Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And the Band Played...

As if most of my readers will need reminding.

This song, originally written and recorded by Australian Eric Bogle, is an old favorite of mine. This time of year, it becomes even more meaningful:

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Now when I was a young man and I carried my pack
and I lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty out back
I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915 my country said "Son
It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done"
And they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As the ships pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off to Galipolli

And how I remember that terrible day
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs to the slaughter.

Johnnie Turk was ready, oh he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat we were all blown to hell
nearly blew us all back home to Australia.

But the band played Waltzing Matilda
as we stuck to bury our slain
We burned ours and the Turks buried theirs
and we started all over again

Those who were living just tried to survive
In a mad world of blood death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
While 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 and I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go Waltzing Matilda
All round the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs a man needs both legs
No more Waltzing Matilda for me.

They collected the crippled, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled in to Circular Key
And I looked at the place where my legs used to be
I thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to Pity

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
as they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
And turned all their faces away

So now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glory

I see the old men all tired, stiff and sore
The weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, more old men disappear
Some day no one will march there at all

I have something like a dozen different versions. This is obviously an anthem in Australia, as many of these are by OZies.
This LINK will take you to a direct download (MP3 - save the file) of Eric Bogle's version.
You can LISTEN to a live acoustic version by John Williamson.
But I think the version I by far and away like the best is THIS ONE, I believe its by Liam Clancy.

The point is this:

As part of the marking of Remembrance Day here in Canada. The ceremonial in Ottawa included a short taped segment delivered by the last surviving Canadian who served in the Great War. Latter the commentator mentioned that the ceremony in France had the last three living survivors from all of Europe.

But year after year, more old men disappear
Some day no one will march there at all.

And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"

My old friend Braun McAsh yearly drags out his medals 'and still answers the call'. He wrote me and said:
"Someone ... asked why I wasn't standing with the other vets. I told him that today wasn't about who you stood with, but remembering those who never made it back to stand with anyone."

We need to remember. Its not just to honour the debt we owe to those 'Absent Friends'.
Its so the young know why - and what the cost is when the band strikes up the march, yet again.

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