Valour (2015, Unpublished)

 

 

Contents

Boer War

 

  1. Captain Neville Reginald Howse

24 July 1900, Vredefort, Orange Free State

 

2.  Trooper John Hutton Bisdee

1 September 1900, Warm Bad, Transvaal

 

  1. Lieutenant Guy George Egerton Wylly

1 September 1900, Warm Bad, Transvaal

 

  1. Lieutenant Frederick William Bell

16 May 1901, Brakpan, Transvaal

 

  1. Sergeant James Rogers

15 June 1901, Thaba ‘Nchu, Orange Free State

 

  1. Lieutenant Leslie Cecil Maygar

23 November 1901, Geelhoutboom, Natal

 

World War 1

 

  1. Lance Corporal Albert Jacka

19-20 May 1915, Courtney’s Post, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. Lance Corporal Leonard Maurice Keysor

7-8 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. *Lieutenant William John Symons

8-9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. Corporal Alexander Stewart Burton

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. Corporal William Dunstan

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. *Captain Alfred John Shout

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. Private John (Patrick) Hamilton

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. Captain Frederick Harold Tubb

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. Second Lieutenant Hugo Vivian Hope Throssell

29-30 August 1915, Kaiakij Aghala (Hill 60) Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey

 

  1. *Temporary Lieutenant William Thomas Dartnell (alias Wilbur Taylor Dartnell)

3 September 1915, near Maktau, British East Africa ( now Kenya)

 

  1. Private John William Alexander Jackson

25-26 June 1916, Bois Grenier, near Armentieres, France

 

  1. Private John Leak

23 July 1916, Pozieres, France

 

  1. Lieutenant Arthur Seaforth Blackburn

23 July 1916, Pozieres, France

 

  1. *Private Thomas Cooke

24-25 July 1916, Pozieres, France

 

  1. *Sergeant Claud Charles Castleton

28 July 1916, Pozieres, France

 

  1. Private Martin O’Meara

9-12 August 1916, Pozieres, France

 

  1. Captain Henry William Murray

4-5 February 1917, Gueudecourt, France

 

  1. Lieutenant Frank Hubert McNamara

20 March 1917, raid on Tel el Hesi, Palestine (now Israel)

 

  1. *Captain Percy Herbert Cherry

26 March 1917, Lagnicourt, France

 

  1. Private Joergen Christian Jensen

2 April 1917, Noreuil, France

 

  1. Captain James Ernest Newland

7-9 and 15 April 1917, Boursies and Lagnicourt, France

 

  1. Private Thomas James Bede Kenny

9 April 1917, Hermies, France

 

  1. Sergeant John Woods Whittle

8 and 15 April 1917, Boursies and Lagnicourt, France

 

  1. *Lieutenant Charles Pope

15 April 1917, Louverval, France

 

  1. Corporal George Julian Howell

6 May 1917, Bullecourt, France

 

  1. Lieutenant Rupert Vance Moon

12 May 1917, near Bullecourt, France

 

  1. Private John Carroll

7-10 June 1917, Messines, Belgium

 

  1. Captain Robert Cuthbert Grieve

7 June 1917, Messines, Belgium

 

  1. *Second Lieutenant Frederick Birks

20 September 1917, Glencorse Wood, Belgium

 

  1. Private Reginald Roy Inwood

20-21 September 1917, Polygon Wood, Belgium

 

  1. Sergeant John James Dwyer

26 September 1917, Zonnebeke, Belgium

 

  1. *Private Patrick Joseph Bugden

26-28 September 1917, Polygon Wood, Belgium

 

  1. Lance Corporal Walter Peeler

4 October 1917, Broodseinde, Belgium

 

  1. *Sergeant Lewis McGee

4 October 1917, near Leper, Belgium

 

  1. *Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries

12 October 1917, Passchendaele, Belgium

 

  1. Sergeant Stanley Robert McDougall

28 March 1918, Dernancourt, France

 

  1. Lieutenant Percy Valentine Storkey

7 April 1918, Hangard Wood, France

 

  1. Lieutenant Clifford William King Sadlier

24-25 April 1918, Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

  1. Sergeant William Ruthven

19 May 1918, Ville-sur-Ancre, France

 

  1. Corporal Phillip Davey

28 June 1918, Merris, France

 

  1. Lance Corporal Thomas Leslie Axford

4 July 1918, Vaire and Hamel Woods, France

 

  1. Private Henry Dalziel

4 July 1918, Hamel Wood, France

 

  1. Corporal Walter Ernest Brown

6 July 1918, Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

  1. Lieutenant Albert Chalmers Borella

17-18 July 1918, Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

  1. *Lieutenant Alfred Edward Gaby

8 August 1918, Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

  1. *Private Robert Matthew Beatham

9 August 1918, Rosieres, near Villers-Bretonneux France

 

  1. Sergeant Percy Clyde Statton

12 August 1918, Proyart, France

 

  1. Lieutenant William Donovan Joynt

23 August 1918, Herleville Wood, near Chuignes, France

 

  1. Lieutenant Lawrence (Laurence) Dominic McCarthy

23 August 1918, Madame Wood, near Vermandovillers, France

 

  1. Lance Corporal Bernard Sidney Gordon

27 August 1918, Fargny Wood, near Bra,y France

 

  1. Private George Cartwright

31 August 1918, Rood Wood, near Peronne, France

 

 

  1. Lieutenant Edgar Thomas Towner

1 September 1918, Mont St Quentin, Peronne, France

 

  1. *Private Robert Mactier

1 September 1918, Mont St Quentin, Peronne, France

 

  1. Sergeant Albert David Lowerson

1 September 1918, Mont St Quentin, Peronne, France

 

  1. Private William Matthew Currey

1 September 1918, Mont St Quentin, Peronne, France

 

  1. Corporal Arthur Charles Hall

1-2 September 1918, Peronne, France

 

  1. *Temporary Corporal Alexander Henry Buckley

1-2 September 1918, Peronne, France

 

  1. Temporary Corporal Lawrence Carthage Weathers

2 September 1918, Peronne, France

 

