[Editor: Published in The Braidwood Review and District Advocate, 25 November 1941.]
The late Cpl. Roberts
Poem to his children
Details contained in a letter from Vic Young to his parents in Braidwood describe how the late “Barney” Roberts died in the fighting at Tobruk. The dead soldier’s last letter to his wife told of a minor injury he received a couple of days previously. He said briefly: “I got my first scratch a few days ago. A shell burst near me in stony ground, and a big flat rock swept the legs from under me with terrific force. Luckily I didn’t get it edge on, but the flat of it was like being kicked by ‘Two Dip,’ both feet at once! All I suffered was a few cuts and bruises.
According to the letter received from Vic Young “Barney” was back at his post next day little the worse for his experience. However, a big shell dropped about 50 yards from where he was stationed, and though “Barney” made for cover the shrapnel caught him just as he was entering the safety trench, severely wounding him in the abdomen and thigh. Two days later he succumbed to these injuries.
Victor Young was with him when he died, and says he was filled with admiration for the soldier’s great bravery and resignation. “Barney” was cheerful right up to the last, and died like a true Aussie, he said. Three of his Braidwood pals, Kevin Stewart, Charlie Rouen and Vic Young, attended the last sad rites at the graveside. They cemented the grave and later, with some other of his friends, fixed the grave with white tiles, recovered from an old ruin, making a beautiful and lasting job of it. “The boys were all terribly distressed at his passing,” writes Vic Young. “Barney had been like a father to us all through. Our welfare seemed to be of greater concern to him than any personal consideration. He did everything he could to advise us and put us on the right road. He was a grand soldier and a wonderful friend.”
In the dead soldier’s last letter to his wife was included a little poem he had composed. He said: “Don’t think I’ve gone ‘bomb-happy.’ It’s just a little poem to the kids to show how idle we have been this last few days. I am going to write Jim a letter for his school magazine.”
Here is the poem:—
To My Children
My footsteps mark the Libyan sands
Beneath the blazing desert sun,
My dust-filled eyes behold the lands
Where barren rock escarpments run
From rim to rim, descending slow,
In lazy steps, into the sea.
My ears are filled with sounds they know —
The dreaded Royal Artillery.
My hands are busy at their task,
Replenishing the guns of war;
But busy moments cannot mask
The things I’m really pining for.
My feet would rather tread the hills
Where live the fox and kangaroo,
Or swing along the open road
That takes me nearer home and you
My eyes, from desert storms of sand,
Now long to turn to fields of grain,
Where wildflowers bloom on either hand,
And nesting groundlarks sing again.
They ache for scenes of bushland green,
Beneath the clear, blue Aussie skies;
For white cloud, beach, and sea between
Would soothe my grimy, squinting eyes.
The ears that ring with battle roar
Are listening for the lilting song
Of your sweet voices, more and more,
Entwined my loving thoughts among
The hands that press the tools of death
Are eager for the toil of peace;
To work for you, blue skies beneath
In the land of wheat and golden fleece.
When nights are cold, ’neath Northern Star,
And bomber ’planes their raids renew,
My heart goes back to lands afar
And calls God’s blessing down on you.
The Braidwood Review and District Advocate (Braidwood, NSW), 25 November 1941, p. 3
[Editor: Corrected “iu the abdomen” to “in the abdomen”.]