In the mournful, poignant song The Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle, a young soldier from Australia reflects on his life as he and his mates stormed the beach of Suvla Bay Beach on August 6, 1915. According to statistics, the Allies suffered 20,000 casualties.
The young man sings
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
He reflects as he sits on his porch on an April day watching the parade of those who survived the Great War,
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
Unlike some of his mates he survived for ten weeks before a Turkish shell found his station. He recalls
“When I woke up in my hospital bed,
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead. Never knew there was worse things than dyin’.”
He lost both legs. As he sings so sadly,
“a man needs both legs—no more waltzing Matilda for me.”
The First World War (1914-1918) or the Great War’s statistics are over 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians dead. There were over 20 million wounded who were maimed either physically or mentally.
The Twentieth Century demanded the lives of many young men in global conflicts. Many parents, sweethearts and children shed tears for those who went to war, but never came back.
Many like the singer of the song came back, but their spirit died as well on the beaches and fields in a foreign land, killed by fellow brothers of earth. War destroys the innocence of youth.
Before he left for France, Sergeant Alfred Joyce Kilmer, another young man who was killed on July 30, 1917 in another battle of the Great War, wrote an eloquent poem about war:
“In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet
There is a new-made grave to-day,
Built by never a spade nor pick
Yet covered with earth ten meters thick.
There lie many fighting men,
Dead in their youthful prime,
Never to laugh nor love again
Nor taste the Summertime.”
For the honored dead he continued
“There is on earth no worthier grave
To hold the bodies of the brave
Than this place of pain and pride
Where they nobly fought and nobly died.”
War is a memory which never goes away until the final breath.
For countless centuries war has raged on this planet traversing the cosmos. Human life becomes a spent commodity, especially for the women and children who suffer the atrocities of war.
Even the most civilized and educated leaders of the nations on this earth, dressed in their fancy uniforms and suits, drinking brandy and smoking cigars, participating in their elegant parties of state, never seem to lose the bloodlust of power. The young pay the price for all the trappings of the delusionary lives of those who plot and plan in those war rooms.
Heroes are not born. They are made in the crucible of conflict. From the crucible of war remember those who no longer sit at our tables, raise a gleeful toast at the pub or ride their bicycle to see their beloved.
Remembrance Day is about those brave souls. These young boys did their duty and their country should be proud.
G. D. Williams © 2014
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
On the evening of August 6, 1915, Allied forces commanded by Sir Frederick Stopford land at Suvla Bay, on the Aegean Sea, to launch a fresh attack against Turkish and German forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula during World War I.
Losses were predictably heavy. The Allies suffered approximately 18,000 casualties at Suvla Bay and at Anzac Cove, plus a further 3,500 at Helles. Liman’s forces suffered 18,000 casualties at Anzac Cove and anything from 9,000-20,000 at Suvla Bay.
The Gallipoli Campaign (April 25, 1915-January 8, 1916),
a major land and sea operation of World War I, in which
British, French, Australian, and New Zealand forces
unsuccessfully attempted an invasion of Turkey.
The action was confined to the Dardanelles Strait
and the tip of the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) Peninsula near
Alfred Joyce Kilmer