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Sunday, November 12, 2006

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

This is the week we remember those who fought in wars, and I noticed that The Tablet has an article about Siegfried Sassoon’s brother, who died at Gallipoli. Sadly, I can't read the article as it's only for subscribers, but here's the blurb for those interested ...

Unsung soldier, unknown muse ... He died during the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War, one of 21,000 in that suicidal tragedy with no known grave. Yet, as the younger brother of Siegfried, Hamo Sassoon’s death helped inspire some of the greatest verse on war, the tragedy of which we reflect on this weekend.

But that did make me think about the battle of Gallipoli ... I've had the Peter Weir/Mel Gibson movie Gallipoli on my to rent list for a while ... and so I read a little about it. One item that struck me was a song written in 1972 to commemorate that battle - And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of the song ...

"And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is a song, written by Eric Bogle in 1972, that commemorates the battle of Gallipoli between Australian, New Zealand (Allies) and Turkish (Axis) forces during the First World War. It is written from the point of view of a young Australian man who is sent to Gallipoli. The song incorporates the melody and a few lines of "Waltzing Matilda's" lyrics at its conclusion. The song has been covered by the Clancy Brothers, June Tabor, Slim Dusty, John Williamson, The Dubliners, Joan Baez, Skids, Christy Moore, and the Pogues. Midnight Oil has a live version of the song which has circulated on the Internet.

The song is often praised for its haunting imagery of the devastation at Gallipoli. The protagonist in the story loses his legs in the battle, and after the war notes the passing of other veterans with time, as younger generations become apathetic to the veterans and their cause. The song, written in 1972, has also been interpreted as paralleling with the Vietnam War. The song rails against jingoism and the romanticising of war. As the old man sits on his porch, and watches the veterans march past every ANZAC Day: "The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask myself the same question" ...

Here below are the lyrics to the song ...

When I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
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
So 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
When the ship pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off for Gallipoli

It well I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk, he was ready, 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
He nearly blew us back home to Australia

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When we stopped to bury our slain
Well we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

Oh those that were living just tried to survive
In that 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 me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
I never knew there was worse things than dying

Oh no more I'll go Waltzing Matilda
All around 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 wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

And the Band played Waltzing Matilda
When they carried us down the gangway
Oh nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
Then they turned all their faces away

Now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glories
I see the old men all tired, stiff and worn
Those 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 plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, their numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong
So who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

- from Wikipedia ... Anzac Beach at 8am on 25 April 1915. Men from the Australian 4th Battalion (1st Brigade) and Jacob's 26th Indian Mountain Battery are seen landing. The men in the foreground belong to the 1st Brigade staff. At the water's edge is the body of Sapper R. Reynolds, one of the first men to be killed at Gallipoli.


Blogger Jeff said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Powerful stuff. The British were always ill-using the Irish and the Aussies (Breaker Morant)... The movie Gallipoli was one of Mel Gibson's better efforts.

I'd love to read Siegfried Sassoon's Memoirs of an Infantry Officer someday. I've read quite a few of historian Paul Fussell's books, including The Great War and Modern Memory, and he always heaps high praise on Sassoon and Robert Graves.

12:41 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I've read a few of Sassoon's poems, but no books. Intersting that he was friends with Robert Graves ... I've read a few of Graves' books, but none of his poetry :-)

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I very much recommend The Pogues' version, which catches both the beauty and the brutality of this great song.

I recommend The Pogues in general.

8:48 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks Liam - I'll look up The Pogues' version. I haven't listened to the song yet, though I know it's online here and there.

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff....the British were always ill-using the Irisha nd Anzacs and crucially their own working class too, don't forget that and remember those establishment assholes use anyone they can get their hands on....

English Working Class Scum used and abused in the modern day...

1:49 AM  

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