  1. Private James Park Woods

18 September 1918, Le Verguier, near St Quentin, France

 

  1. Sergeant Maurice Vincent Buckley (alias Gerald Saxton)

18 September 1918, Le Verguier, near St Quentin, France

 

  1. Private (Edward) John (Frances) Ryan

30 September 1918, near Bellicourt, France

 

  1. Major Blair Anderson Wark

29 September – 1 October 1918, Bellicourt to Joncourt, France

 

  1. Lieutenant Joseph Maxwell

3 October 1918, Beaurevoir line, near Estrees, France

 

  1. Lieutenant George Mawby (Morby) Ingram

5 October 1918, Montbrehain, near Peronne, France

 

 

Russia

 

  1. Corporal Arthur Percy Sullivan

10 August 1919, Dvina River, south of Archangel, north Russia

 

  1. *Sergeant Samuel George Pearse

29 August 1919, north of Emtsa, north Russia

 

 

World War 2

 

  1. *Corporal John Hurst Edmondson

13 April 1941, Tobruk, Libya

 

  1. Acting Wing Commander Hughie Idwal Edwards

4 July 1941, raid on Bremen, Germany

 

  1. Lieutenant Arthur Roden Cutler

19 June – 6 July 1941, Merdjayoun and Damour, Lebanon

 

  1. Private James Heath Gordon

10 July 1941, near Jezzine (Djezzine), Lebanon

 

  1. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Groves Wright Anderson

18-22 January 1942, Muar River, Malaysia

 

  1. *Private Arthur Stanley Gurney

22 July 1942, Tel el Eisa, Egypt

 

  1. *Private Bruce Steel Kingsbury

29 August 1942, Isurava (Kokoda Track), Papua New Guinea

 

  1. *Corporal John Alexander French

4 September 1942, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

 

  1. *Private Percival Eric Gratwick

25-26 October 1942, El Alamein, Egypt

 

  1. *Sergeant William Henry Kibby

23-31 October 1942, El Alamein, Egypt

 

  1. *Flight Sergeant Rawdon Hume Middleton

28-29 November 1942, raid on Turin, Italy

 

  1. *Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton

16 March 1943, Salamaua Isthmus, Papua New Guinea

 

  1. Private Richard Kelliher

13 September 1943, near Nadzab, Papua New Guinea

 

  1. Sergeant Thomas Currie Derrick

24 November 1943, Sattelberg, Papua New Guinea

 

  1. Corporal Reginald Roy Rattey

22 March 1945, near Tokinotu, Bougainville

 

  1. *Lieutenant Albert Chowne

25 March 1945, Dagua, Papua New Guinea

 

  1. *Corporal John Bernard Mackey

12 May 1945, Tarakan Island, Indonesia

 

  1. Private Edward Kenna

15 May 1945, near Wewak, Papua New Guinea

 

  1. Private Leslie Thomas Starcevich

28 June 1945, near Beaufort, British North Borneo, Malaysia

 

  1. Private Frank John Partridge

24 July 1945, Bonis Peninsula, Bouganville

 

 

Vietnam

 

  1. *Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur Wheatley

13 November 1965, Tra Bong Valley, Quang Ngai province, South Vietnam

 

  1. *Major Peter John Badcoe

23 February – 7 April 1967, Thua Thien province, South Vietnam

 

  1. Warrant Officer Class 2 Rayene Stewart Simpson

6 and 11 May 1969, Kontum province, South Vietnam

 

  1. Warrant officer Class 2 Keith Payne

24 May 1969, Kontum province, South Vietnam

 

 

Afghanistan

 

  1. Trooper Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson

2 September 2008, Oruzgan province, Afghanistan

 

  1. Corporal Benjamin ‘Ben’ Roberts- Smith

11 June 2010, Kandahar province, Afghanistan

 

  1. Corporal Daniel Alan Keighran

24 August 2010, Oruzgan province, Afghanistan

 

*100. Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird

22 June 2013, Ghawchak village, Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan

 

* denotes soldiers awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.


 

Boer War 

 

 

Captain Neville Reginald Howse

24 July 1900, Vredefort, Orange Free State

 

He learnt that every man’s life is worth saving.

When his mount collapsed beneath him like

a termite-rotted stockyard rail, he leapt clear

& landed like a rodeo rider, knees bent, his

joints absorbing the potential energy of his

reckless action. The trumpeter pursed his

lips in pain, not in war music, as the medico

scrambled to his defense. Immune to fate,

he heaved the bugler over his shoulder as if

he was a brass instrument & his boots rapped

out a bass crescendo as they thumped back

to their horse lines. He sang the first note of

nationhood. At Gallipoli, he saw more men killed

by the lack of medicine, than by Johnny Turk.

 

 

Trooper John Hutton Bisdee

1 September 1900, Warm Bad, Transvaal

 

The buzzing by their horses’ ears turned

from bushveld insects into bullets; it was a

carnival shooting gallery as six fell wounded

to the march fly stings. The ambushers hid

behind the fat guts of baobab trees; he thought

that the landscape hunted them, knob-thorns

dug into his legs as he dismounted & threw

his commander’s leg over his own saddle, like

a best man wrestling a drunken groom onto

his wedding bed. Something had bit him too,

but he slapped his horse’s wet flank & led the

scouting party’s retreat out of the stony gorge;

that eons of charged particles had scoured out

of the hill; a grave for the Imperial Bushmen.

 

 

Lieutenant Guy George Egerton Wylly

1 September 1900, Warm Bad, Transvaal

 

A tongue of warm air licked through the gap

in the range; the two cheeks of the pass were

bearded with stunted trees, diamond-leafed

acacias & thorny shrubs that bit at the horses’

fetlocks, their dried blood black as a mamba’s

inky mouth. In lieu of a reptilian assault, human

fangs spat brass venom from behind rocks as

the Boer struck. Horses & bushmen collapsed

as if poleaxed by a steel cable. As fresh blood

decorated their mounts like show prizes, he

dismounted & grabbed a trooper by the hair

as though he was pulling a drowning child

out of a deadly waterhole. He became a rock

himself. His steady hand hunted every snake.

