I was driving home tonight, and I had the same CDs in rotation that I'd had during the last leg of my last trip. It had been a little while since I'd heard it, and really listened to it. The tune was written by Eric Bogle in 1972 after he witnessed an ANZAC march. It is at once a celebration of a nation's pride and emergence, as well as a bitter remembrance of death, and to some, meaningless and savage loss. It is a piece that, hopefully, keeps both in the listener's mind.
I prefer the version done by The Pogues. No offense, Eric.
It might surprise you, what with The Administration-bashing and all, to know that I'm not... necessarily... anti-war. I'm not... necessarily (I'm certainly not in favor or in any way eager). That is to say I am trying my best to be responsible and check and double-check the facts, the denials, the accusations, the counter-denial-triple-threats, the phone taps, the exclusions, the what-have-you. And I'm trying my best not to dismiss things out of hand (though can I just tell you, that's getting really hard to do).
At the end of the day, I'm not anti-much. What I am is Pro-World.
May there always be someone there, waiting for you. And may you never wish that you were alone.
* * *
And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
by Eric Bogle
Now when I was a young man I carried my pack
And lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray's Green Basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in 1915 my 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 marched me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As the ship pulled away from the quay
And amidst all the cheers, flag waving and tears
We sailed off for Gallipoli
And how well I remember that terrible day
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And of how in that hell that they called Souvla 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 shell
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
While we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again
And those that were left, well we tried to survive
In that mad world of death, blood and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse-over-head
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead
Never knew there was worse things than dying
For I'll go no more waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and free
For to hump tent and pegs a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me
So, they collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And shipped us back home to Australia
The legless, the armless, the blind, the insane
The proud, wounded heroes of Souvla
And when our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As 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
Reliving old dreams and past glories
And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore
They're tired old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
But the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Some day no one will march there at all
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll go a'waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard
as they march by that billabong
Who'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me?
* * *
My mother and I used to go to the movies every weekend throughout my childhood. This is something for which I am eternally thankful. One day we went to The Fontana and saw "A Bridge Too Far." I was eight. At the end of the film, which to this day remains one of my favorites, there is a scene in a churchyard which has become a makeshift hospital, with the wounded and dying on the grass, covering a large part of its grounds. As the credits ran, I turned to my mother and whispered, "We won that war, didn't we?"
Because, you see, it wasn't apparent. There was not an us, or a them. There were only dead, and dying.
My mother was, and is, a simple woman with a loving heart. She's a country girl, grown up. But what she said to me was wiser and more meaningful than just about anything I've heard or read since.
"Kiddo, no one wins a war."
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