The grief and glory of Gallipoli: Anzac poetry [by A. G. Stephens, 27 April 1929]

[Editor: An article by A. G. Stephens, published in The Brisbane Courier, 27 April 1929.]

The grief and glory of Gallipoli.

Anzac poetry.

By A. G. Stephens.

Still, for unforgetting hearts, the grief comes first. Wolla Meranda wrote:—

They will never come back, our stalwart men!
They will never come back, our splendid men!
And Beauty weeps in the Land of the Morn
For the flowers of love that will never be born.

Think of Alf. Shout, a yardman at Tooth’s Brewery in Sydney, whose Permanent Force experience won him an A.I.F. 1st Battalion commission as officer in 1914. Said Shout to his Lance-corporal, Alex. M’Queen, before they went out at Lone Pine: “We’ll make a name for ourselves to-night, Mac!”

“Well,” writes M’Queen, “I was outed in the early part of the night; but he made a name for himself all right. He was a Lieutenant when going into the charge, made Captain next day, gained the V.C. the next, and the following day Eternity.”

One of thousands not less heroic; not less distinguished in fact, though less in the accidental fortune of distinction.

“Courage” is a word of peace; not of that Anzac war. “They were all brave.” Courage was no longer their virtue; it was their daily bread; they were unconscious of it, as of the air they breathed. And so many lost in slaughter! To say that “Australia was bled white” is to say what is debatable, perhaps excessive; but the wound was deep. Not yet have we recovered from the shock. Yes, still the grief surpasses the glory.

After Anzac — France and Palestine; with so many Australians incredibly doing three and four years’ service; asked to do more than men should do, more than men could do; and somehow doing it. But, of those even who “came back,” a hundred thousand never came back, never will come back. I have seen many, looking externally fit, who will never recover their strength to bear a strain. They are like worn-out watches: faces and cases seem sound; but the works will never keep time again. Like Alf. Shout, they keep eternity while we remember them.

O last Land! O free Land!
Of rippling green and gold
And all the azure glories
That air and ocean hold:
Untouch’d by the long slaughter
Thou smil’st, the Sea-King’s daughter;
But God forget, if we do,
The things that made thee free!

So C. Ritchie wrote in “Anzac Memorial,” a book whose first-invented title has now become a phrase familiar in other fields of service. Described by Hugh Wright, Mitchell librarian, in Sydney, as “a book of perpetual historic and literary interest,” this memorial makes a memorable collection of poetical and prose contributions to the theme of Anzac. “Anzac Memorial” was published in three editions, 1916, 1917, 1918, for the benefit of the Returned Soldiers’ Association of New South Wales, parent of the existing Australasian League.

The Returned Soldiers’ Association was formed in Sydney, September 20, 1915. To commemorate valiant service a book was projected by the original committee. Published on April 25 ensuing, “Anzac Memorial” was highly successful. About £3000 was earned by returned men selling the book in several States; and £800 net profit was received by the association. In all, about 30,000 copies were issued.

Publishing a “Roll of Honour” of soldiers and sailors of the A.I.F. who died on service and missing during three years’ warfare, “Anzac Memorial” is cherished in thousands of stricken Australian homes. To its remarkable literary side many soldiers contributed graphic stories of service; and 50 writers of reputation in Australia and New Zealand added heartfelt poems. Some of these poems are not only treasured for their Australasian reference, but rank highly in English literature.

They are not usually poignant glimpses of actual warfare, such as are given us by some of the participants; effective in realising a particular scene or its circumstances, yet frequently showing a literary limitation due to their very reality. The work of meditative writers on the thrilling theme of Anzac endeavours rather to distil from the military circumstances their patriotic essence, their human value, their philosophic meaning.

Here are Robert Crawford’s lines:—

The Dead at Anzac.

They lie by the loud water, on the bare hills,
Far from their native land, the brave who fell.
There Time his visionary day fulfills
And Death with Freedom smiles, and all is well.