 

 

Lieutenant Frederick William Bell

16 May 1901, Brakpan, Transvaal

 

In his dreams the guerillas morphed into lions,

their unkempt beards grew up their tanned necks

to flare into the savage beasts’ golden manes.

Their horses stumbled over the tawny savannah,

exhausted, sick like the troopers, the long rides

took their toll on man & mount. Tick-birds were

eager to loll on their animals’ backs & feast; lice

crawled through men’s scalps, only the parasites

were prepared for the long game of raid & seek.

When the pack attacked, his horse couldn’t hold

the weight of two men & fell. As the scavengers

moved in, he covered the wounded man. But there

were more lions waiting. One, as large as a nation,

took two of his brothers in the next great hunt.

 


Sergeant James Rogers

15 June 1901, Thaba ‘Nchu, Orange Free State

 

Horses are bloody great targets. He looked back

& saw Dickinson on foot, bolting after the column

as though he’d whacked a nest of hornets with

his rifle butt. Their stingers dove for the exposed

flesh of the Lieutenant’s neck. But Rogers sent

his own barbs to harangue the sniping pests. Fear

halved his officer’s weight as the wiry-blooded

Moama man lifted this lost calf up behind him.

The ultimate in camp draught competition, this

little tiff. He reigned around rock & camel-thorn,

centaur-agile, he skimmed between acacias like a

flock of swift parrots avoiding a branch’s stiff arm.

Four more times he rounded up the broken; all

the while the Boer saluted him with their guns.

 

 

Lieutenant Leslie Cecil Maygar

23 November 1901, Geelhoutboom, Natal

 

He was the custodian of the last acts of chivalry

on horseback as the world knew it then, before

mass industry turned out chargers with steel tracks.

In Natal he offered his own horse to saddler Short

& lifted him up, as if he was teaching his own boy

how to gallop back to the British lines. Years later

at Gallipoli, the 3rd Light Horse was knighted with

a rearguard honour, as the Australians mopped up

their bloody nose. Two years on, it was a Halloween

trick at Beersheba that surprised him. History’s

last great cavalry charge decreased the entropy of

sand, as massed hoofs thundered for the very last

time. The new weapon got him; a German aerial

gremlin’s bomb shattered the old code within.

 

 

World War 1


Lance Corporal Albert Jacka

19-20 May 1915, Courtney’s Post, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey

 

Isn’t it very Australian? At times we all lose our nut.

The heart orders the head that it’s time to go & our

emotions sentence us to attack, rather than defend.

Our daily trenches are occupied by the enemy of

self-doubt, so we create a diversion, then crawl out

over the sunbaked top & surprise them from the rear;

killing our seven deadly guffs. Or the enemy suddenly

bursts in & your identity is taken prisoner. So you

charge up out of your seat & club your problems to

the ground, releasing mates & restoring the security

of your home. Or the revolver of our lives jams, so

we hurl ourselves without thinking into our enemy

& bring them down. Every day we’re still a soldier

on the line. Afterall, we’re all a part of ‘Jacka’s mob’.

 

Lance Corporal Leonard Maurice Keysor

7-8 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

When the pale dust cleared & his numbed mind

retreated into his own body after fifty hours of

non-stop bombing, his right arm burned like

a fire-hollowed tree branch where the embers

of fatigue still glowed with hot dark matter.

His muscles bunched like sausage meat packed

tightly into their stomach lining, cells straining.

Gravity took him then like no Turk bullet could.

His shoulder joint slithered crazily to the trench

floor like the broken chain of his old bike. Hands

clapped him on his volcanic shoulder as though

he’d just taken five wickets. They felt like railway

spikes hammered into his flesh. They said he’d

even caught some bombs in mid-air; a true athlete.

 

 

Lieutenant William John Symons

8-9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

He wasn’t expected to be seen again in the flesh.

The Turks had seized a section of Jacob’s trench

like bullies pushing to the front of the tuck-shop

line, they’d shoved six officers out. Symons was

told to retake the sap, no matter what, this rank

offence was to be put to a stop. He was to lead

the migration of attacking troops, the chief gander

at the point of the echelon, the platoon flew at

the enemy, each soldier conserving energy as he

caught the upwash of their forward charge. The

formation eliminated blind spots on their flanks

& focused on the fluid dynamics of their run.

When they hit the trench, the Turks wavered in

the face of the Australians’ bloody momentum.

 

 

*Corporal Alexander Stewart Burton

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

When he was a child, on those rare occasions,

the sea would dissolve his sandcastles in its vortex

field, the wet, grey molecules giving the beach back

its high degree of entropy. Its grains pressing flat as

buried bones at every high tide. Here, a khaki ocean

surged forward, again with the hope of speeding up

his decay; he stacked & restacked the sandbag wall,

their levee against death. Turkish Pioneers moved

in unison like a patrol of Clubbies; when they paused

he knew they were igniting their cricket ball shaped

bombs. They were as accurate as an A grade bowler,

pinpointing the stumps. Five seconds later, there was

a flash like the dying rays of the sun reflecting off water.

A wave of earth dumped him & his body drowned.

 

 

Corporal William Dunstan

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

The overcoats smouldered next to their bodies;

both flesh & cloth singed by the attempt to strangle

Turkish grenades. To choke the five & if extremely

lucky, ten second fuses which numbered a soldier’s

life like a New Year’s countdown . A bomb blew

five men over like the storm wind from a tropical

cyclone. They did not get up. With Burton, he plugged

the rampart with smoking sandbags, their hessian

sides leaked silica like fresh blood. Their trench,

the bottom bell of an hourglass spilled what little

time they had left. A fizzing ball landed between them

& in the confusion neither picked it up. A light brighter

than an angel struck him & when his sight returned,

all that he found of Burton was his ticking watch.

 

 

*Captain Alfred John Shout

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

Captain Sasse & he made the perfect dovetail joint.

Sasse used his .303, planing away at the Turk’s wooden

barricades to recapture his sap. Shout threw ‘jam tin’

grenades packed with a tradesman’s odds & ends;

barbed wire, iron nails, shell shrapnel, anything that

could punch through a solid surface wound up stuffed

inside their empty cans. They built workshops out

of sandbags as they cut through the trench, sweeping

away the enemy like sawdust from a factory floor.

