Next week I will finish extracting some of the stories from Told in the Huts: The YMCA Gift Book 1916 but when I read this poem which appeared in the book I felt compelled to post it.
The sentiment in the last verse so at odds with the reality of later years as expressed so eloquently in Eric Bogle's song And the band played Waltzing Matilda a version of which is posted below.
But in recent years with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the centenary of the Great War which is now upon us the role of those who serve in the armed forces and the sacrifices they may be called to make is once again being recognised.
A Bit of Bunting.
BY A WOUNDED ANZAC.
THEY have settled the ward for the evening,
And straightened every bed;
We have drunk our bowls of cocoa,
And they've covered the lights with red.
We are lying now till the morning--
'Tis a terrible time to wait,
When the day seems twenty-four hours
And the night seems forty-eight.
For the man to the right is restless,
I can hear him mutter and moan,
And the boy in the bed beside me
Is breaking his heart for home.
I dose a little at moments,
Till I'm back with the heat and flies
In the sniper's line of fire,
With the sunlight in my eyes.
It's curious, lying thinking,
When the clock strikes once and again,
How fate has formed us together
In a regiment of pain;
How from far-off town and village,
From the peace of the country sward,
We have answered the call of England--
To meet again in a ward!
You have heard of the old pied piper
Who came to the village street,
And played a tune to the children,
A melody strange and sweet;
And with eyes aglow with laughter,
And curls that shone in the sun,
They tramped to the sound of the music,
And followed him every one.
We all grow bitter at seasons
God knows we are battered and worn
And we feel in our darkest moments
That nothing more can be borne;
But say what you will about it,
There is something in each man's breast
That would urge him to rise and follow,
Though he hungered for peace and rest.
It is stronger than home and comfort,
It is stronger than love and life,
Than the speechless grief of a mother
Or the clinging arms of a wife;
For whenever the old flag shall summon,
In the midst of his direst pain,
He would hear it out of the shadows,
And it would never call in vain.
Do we wonder why we have done it
When the pain is hardest to bear,
And the helpless years to come
Press like a load of care?
Do we wonder why we have done it,
When just at the break of day
We fancy we hear the sobbing
Of the loved ones far away?
Over the mantel yonder,
Between the glass and the wall,
They have wedged a piece of bunting
You can scarcely see it at all;
But my eyes go searching for it
Before they cover the light,
For it's brought a message with it,
And I read it every night;
For whether he's tired and weary,
Or whether he's hurt and sad,
Or whether he's old and helpless,
Or whether he is but a lad,
As long as England is England,
And as long as a man has his will,
He would rise from a bed of sickness
To hobble after it still.
They say that the grandest picture
In England, when war is done,
And we've dragged our own from the Germans,
And fought and bled and won,
Will not be the row of medals
That blaze on a general's breast,
Or the little letters of glory
That follow a hero's name;
But the sight that will rouse the nation
And stir our pulses yet,
The sight that the women of England
Will count as a lasting debt,
Is the empty sleeve of a soldier
Who has braved the surgeon's knife,
And the man who goes on crutches
For the rest of his mortal life.