John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Poet's Corner: Armistice Day special edition (part four)

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

When I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty Outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over

Then in 1915 me country said, "Son,
It's time you stopped rambling, 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
When the ship pulled away from the quay
And amidst all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off for Gallipoli

And how well I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter

Johnny Turk he was ready, he'd primed himself well
He rained us with bullets, and he showered us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us back home to Australia

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again

And those that were left, well, we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
While around me the corpses piled higher

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead
Never knew there was worse things than dying

So no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
To hump tent and pegs a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

So they gathered the wounded, the crippled, 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 when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve, and to mourn, and to pity

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
Then they turned all their faces away

So now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades how proudly they march
Renewing old dreams of past glory

And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore
They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask meself the same question

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda,
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year the 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 they march by the Billabong
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me

Eric Bogle (b. 1944)

Tags: holidays: veterans day, poet's corner

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