That afternoon the craftsman flawed his masterpiece.

Joking like an apprentice, he lit three bombs at once,

the third backfired, his right hand evaporated, his left

eye spilled out like knocked shellac. The final gloss

on his workmanship was the renewal of Sasse’s sap.

 

 

Private John (Patrick) Hamilton

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

Under occupation the young man put down, butcher.

He was schooled in separating meat from bone, blood

& viscera didn’t faze him. The earthy tang of purple

& blue gore didn’t make his gorge rise either. He knew

these were the colours that God had given death. So

the many dead men of the 3rd Battalion didn’t bother

him overly, crushed by the cattle stampede of Turks.

It was only when their flesh was fringed with green

That he swore pink. Green, the colour of decay’s

bridal bouquet. A waste of men. A waste of meat.

So that’s why he volunteered to jump up onto the

trench’s parapet & snipe the Turkish bombardiers

for six hours straight. Bullets cracked like whips

over his head; but he was home on the killing floor.

 

 

Captain Frederick Harold Tubb

9 August 1915, Lone Pine trenches, Gallipoli peninsula, Turkey

 

Burton disappeared in front of him as though

God had allowed him to ascend without dying.

A lone pine Ezekiel rising up in his fiery chariot.

Tubbs knew no just god could allow this murder.

But then, three times Turkish bombs had blown

him ass over tit, with only scratches to his arm &

scalp. It was all so random, how the fates chose

the way men died, so arbitrarily. He’d shot three

Turks dead with his revolver, easily, as though

they were on an invisible string he had cut; did

he suffer from Arachne’s pride? The difference

was he acknowledged his skill came from God;

there was no contest between them. Two years

later a shell splinter cut through his own thread.

 

 

Second Lieutenant Hugo Vivian Hope Throssell

29-30 August 1915, Kaiakij Aghala (Hill 60) Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey

 

The rising sun badge was embedded in the flesh of his

shoulder; it pinched his muscle like a meat hook spiked

through a carcass. Someone thrust a cigarette between

his blackened fingers, but he couldn’t lift his arms up

anymore. They had seized like an engine; the bloodied

muscles stiffening as though he’d been lifting hay bales

all day. Bomb splinters stuck in his forehead like pig’s

teeth in a tree, or the first stub of horn on a bully calf.

His face was a red rag, but they’d won the crazed game

of cricket, throwing the Turks’ ball grenades back at them

all night long. In Palestine, he passed into a scene from

Breughel. He crawled over the dead whistling for his lost

brother. He hooted their secret childhood tune until his

lips succumbed to drought. The war left him fallow.


 

*Temporary Lieutenant William Thomas Dartnell (alias Wilbur Taylor Dartnell)

3 September 1915, near Maktau, British East Africa ( now Kenya)

 

Not many men get to choose how to close their

penultimate scene. He didn’t need to act wounded,

his leg bled like a busted valve, but Dartnell refused

his Fusiliers’ advice to abandon his badly mauled troop.

Instead, he ordered his contemporaries to leave him;

this last act was his alone, a soliloquy on the equalising

nature of death. The audience was a mere twenty-five

yards away, firing lethal criticism at his opus magnum.

All attention focused on him. He knelt & calmly

delivered his character’s last lines; only God had

read his script. The applause was overwhelming.

His fans crept forward to shower him with accolades.

After the final curtain fell, he was found with

seven understudies in death supporting him.

 

 

Private John William Alexander Jackson

25-26 June 1916, Bois Grenier, near Armentieres, France

 

That night they’d pummelled the Prussian reserve.

The listening posts silenced, their ammo blown,

the raiding party retreated under heavy artillery fire.

In the fray, shrapnel dehorned his right forearm.

This was nothing. He’d known men who’d lost

arms to augers, the steel slicing blades dragging

flesh & bone & seed up into a silo of pain. They’d

have to wrench their arms off at the bone, so they

didn’t lose their whole shoulder. Then they’d strap

their bleeding stump with their belt & saddle a horse

& ride like thunder to the Hay hospital. He was young.

He would heal. He’d have trouble eating, but he’d invent

something like a fork-knife. People would ask to see his

medal. For them, he’d grin & hold up his empty sleeve.

 

Private John Leak

23 July 1916, Pozieres, France

 

There was a bottle-neck in the advance

like when too many people tried to board

a tram at once, or a team of oxen shied at

a creek crossing & overturned their goods.

The German bombers were pelting them

with ‘eggs’. He couldn’t stand the inaction,

the milling about like a mob of sick fly-blown

sheep. So he jumped the trench’s barbed-wire

fence & juggling three quick fuse grenades,

he hurled them from the boundary of his

attack. His aim was true; as the stumps of

men went flying, he bayoneted the rest. He

was a teamster afterall, used to improvising

a bloody solution for everyone else’s mess.

 

 

Lieutenant Arthur Seaforth Blackburn

23 July 1916, Pozieres, France

 

He’d been the spearhead of the Australian attack

at Gallipoli, the very razor-sharp tip so Bean had

said. No one had advanced further on that fateful

trip. At Pozieres, he & Sgt Inwood led bombing

parties up the shattered ridge, scuttling across the

lunar landscape of blasted trees & cratered men.

They passed limbs no longer glued by gravity to

their bodies. Dirt thickened the air, as artillery

roared in their heads. Concussion waves swept

over them, making his troops giddy as groomsmen;

most never regained their feet. Inwood fell beside

him just as they took the Hun’s trench; Blackburn

knew that he had a brother & that if this was how

the Inwood’s fought, this war could soon be over.

 

 

*Private Thomas Cooke

24-25 July 1916, Pozieres, France

 

His Lewis-machine gun was still glowing red-hot

like the dying embers of a campfire when the rest

of the Battalion found him. Smoke lifted from its

barrel as though its firing pin was a tiny blacksmith’s

forge that had banged out its .303 rounds in a bellows

rush of super-heated air. Or a sleeping dragon’s thin

exhalation of steam, sliding from a gap in its fiery maw.

