This is a beautiful poem written by my friends father. He posted it on Anzac Day this year however it was written some years back. A stunningly presented personal history of a War that affected so many.
Beneath the Faded Word
By Peter Thomas, Tambo Upper, Vic.
It sat out in the shearing shed for 30 years or more,
With cobwebs, dust and binder twine, and sheep dung on the floor.
An old and rusted Lockwood kept its secrets from my eyes,
A cabin trunk of leather, there since 1945.
I asked my dad, who owned it and what we kept it for,
He replied, “It’s Uncle Basil’s, that he brought back from the war.
So don’t you bloody touch it, or I’ll tan your bloody hide!”
But that only made me more intrigued to see what was inside.
I wondered at its mysteries and the secrets that it hid,
Beneath the faded word “Tobruk” stencilled on the lid.
Near Wilcannia, where only hardy cattlemen will go,
Uncle Basil had a station, Baden Park, near Ivanhoe.
A strong and gentle man, who once rode the Birdsville Track
Just to prove he wasn’t hampered by the shrapnel in his back.
So I stood alone and weighed it up; which would I decide,
Should I leave the memories undisturbed, or take a look inside?
I knew I had to take a look to see what it’d hold.
Medals? Spoils from the war – silver, jewels or gold?
The old man went off fishin’ of a Sunday with Bob Gray,
So if I was gonna do it – that would have to be the day.
I started out determined – I was done by ten past two.
With half a broken hacksaw blade, I cut the padlock through,
But even as I opened it, the truth was plain and clear,
The old trunk held no gold or jewels, there was no treasure here .
A pile of letters tied with string, an old moth eaten flag,
A rusty metal helmet and mouldy webbing bag,
A cup made from a jam tin, an emu feathered hat,
And a newspaper clipping with the title “Desert Rat”,
Some photos of the pyramids – a rusty bayonet,
An IOU – Jack Carmody – two quid (a two-up debt).
I folded out a faded map as the day began to wane,
Foreign places like Benghazi, Tobruk, El Alamein.
Then I came upon a satchel and a little leather book
And a photo of some young blokes – so I took a closer look.
It was 20 young recruits, their faces tanned and worn
From places like Cohuna, Moama and Bamawm.
Farmers, shearers, stockmen off to fight a noble war,
For the empire in a foreign land they’d never seen before.
And scrawled across the bottom, in writing rough and coarse,
Twenty names below the words, the Echuca Boys – Light Horse.
I turned the photo over, and there upon the back
Were words that sent a chill through me, and made my mouth go slack.
A solemn list of 20 – the fate of each the same.
Every one but Uncle Basil had a date beside their name,
Some said April ’43, some said June /July.
A record from our history, the date that each had died.
I turned back to the photo and looked in every face,
And written over each one was a month, a year, a place.
A grinning, sun-bronzed soldier’s face, each now with a name
Like November 1943 – the words El Alamein.
I wonder did they think, as they sailed across the foam,
That amongst them only one – Uncle Basil – would come home?
Recorded in that little book – I remember to this day –
A record of their actions and how each had passed away,
A mortar shell out on patrol; a sniper in the night;
A landmine took one’s legs off – he died before first light.
The death of each was brutal, the reality was stark.
Forty pages written there, I finished just on dark.
I slowly closed that record of the men who kept us free
And turned to see my father, standing silently.
He didn’t do his block as I expected that he would,
He just said, “Come on pack it up, I reckon that we should.”
So with loving care we packed away the treasures from the past,
When I came upon the photograph – it was put aside ‘till last –
And with new respect and love, I recorded there his fate.
Next to Uncle Basil I wrote April ’68.
Yeah, Dad and I we packed it up and put it back again
And wrapped it in a bit of tarp, to keep it from the rain.
We never spoke about it or discussed what I had read.
I reckon that was his way, to respect those men long dead.
There’s a statue of a digger in most every country town,
And a list of names of locals, who fought with great renown.
And now, when I go by, I remember what I read,
Sitting on the floor out there, in our old shearing shed.
And I think of Uncle Gordon, lost somewhere on Ambon,
Uncle Jack on the Kokoda and, in England, Uncle John.
I remember still that photo, with sadness and remorse,
That mob of grinning faces, the Echuca Boys – Light Horse.
In a cemetery near Ivanhoe lies a bloke who’s left his mark,
Basil Thomas, of Echuca, Tobruk and Baden park.