We have the lesson that they died to teach:
We hear their voices in the wind and rain:
God of our Fathers! let our honour reach
So high, that we may touch their hands again.

Those verses are noble, fit, and fine. There are many passages true and worthy in other poems. Thomas Heney said the Anzacs: Played their great game with honour and a smile.

Ruth Bedford:

Here was their only country yesterday:
Their hearts, their homes, were here.
Well loved, yet lightly owned: now, far away,
Where desolate cliffs rise sheer,
They have their everlasting heritage
Whose names are writ on some eternal page.
No more our flags fly over it; but they
Who lie there all alone
Gained us that strip of land above the Bay
For ever for our own:
And now no land in all earth’s kingdom wide
Holds half such deathless love and boundless pride.

The motives of loving remembrance, of patriotic reverence, are expressed often. Some writers ask why did those men volunteer to go gallantly to death; and find answers:

M. A. Robertson:

Because we dreamed of Belgium’s riven breast
And Pity lifted us above our fears
We sent you forth — O dearest and our best! —
To help a world o’erwhelmed in blood and tears.

Arthur Bayldon:

The Reason.

Why crossed we the foam
When we worshipped our home,
And with death came to grips
With a laugh on our lips,
To be mangled, and yet
Breathe not a regret,
But thrill with desire
Leaping through us like fire
To again challenge Fate
By the side of a mate?
Why flocked we to fight
In scorn and delight?

Because we all saw
Might trampling on law
And thrusting its hand
On a small, peaceful land,
And glutting its greed
With an infamous deed.
This is why,
’Neath an alien sky,
Australians fiercely fight and die
In their passionate love of Liberty.

D. H. Souter:

We are content: we had our day,
Brief but splendid, crowned with power
And brimmed with action every hour.

We have no need for tears or sighs,
We who passed in the heat of fight
Into soft Elysian night.

We who made our sport of Death
Could we turn to a tamer way?
We are content, we had our day.

“The Toast! For Anzac Day,” by C. H. Souter, was set to stirring music by C. W. MacCarthy, and is still annually sung; the best song that Anzac has inspired —

The toast is ANZAC, gentlemen!
As long as Time shall last
We need no costly monument
To keep their memory fast!
To those who lived!
To those who died!
Now, give them Three Times Three!
The toast is ANZAC, gentlemen!
On far Gallipoli.

Jessie Mackay writes for any mother:

Say “Strive!” no more — for I have striven:
Say “Give!” no more — for I have given;
Nor “Live!” (I, at the heart of Light)
Nor “Die!” for I have died to-night.

Hubert Church:

Take heart of grace and bear
The burden God has held
Apart for thee, for there
A secret fount has welled.

The shadow on thy heart
Is but the moving sign
That God is near: thou art
Veiled by Him, divine.

Space fails to cite many other poems of a similar quality in “Anzac Memorial,” or to emphasise the vivid tales of fighting recounted by many soldiers. Close here with Sapper J. C. Hackney’s vigorous summary of the Anzac enterprise:

Australia Hears.

What, gone? The Australians gone? From Anzac gone?
That lurid crater where for eight long months,
They lived with death, dined with disease,
Till one in every two fell ill,
And one in every four was shot.
And one in every eight lay dead.
Yes gone! From Anzac gone!
And left behind six thousand graves.

“Failed, after all!”
No! No! Australia has not failed!
Heard and obeyed the call
Of blood, of right to live:
The price of Empire fully, freely paid.
And, bid (hers neither place, nor plan, nor way) —
The impossible to do, the impossible she did,
And thrice had won had others done the same.

And when the last, the greatest, task arose,
That she must go
At such a risk
That five-and-twenty thousand beds were ready for the fall,
She went:
Nor lost one man, nor left one man behind:
Triumphant thus
Australia! Proud, but sad.

The Brisbane Courier (Brisbane, Qld.), 27 April 1929, p. 23

Editor’s notes:
Three Times Three = the three-part cheer, “Hip, hip, hooray!”, which is traditionally given three times in a row

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