The drum-pan magazine hissed like a saucepan boiling

dry on the stove. Eighty-one men from the 8th lay with

him. Their bodies cooling death’s internal mechanism

like the gun’s aluminium barrel casing. Cooke had

fired on alone, holding the trench after his team

were dead. It was an issue of supreme design;

both man & gun utterly reliable to the end.

 

 

*Sergeant Claud Charles Castleton

28 July 1916, Pozieres, France

 

The wounded man was his third puff on a cigarette.

The enemy had found him in the darkness of their

retreat. The first man he rescued they sighted on him.

The second man he rescued they aimed & cocked their

guns. There was no Boer War nobility to be found at

Pozieres. Men fought like dogs, tearing at each other

over disputed land the length of an ox bone. Neither

was there nature. Nothing beautiful existed anymore

to make men pause. Artillery rounds bludgeoned the

rural landscape beyond recognition. Caved in its skull.

Lessons in geography were reduced to finding a deep

shell-hole to crawl into. He couldn’t stand for three

hours & watch his mates bleed out. Rescuing his third

man, some green boy from Berlin shot him in the back.

 

 

Private Martin O’Meara

9-12 August 1916, Pozieres, France

 

A wounded soldier’s dead weight was equal

to one hardwood railway sleeper he thought.

There was something that made them heavier

when they were unconscious or dead, as though

a man’s life energy had been crushed down into

a dense ball of matter. Still he’d worked harder

jobs than stretcher-bearing before. He could keep

this rate up all day if he had to; afterall he’d worked

his passage out from Ireland stoking the coal furnace

of his ship. The mix of sweat & dust & smoke was

about the same, as was the boiler noise of men crying

in pain when some part of their body was hit. Twenty

-five times he went out, his arms turned molten lead.

Afterwards, it was memory’s weight that did his head in.

 

 

Captain Henry William Murray

4-5 February 1917, Gueudecourt, France

 

All he wanted to be to his men, was the father

that he never had. As a boy he’d had to learn to

steel himself with the dawn, to rise with the chorus

of birdsong that rasped like crumpled bugles being

blown. Discipline slipped into him at a young age

like the kerosene & sugar his mother spoon fed him

as a protective cure-all. As a Gallipoli machine-gunner,

he introduced the Turks to the iron will of gas-cooled

rounds. When he took Stormy Trench at Gueudecourt

it was not so much a German engineering marvel that

he’d won, but more of an ice-covered fishing hole. As

the Hun counter-attacked, he charged with twenty men

& bayonets fixed, they cracked open the frozen sea within.

In this way he passed a father’s wisdom to his sons.

 

 

Lieutenant Frank Hubert McNamara

20 March 1917, raid on Tel el Hesi, Palestine (now Israel)

 

He was in balance with his life, but when he saw

Rutherford’s forced landing, his bi-plane sticking

out from the desert floor like a garish diamond

on a wedding ring, McNamara kestrel-dropped

his Martinsyde to rescue the stricken flyer. To

the west, the Turkish cavalry’s charge raised a

dust-devil that spun faster & faster toward the

two airmen. Blood seeped out of his leg like a

poorly sealed beer keg, as McNamara gunned

his engine, Cpt Rutherford clawing a wing strut

like the madcap of a flying circus. Unbalanced,

the bi-plane crashed like a drunken guest into

a garden. Bolting into the BE-2c, they magicked

away just as the djinn spat its death spells at them.


 

*Captain Percy Herbert Cherry

26 March 1917, Lagnicourt, France

 

He thought that if this war was a giant apple tree

then soldiers were the good fruit left to rot in an

overstocked market. God never was a farmer.

At Pozieres he duelled from a shell-hole with an

officer; both fired, doppelgangers in action, but

the German fell from the ladder of life. He gave

Cherry a brace of letters to post; ‘And so it ends

the working man said. At Lagnicourt he saw that

the groves were sown with rows of white crosses.

Suddenly, the chill wind felt distinctly Tasmanian

& he smelt his father’s orchard in spring; his bullets

felt like new apple buds as he packed his revolver.

Before he could raise his next order, something

black & heavy like a tonne of fruit-crates hit him.

 

 

Private Joergen Christian Jensen

2 April 1917, Noreuil, France

 

He walked on knives too; every step pure pain

as he approached the German machine-gun post,

afraid that he would dissolve like so many others

of his Battalion into death’s sea foam, the undertow

taking him down forever to the sea witch’s grotto.

His first grenade found its mark silencing the gun.

With two bombs held high as magic rings he used

his teeth to pull the second pin; like fashioning fine

new clothes for an emperor, or giving a blind witch a

chicken bone to caress, he bluffed his enemy & told

the forty-strong Germans to surrender. A tin soldier,

their non-fairy-tale deaths fused his heart with love;

so when his mates opened fire, he took his helmet

off & waved them down. Theirs was a happy ending.

 

 

Captain James Ernest Newland

7-9 and 15 April 1917, Boursies and Lagnicourt, France

 

Attack. He led his men of the 12th Battalion

towards Boursies, no more a French pastoral

paradise, but a village of the damned where gaunt

skeletal creatures shed their greatcoat carapaces

& writhed in craters of thawing sludge. During

the warming days, birds struggled to find sticks

for nests & things long forgotten & locked away

amidst winter’s chest, resumed their green-tinged

growth as if men’s bodies were lichened as stone.

The spring melt ran red with fresh blood & men

cursed as they slipped in a stinking chowder pot.

Counter-attack. He defended the broken mill by

harvesting more dead. Attack. He led a charge

& like a territorial male, he drove his enemy off.


 

Private Thomas James Bede Kenny

9 April 1917, Hermies, France

 

He was chemistry in action. If only the

dull-eyed layabouts at his old school could

see him now as they dozed on their benches,

heads drooped over their blue-tongued Bunsen

burners. There was a German trying to bar his

way forward like a maths teacher trying to stop

the tuckshop rush. A spotter for their rat’s nest,

for the enfilading fire that had caused so many

of his mates to fail their supreme test. So Kenny

bowled him over & threw his three grenades at

the blockhouse like rotten eggs at his headmaster’s

house. He remembered the explosion. Yes, their

reaction would look like these Germans. The sheer

caustic horror of being the victim of a good prank.

