Thursday, April 23, 2009

Anzac on the Wall will move you to tears

One of the most-touching poems I have ever read was sent to me this week by a friend in Australia and former Papua New Guinea kiap Paul Oates.

Simply titled, Anzac on the Wall, the poem tells of a young Australian John Francis Stuart and the heartbreaking story of how he left his widowed-mother and fiancée behind to join the famous Light Horse Brigade during World War 1 at Beersheba.

The Battle of Beersheba took place on October 31, 1917, as part of the Sinai and Palestine campaign during WWI.

The highlight of the battle was the now-famous charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade, which covered some six kilometres to overrun and capture the last remaining Turkish trenches, and secure the surviving wells at Beersheba.

This elegy marking ANZAC Day is written by the very-talented poet Jim Brown, who lives in Victoria, and only came into prominence when he won first place for 'original performance' of this poem at the 2005 Victorian Bush Poetry Championships.

Surprisingly, many Australians, including my friend Paul, do not know who the author is, despite being moved to tears by the poem.

I did an online search, and went as far as sending Jim Brown an email, however, he had not replied in time for publication.

However, he says in interview published online: “The story behind The Anzac on the Wall is that I was a TV journalist and, in 1990, went to Gallipoli to cover the 90th anniversary of the Anzac landing.

“Before I went, I visited the Military archives in Canberra looking for photos for a documentary film, and a lovely old man put a cardboard box in front of me which contained letters written to and from the war front.

“The letters could not be identified, and therefore could be returned to the families.

“I made notes at the time and later in life became a bush poet.

“The trigger for the poem was the photograph of the Anzac on the Wall, which I have in my possession and carry it with me when I perform the poem.

“The photo led me to incorporate the information I had gleaned from the letters.

“ The suffering of those waiting at home had not been written about enough, and time and again it seemed that those close to the land knew the very instant they had lost a loved one on the other side of the world.

“From those letters I wrote about the lightning storm, the horse bolting etc.

“I am humbled by the fact that so many people have been moved by the poem, especially around Anzac Day.”


Anzac on the wall


I wandered thru a country town, 'cos I had some time to spare,

And went into an antique shop to see what was in there.

Old Bikes and pumps and kero lamps, but hidden by it all,

A photo of a soldier boy - an Anzac on the Wall.


"The Anzac have a name?" I asked. The old man answered "No,

The ones who could have told me mate, have passed on long ago.

The old man kept on talking and, according to his tale,

The photo was unwanted junk bought from a clearance sale.

"I asked around," the old man said, "but no one knows his face,

He's been on that wall twenty years... deserves a better place.

For some one must have loved him, so it seems a shame somehow."


I nodded in agreement and then said, “I'll take him now."


My nameless digger's photo, well it was a sorry sight

A cracked glass pane and a broken frame - I had to make it right

To prise the photo from its frame I took care just in case,

Cause only sticky paper held the cardboard back in place.

I peeled away the faded screed and much to my surprise,

Two letters and a telegram appeared before my eyes

The first reveals my Anzac's name, and regiment of course

John Mathew Francis Stuart - of Australia’s own Light Horse.

This letter written from the front...  my interest now was keen

This note was dated August seventh 1917

"Dear Mum, I'm at Khalasa Springs not far from the Red Sea

They say it's in the Bible - looks like a Billabong to me.


"My Kathy wrote I'm in her prayers...  she's still my bride to be

I just can’t wait to see you both, you're all the world to me.

And Mum you'll soon meet Bluey, last month they shipped him out

I told him to call on you when he's up and about."

"That bluey is a larrikin, and we all thought it funny

He lobbed a Turkish hand grenade into the Co's dunny.

I told you how he dragged me wounded, in from no man's land

He stopped the bleeding closed the wound with only his bare hand."

"Then he copped it at the front from some stray shrapnel blast

It was my turn to drag him in and I thought he wouldn't last.


He woke up in hospital, and nearly lost his mind

Cause out there on the battlefield he'd left one leg behind."

"He's been in a bad way Mum, he knows he'll ride no more

Like me he loves a horse's back, he was a champ before.

So Please Mum can you take him in, he's been like my own brother

Raised in a Queensland orphanage, he’s never known a mother."


