Sunday, 21 April 2013

Eric Bogle - ANZAC Day

Eric Bogle
In Australia we’ve got our ANZAC day remembrance coming up (25th April) – that was the day in 1915, WWI, when Australian and New Zealand troops were put ashore at dawn on a narrow, pebbly beach at Gallipoli, Turkey, to get shot to pieces by the Turks and to commence what would turn out to be a tragic and failed attempt planned by British generals to capture the Dardanelles and open up a sea route to Russia.  Of course there were far more British and French troops committed to the campaign than Aussies and Kiwis, but it’s considered a defining moment in our nations’ psyche (the psyche of the white nation, that is) because it was the first time we fought as a Commonwealth nation, and the legend of the ANZAC was born.  ANZAC day today, is a remembrance of all conflicts and the ultimate sacrifice some have made and continue to make for world peace. We have a public holiday, and as it turns out everybody finds a uniform or military connection lurking somewhere in their family history.  And tradition tries to re-enact what that first larrikin band must have done when they went off to war.  So there’s the dawn service where people get out of bed hours before normal and gather at the town local cenotaph to reflect on the preparation of equipment; the conspiracy; the muffled rowing.  Coastal town people may gather on their steep headland or bluff above a rocky beach to see the horizon form; the outline of men-of-war; the heavy, awkward boats coming slowly in from the enemy’s perspective.  Then when the daylight strengthens to expose them, the people retreat to the local Returned Services Club (every town and suburb has one), where canteen ladies serve up warming breakfasts bacon and eggs just like they would if they were on the troop ships today and their boys were going over the side.  And with breakfast there’s a serving of rum.  Rum, because that’s what the ANZACs would have had, a tot of rum from the Navy, to comfort, to warm, to calm nerves, to give courage.  The stories get louder and the yarns begin and carry on to the mid-morning ANZAC day parade and back into the Club and more drinking – because that’s what the ANZACs would have done when they were on leave in Egypt.
I’m being irreverent.  There are many poems written about Gallipoli.  Most of them approach the subject with tragedy and loss.  But my favourite piece is set to a song by Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.  The words are poignant and capture the naivety of a young country’s involvement in a useless campaign.  An anti-war poem?  Some see it that way.  But I see it not as a total protest against war, but as a protest on poor military planning, poorly planned battles, poor leadership, hopeless, useless campaigns, against senseless slaughter (on both sides).  In our time unfortunately, there is the reality of evil and terror in our world and the necessity for good people to stand up and enter into conflict.  The unifying spirit of Gallipoli also embodies sacrifice, mateship, perseverance ………
I include the lyrics to, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.  A lot of artists have done their version of the song - one of my favorites is the Irish Tenors. Look up the song on youtube - listen to Eric Bogle himself, and Slim Dusty also.
And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
Eric Bogle – song 1971
When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli
How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again
Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me
So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away
And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong
Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?


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