 

 

Sergeant John Woods Whittle

8 and 15 April 1917, Boursies and Lagnicourt, France

 

Shadows dropped into his trench around ten at night,

but when tested on the silver of their bayonets, these

ghosts were found to be more solid than paranormal.

He always knew that if something bled it could be killed.

Four days later, before even a rooster could crow & chase

off the undead, the Hun countered & Captain Newland

withdrew his men to a dip in the road to make their last

stand. The hammer stroke was coming; the Germans

had brought up their MG08 to exorcise the Australians.

So, Whittle flittered phantom silent & in the no man’s

land between dawn and night, sucked the life-force from

the machine-gun crew. His strength was supernatural.

He lifted the 70kg gun & carried it back to his coffin.

Later, they rose from their graves & possessed them.

 


*Lieutenant Charles Pope

15 April 1917, Louverval, France

 

At school he had not believed in Tennyson.

A man’s life should not be ended on a neat

rhyme he’d criticised. How could you personify

the charge towards destruction, make figurative

of the fly-blown real? He’d been ordered to hold

his picket post at all costs, sand-bagged by his own

dead, he would show the poet what it truly meant

to ride ‘into the jaws of death’, & spit ‘into the mouth

of hell’. He gave out the last rounds & saved one boy’s

life; Private Horatio by sending him back to the lines

for ammo & to tell the story of their last hurrah. Bullets

spent they fixed bayonets & together recited the poem.

When his Battalion opened hell’s mouth, they found

Pope & eighty dead Germans clenched in death’s jaw

 

 

Corporal George Julian Howell

6 May 1917, Bullecourt, France

 

Jets of bright flame leapt like the wind-blown

front of a bushfire onto 1st Battalion’s trenches

as the Germans blitzed them with flamethrowers.

The enemy jumped into a captured section like an

inferno hopping across a narrow mountain road.

Howell saw some Hun snaking along a dugout, so

he pulled himself over the parapet & saturated them

with bombs, as though he were smothering flames

with a wet hessian sack. When he was extinguished,

he bayoneted them from above until twenty sparks

from the enemy burnt into his flesh & he fell back

into the trench where smouldering bodies broke his

fall. When they saw this, his Battalion roared with a

firestorm’s rage & back-burnt until the fire was out.

 

 

Lieutenant Rupert Vance Moon

12 May 1917, near Bullecourt, France

 

First objective; the redoubt. Rush forward in a

direct attack, avoid the arc of the machine gun’s

hatred. Throw grenades, mute the automaton’s

clockwork brain. Then something stung him but

the fire of Moon’s adrenaline neutralised his pain.

Second objective; the trench. Lewis guns spewed

back bile & the Germans fled. Another sting to his

arm like a great hornet had welted him. His third

objective; the cutting. Trap more than one hundred

of the enemy in their dugouts, make them kneel

in a muddy ablution like blind moles underground.

Again a bite to the leg; he slapped at invisible pests.

Fourth objective; consolidate. Peering in, his jaw

was bitten & he finally succumbed to the venom.


 

Private John Carroll

7-10 June 1917, Messines, Belgium

 

He was ‘the wild Irishman’; perhaps even wilder

than Kelly had been; afterall Ned had shot Lonigan

through the eye at fairly close range, but to bayonet

a man’s guts no more than a fly’s fart away from his

face, now that took a special kind of national crazy.

At Messines ridge, Carroll bolted after the artillery

had cut off its barrage & staked out four Huns who,

numbed into blankness looked like a driver who’d

overworked his shift. It was like banging dogspikes

into a sleeper. Sometimes catching a man’s ribcage

felt like jarring his hand on piece of hardwood. He

was no number nicker, but he kept some figures in

his head. Ninety-six hours straight they fought like

a steam train running from Kalgoorlie to Melbourne

 

 

Captain Robert Cuthbert Grieve

7 June 1917, Messines, Belgium

 

What type of calculations were spun by the grand

mathematician so that he lived, when all others in

his line were cut down? Or what miscalculation in

the machine gun’s rate of fire, prevented the lead

drilling into him at the speed of sound? So marked,

Grieve grabbed a bag of grenades & scrabbled on

after each shell had landed; dust hiding him from

the deadly heat like a baby wrapped in muslin. All

alone, this first species crawled from water-filled

crater to bog hole like a prehistoric fish testing its

new appendages & threw bombs with an accurate

snap of his wrist, silencing the nest. As his company

reached his position, one last German slapped him

on the shoulder. In this way the numbers balanced.


 

*Second Lieutenant Frederick Birks

20 September 1917, Glencorse Wood, Belgium

 

He could feel the heat from the MG08 as it

spewed forth its four hundred rounds per minute.

It radiated through the air like the warmth from

a hundred kerosene lanterns, so he rolled in his

grenades & smashed the gun crew as if they were

the fragile glass shade that hunkered over the gun’s

hot burner. He was the incandescent point of 6th

Battalion’s advance, the flare that signalled to the

other men that they could go on through the burnt

out wood. That afternoon, a shell buried two men.

He was digging them out, trying to save his father

who died when he was eight; the coal mine tunnel

collapsing on him like a cancerous lung. There was

a white light & he joined his father in the darkness.

 

 

Private Reginald Roy Inwood

20-21 September 1917, Polygon Wood, Belgium

 

The shell concussion knocked Inwood in the ribs

winding him like his brother would, unannounced,

a fist of invisible oomph beating at his tired body.

Each thump in his ears, a slap to the head from his

father when he was being too cheeky; the brothers

making a mess of their dear mother’s prim kitchen.

Here, he was talking back to the enemy, a lone sprint

through their barrage surprised nine Hun cowering

under their own fire. Some he had to king-hit. That

night, he scrabbled forward 600 metres to spy on the

counter-attack, dodging under wire & shadowing guards.