But Struth, I miss Australia Mum, and in my mind each day

I am a mountain cattleman on high plains far away.

I'm mustering white-faced cattle, with no camel's hump in sight

And I waltz my Matilda by a campfire every night

I wonder who rides Billy, I heard the pub burnt down

I'll always love you and please say hooroo to all in town".


The second letter I could see, was in a lady's hand

An answer to her soldier son there in a foreign land.

Her copperplate was perfect, the pages neat and clean

It bore the date, November 3rd 1917.

"T'was hard enough to lose your Dad, without you at the war

I'd hoped you would be home by now - each day I miss you more"


"Your Kathy calls around a lot since you have been away

To share with me her hopes and dreams about your wedding day.

And Bluey has arrived - and what a godsend he has been

We talked and laughed for days about the things you've done and seen"

"He really is a comfort, and works hard around the farm,

I read the same hope in his eyes that you won't come to harm.

Mc Connell's kids rode Billy, but suddenly that changed.

We had a violent lightning storm, and it was really strange."

"Last Wednesday, just on midnight, not a single cloud in sight,

It raged for several minutes, it gave us all a fright.

It really spooked your Billy - and he screamed and bucked and reared

And then he rushed the sliprail fence, which by a foot he cleared"


"They brought him back next afternoon, but something's changed I fear

It's like the day you brought him home, for no one can get near.

Remember when you caught him with his black and flowing mane?

Now Horse breakers fear the beast that only you can tame,"


"That's why we need you home son" - then the flow of ink went dry-


This letter was unfinished, and I couldn't work out why.

Until I started reading, the letter number three

A yellow telegram delivered news of tragedy,

Her son killed in action - oh - what pain that must have been

The Same date as her letter - 3rd November 17

This letter which was never sent, became then one of three

She sealed behind the photo's face - the face she longed to see.

And John's home town's old timers - children when he went to war

Would say no greater cattleman had left the town before.


They knew his widowed mother well - and with respect did tell

How when she lost her only boy she lost her mind as well.


She could not face the awful truth, to strangers she would speak

"My Johnny's at the war you know, he's coming home next week."

They all remembered Bluey he stayed on to the end.

A younger man with wooden leg became her closest friend.

And he would go and find her when she wandered old and weak

And always softly say "yes dear - John will be home next week."

Then when she died Bluey moved on, to Queensland some did say.

I tried to find out where he went, but don't know to this day.


And Kathy never wed - a lonely spinster some found odd.

She wouldn't set foot in a church - she'd turned her back on God.

John's mother left no Will I learned on my detective trail.

This explains my photo's journey, of that clearance sale.

So I continued digging, cause I wanted to know more.

I found John's name with thousands, in the records of the war.

His last ride proved his courage - a ride you will acclaim

The Light Horse Charge at Beersheba of everlasting fame.

That last day in October back in 1917

At 4pm our brave boys fell - that sad fact I did glean.

That's when John's life was sacrificed, the record's crystal clear


But 4pm in Beersheba is midnight over here......

So as John's gallant sprit rose to cross the great divide,

Were lightning bolts back home, a signal from the other side?

Is that why Billy bolted and went racing as in pain?

Because he’d never feel his master on his back again?

Was it coincidental? same time - same day - same date?

Some proof of numerology, or just a quirk of fate?


I think it's more than that you know, as I've heard wiser men,

Acknowledge there are many things that go beyond our ken

Where craggy peaks guard secrets neath dark skies torn asunder,

Where hoofbeats are companions to the rolling waves of thunder

Where lightning cracks like 303's and ricochets again

Where howling moaning gusts of wind sound just like dying men

Some Mountain cattlemen have sworn on lonely alpine track,

They've glimpsed a huge black stallion - Light Horseman on his back.

Yes Sceptics say, it's swirling clouds just forming apparitions

Oh no, my friend you can't dismiss all this as superstition.

The desert of Beersheba - or windswept Aussie range,

John Stuart rides on forever there - Now I don't find that all



Now some gaze upon this photo, and they often question me

And I tell them a small white lie, and say he's family.

"You must be proud of him." they say - I tell them, one and all,

That's why he takes - the pride of place - my Anzac on the Wall




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