that war it does seem to have been more incompetent than usual. It was ironic that Churchill’s desire to break the deadlock of trench warfare in France that led to the Gallipoli landings resulted in similar hand-to-hand fighting and bloodshed.

Whatever’s said about it we do need to remember those who made the sacrifice, both those who did not come back alive and those that did. I’ll leave the last word to a great poet.

Jock Campbell My Father

Yes, I remember the transport Southland –
a tub of a ship with a contingent
of Aussie larrakins, and a few of us
from the other side of the ditch –
real New Zealanders and proud of it.
We found their boasting pretty hard to take.
Then a torpedo struck us amidships
and the blast knocked me unconscious,
I floated to the surface entangled
with ropes and every kind of debris.
What an approach to the Dardanelles!
There was no sign of the ship –
only an oil-slick, bilge, torn uniforms,
naked bodies, dead horses, and men
clinging to spars and planks, and cursing –
real blister-raising curses from the Aussiess.
We had our differences, but you can’t
help liking men who rush into battle
yelling 'Imshi Tasllah', a cry picked up
in a Cairo street. The legend that we share
was born when our joint forces fought
and died together in Anzac Cove…
I am lying here in Tahiti with my dear Teu.
It’s quiet here away from the guns, the screams,
the nightmare that was Gallipoli. I can’t
make out what she is murmuring, but I think
it’s all about forgetfulness and peace.

Alistair Campbell

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