Next day, he stalked a machine-gun nest into its corner

& boxed the gunners around their ears with bombs.

This is how he fought; punching above his weight.

 

 

Sergeant John James Dwyer

26 September 1917, Zonnebeke, Belgium

 

Deus ex machina. He rushed their right flank

alone, pouring fire on the German machine

gunners from thirty yards. They writhed as

though they were kids hit by a garden hose’s

cold spray on a tropical summer’s morning;

death’s frigid shock scrunched onto their faces.

He moved, as if immersed in the ocean’s fluid

gravity, the Vickers’s fifty kilo mass; gun, tripod,

water bottles nullified as the weapon’s atoms

glued to his body’s molecular rage. Manhandling

the captured MG08, he sent two streams of hail

to pulverise the counter-attack, stripping the heads

off rows of wheat. Turning young men into chaff.

In this way he solved death’s singular problem.

 

 

*Private Patrick Joseph Bugden

26-28 September 1917, Polygon Wood, Belgium

 

Fifteen lives for every yard gained as they charged

over the Mars-pitted ground, craters within craters;

the holed white skulls of comrades jagged as crowns

where they’d rolled into the centre of the Venn diagram

pits like a pupil in its iris. Some of their rounds landed

short & men evaporated into the ether like a sunshower

touching hot bitumen. Pillboxes were the canines on

the ridge’s gum, cutting men to pieces from two kms

away. Bugden filed them down with grenades & his

bayonet, clearing the way for the Battalion’s bloody

advance. He saved five men from death’s quicksand;

they lolled pink & flaccid in a shell hole like a dog’s

tongue out of its tired snout. It was his last act.

They’d covered 2000 red yards for 30,000 dead.

 

 

Lance Corporal Walter Peeler

4 October 1917, Broodseinde, Belgium

 

This is how he was forged. Age hardened by

Tasmanian winters, the steel of his mind super-

heated then cooled into an industrial-baked strength.

The endless rain had cast chicken-wire cracks

over the ground, his cheeks were bellows that blew

out steam as he charged up Broodseinde Ridge,

his Lewis gun’s barrel furnace hot. Thirty men

developed sprocket holes in their uniforms’ grey

casing; he never looked at the crazing on their

faces, their mouths contorted into ruined molds.

Fourteen years younger, in Java he tried to blunt

the Japanese conveyor that shunted across Asia.

He spent time laying track on the Burma railway,

forever pitying the inferior cast iron of their track.

 

 

*Sergeant Lewis McGee

4 October 1917, near Ypres, Belgium

 

He locomoted up the ridge, heart steaming,

his revolver fluttered like a signalman’s flag.

The enemy saw his perilous message & swung

to enfilade his trudge, but the sound of carriages

shunting ended their body’s decade’s long haulage.

His feet dragged to a stop like train wheels as he

sunk into the sludge; it was as though children

grabbed onto his legs as he tried to free himself

from Ypres’s flooded coal bed. Eight more days

he advanced, the lead engine shoving up the crest’s

slippery track until his boiler burst at Passchendaele.

In small towns all over Australia, the blinds broke

from constant drawing down. In Avoca, Tasmania

they derailed fourteen times before the war’s end.

 

*Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries

12 October 1917, Passchendaele, Belgium

 

He learnt that in the face of life’s extraction

men were so friable. Their confidence eroded,

there was a subsidence of the will to defend

the same gruesome gob of trench, which the

next artillery barrage could close as their grave.

Jeffries’s two charges switched off the panic bar

in the German’s heads & their machinery shut

down. Soldiers were the new pit ponies, hauling

death’s black ore through the war’s rich workings.

He understood gases; the white damp of carbon

monoxide that could kill a man exposed to one

tenth of 1% in ten minutes. He’d seen men piled

up in trenches like old goaf in a shaft. He was still

scaling when a percussion drill hit him in the chest.

 

 

Sergeant Stanley Robert McDougall

28 March 1918, Dernancourt, France

 

It was a blowdown. The Lewis-gun team were felled

so McDougall snatched up their weapon & axed two

machine-gun crews; their chests flayed open like bark.

He then back burnt the German attack using their own

fire, snuffing out the advance, his cutting cycle reduced

to ten bullets every second. He noticed half a company

of the Hun crossing behind his line, so he cut through

their stems, girdling the enemy until his belt emptied.

Unperturbed, he used his bayonet, thinning out four

more men, selecting the most dangerous foes to cut

down as if this sortie were a seed tree harvest & he

wanted to leave only the cowardly to grow. He was

the wolf tree that spread his limbs upward. Thirty

-three prisoners’ hands rose into the air like a forest.

 

 

Lieutenant Percy Valentine Storkey

7 April 1918, Hangard Wood, France

 

He was woken from his dream of rain drumming on a tin roof

only to discover his Battalion had left him behind; sleep mitigated

his crime of yawning desertion. Culpable, he caught up with his

team near the edge of Hangard Wood, where they suffered from

a heavily enforced curfew. Capt. Wallach was gagged by the enemy’s

machine-guns, so Storkey took over the battle’s passionate hearing.

With twelve men he pushed a circuit through the head-high saplings

to force an audience with the Germans in their private chambers.

Some Australian opened his mouth & a gavel’s sharp cry rang out,

aggravating the situation. Storkey was bound over to charge the

Hun, who like jittery defendants, believed a larger punishment

was coming. There was no higher justice to appeal to; thirty

witnesses they killed or wounded before the rest surrendered.

The German’s belief in a superior force of diggers was upheld.


 

Lieutenant Clifford William King Sadlier

24-25 April 1918, Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

There was no backing-out of the night-time deal.

New recruits had to ride-along, as the 51st showed

them the business of how to advance. It was just

another field-day; candidates lined up from both

sides as they entered the dark wood, explosions

barked like bosses & any stragglers were docked

a piece of their body’s commission. The Hun were

time-bandits stealing their progress as a company

next to Sadlier’s slumped to the ground. Gathering

a small quota, he attacked the German’s territory.

Beating their objections, he seized the advantage

with bombs & a Lewis-gun & closed three posts.

