The Doctor’s Story.
“It happened,” said the doctor, “in a hospital out back,
He’d been brought to us delirious, found along the Menzies track;
Yet he looked, when placed among the convalescent and the sick,
The remnants of as fine a man as ever swung a pick.
In addition to a sunstroke, he had typhoid at its worst,
So I don’t mind here confessing he seemed hopeless from the first;
But he lingered like a limpet clinging to its native spot,
And a month went by and still no screen was drawn around his cot.
“Expecting that the breath of Death each day would quench his spark,
‘Name unknown,’ we’d marked his entry, ‘six-foot high, complexion dark.’
Till one night old Dan, the wardsman, who’d been sitting up on watch,
Heard him rambling in a dialect which Dan assumed was Scotch.
Next day delirium left him, in another he could speak,
Though his general break-up told me he’d a limit of a week.
And one sultry summer evening when the western sky was red,
He backward turned life’s pages as I sat beside his bed.
“He was Scottish, as I’ve mentioned, he proclaimed the fact with pride,
He’d a mother living lonely far beyond the busy Clyde;
He himself had been a soldier and had spilt his rich young blood,
Where the rifles buzz and splutter and the bullets scream and thud.
He’d been in the gallant Gordons and from Cairo to the Cape
Had fought his country’s enemies of every hue and shape.
Fought and won, and fought and blundered, now below and now on top,
From the siege of Alexandria to the rout of Spion Kop.
“And now he lay a-dying and the red sun sinking low
Illumed his ashen features with its soft and rosy glow.
There was one thing that he longed for ere he turned to crumbling clay,
He’d a last and longing wish to hear the well-loved bagpipes play,
He had heard the stirring pibrochs speed the Gordons in their fights,
It had borne them through the fire zone as they swung up Dargai’s heights,
Its plaintive lamentations caused a nation’s tears to well
Where full five hundred gallant Scots and warrior Wauchope fell.
“That night the goldfields warden, who a set of pipes possessed,
Came to cheer the heart that feebly beat within that weary breast,
While the silent campship listened as the piper’s chant and croon
Changed from Burns’s Song to Mary and the Banks of Bonnie Doon.
The sick man’s face lit up with joy as loud the pibroch rose,
As it rose when Bruce of Bannockburn had triumphed o’er his foes.
While again he saw the trenches where the Boer and British bled,
As the hidden piper softly wailed the dirges for the dead.”
The doctor finished speaking, and his audience sitting round,
Preserved a silence sorrowful in sympathy profound.
“And did his soul,” one listener asked, “its Maker seek again
As the piper’s music died away in dolorous refrain?”
“Not exactly,” said the doctor, “for he’s well and strong to-day,
And has gone to cheer his mother in the Highlands far away.
But no more, if I can help it, will that music cure be tried,
For, although HE stood the bagpipes, ALL THE OTHER PATIENTS DIED!”
Edwin Greenslade Murphy, Dryblower’s Verses, Perth, W.A.: E. G. Murphy, 1926, pages 28-29
Previously published (with some differences) in:
The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 30 March 1902, p. 4
Dryblower, Jarrahland Jingles: A Volume of Westralian Verse, Perth (W.A.): R.S. Sampson for Sunday Times, 1908, pages 89-92
Bannockburn = the site of a battle between Scotland (under Robert the Bruce) and England (under Edward II), fought on 24 June 1314
Bruce = Robert the Bruce (King Robert I of Scotland), who was from the Bruce clan
clay = in the context of mankind, a reference to the idea that God made man out of clay; from Genesis 2:7 in the Old Testament of the Bible, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”, which has sometimes been referred to as God making man out of clay
Clyde = the Clyde River, in Scotland
Dargai = the site of a battle, on 20 October 1897, between the British military and Afridi tribesmen, as part of the Tirah Campaign (1897-1898), when British forces stormed the Dargai Heights; piper George Findlater, of the Gordon Highlanders, was famously awarded a Victoria Cross for his conduct during the battle, when, although he had been shot in the legs, unable to walk, and still under enemy fire, he continued to play the bagpipes for his regiment; Dargai was located in North-West Frontier (the north-west area of India, now part of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan)
dolorous = great sorrow, distress, or emotional suffering; causing, feeling, showing, or otherwise regarding much sadness
Gordons = the Gordon Highlanders, an infantry regiment in the British Army, which was in existence from 1881 until 1994
out back = remote rural areas; sparsely-inhabited back country; often given as one word and capitalized, “Outback”
pibroch = a piece of music for the Scottish bagpipes, usually of a martial or mournful nature
Spion Kop = the site of a battle in the Boer War, fought on 23 to 24 January 1900
Wauchope = Major-General Andrew Wauchope, who died at the Battle of Magersfontein (11 December 1899) in the Boer War whilst in command of the 3rd (Highland) Brigade, of which 706 were killed
See: 1) “Andrew Gilbert Wauchope”, Wikipedia (accessed 6 June 2014)
2) “Battle of Magersfontein”, British Battles (accessed 6 June 2014)
3) “Battle of Magersfontein”, Wikipedia (accessed 6 June 2014)