Cold-calling on the enemy; his brag-book boasted

a wounded thigh & arm from his demonstration.

 

 

Sergeant William Ruthven

19 May 1918, Ville-sur-Ancre, France

 

He charged at the angry buzz saw on

its fixed stand, that had been alligatoring

his men; their burnished skin puckered

with rows of red protruding knots. The fight

took on an old patina, their advance held up,

this lone figure dashed along polished mud

goat tracks until he was close enough to hurl

his bomb; his bayonet skewed a strip of rib,

collapsing a lung like a folding chair. Eight

more filed in fresh as sapwood; heads bowed

like students late to shop class. He noticed

a crazing of helmets behind a warped road.

With his best tool he made a kerf in the first two;

thirty-two hands bled into the sky’s white hue.


 

Corporal Phillip Davey

28 June 1918, Merris, France

 

They held their heads in their hands as the German

machine gun blew its fiery gob on them from point

blank range, like a furnace’s open door. Every bullet,

a sting-out that would burn their faces off in a molten

moment. They were stuck in the ditch’s batch house,

raw materials ready to be thrown in. A lone teaser, he

attacked the post only to be beaten back by the intense

heat. Grabbing more grenades, Davey turned their nest

into a hot-spot. He then started a new campaign with

the Germans’ gun. It’s old working life he swivelled,

seeding their fragile glass bodies with gaseous additions.

From this doghouse, he shovelled burning embers

at them, until some stones bubbled into his body;

creating a red imperfection in his superstructure.

 

 

Lance Corporal Thomas Leslie Axford

4 July 1918, Vaire and Hamel Woods, France

 

He spent his boyhood trapped in rosebushes

where tiny dorsal fins pricked his hide; a prince

in his tangled thorns struggling to free his snagged

uniform. So he could sympathise with 4th Brigade.

But the mouthfeel of their pain was more viscous,

the German wire crafty. It zigzagged over the platoon,

a high tensile strangler fig, a reversal of the Lambton

worm which cut men to pieces, as machine gunners

poked bungholes in the hung up advance. Their faces

light-struck; the sun’s exposure leaked a sulphurous

smell over no man’s land. Heavy as hogshead casks,

the living had a quick shelf-life, their bodies lagering

for days. Axford’s labour rolled ten Hun, six more

didn’t like the hang of his steel; hands lifting like gas.

 

 

Private Henry Dalziel

4 July 1918, Hamel Wood, France

 

He’d always had a way with gases; cut his teeth

on steam as a train’s fireman; now he crewed for

a Lewis-gun team as he coupled on a new drum-pan

mag; a minute locomotive wheel fixed on its iron track

– a dart to scrape the Germans from their Pear Trench

garrison. A coal pusher from the Tableland, he charged,

killing another boxcar of Hun, who ‘d lifted the fire up

on their flank & removed the tip of his trigger finger

like a surgeon excising an ingrown nail. Ordered to

the rear, he ignored his breath’s white feather, but

was bigholed in the end; a headshot derailed his run,

venting his brain matter like steam from a ruptured

boiler into Hamel Wood’s air. His war was a washout;

from Townsville to Atherton, crowds gaped at him.

 

 

Corporal Walter Ernest Brown

6 July 1918, Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

The Hun sniped like frutibats zeroing in on an orchard.

Brown packed up two Mills bombs; a gaunt scarecrow

who stalked the raiders back to their roost as their guns’

mad chatter deafened him. One pest he knocked down

with his fist, the other thirteen he boxed up neatly when

they beheld the quality merchandise he shook at them.

Killing had become the staple, but the Germans were

peace-starved & formed a line for the Australian stores.

A purveyor of action, Brown reenlisted when the Japs

infiltrated. Twenty years older, he lied about the quality

of his produce, his bruised skin long past its used by date.

In Singapore, everything began to rot, so he grabbed steel

pineapples; spruiked that there was no surrender in him.

His body’s rich harvest was ploughed back into its field.

 

Lieutenant Albert Chalmers Borella

17-18 July 1918, Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

Age did not weary him. Daly River was an early defeat.

He ring-barked trees with the zest of a galah flock &

built a slab hut amongst the dead gums, but paid a toll.

White scars where wood had nicked him, lay imbedded

in his arms & neck like quartz seams in stone. Varicose

veins witchetty grub-bulged in the trunks of his calves.

The barrage parrot-shrieked over him, but he tractored

his thirty-five year old legs over the scarified earth, a

camp of horseflies’ sawing at this ears. He injected

four rounds into the machine gun’s frothing mouth

& silenced the annoying buzz. Bullock-stubborn,

he stampeded ahead to Jaffa trench & his platoon

dynamited the dug in stumps. Thirty Hun downed

tools for an extended smoko with their new boss.

 

*Lieutenant Alfred Edward Gaby

8 August 1918, Villers-Bretonneux, France

 

On his back he beetled through a gap in the wire,

legs first, a breech birth as the scalpel sting of bullets

cut into his company, suspended like pegs on a line.

He knew what it felt like too; manger-born, unmarried

as Jesus, his lineage ended with him if he didn’t get on.

‘D’ company were his only soul mates as he rose from

the dead & dashed into Card Copse. He walked on water

his men thought, a miracle as he ran along the parapet’s

crumbling altar, emptying his revolver into the gunners’

inner sanctum. Behold the man; he stilled four MG08’s.

Six shots were all he needed to win the initiative; fifty

apostles gave up their holy cause for the god of state.

Three days later his resurrection never came. A sniper’s

bullet pinched at his temple like a crown of thorns.

 

 

*Private Robert Matthew Beatham

9 August 1918, Rosieres, near Villers-Bretonneux France

 

He was told at school that the only thing he’d

need to use from maths was trig, if he wanted

to measure up the height of a wall to be built.

At Gallipoli it came in handy measuring the

distances to the Turk trenches. He used the

shadow of the overhanging cliffs in the late

afternoon sun to estimate the job to be done.

At school he’d been a ratbag until a teacher

took him aside & said that he believed in him.

On the high ground of Lihons, he swept aside

ten men; captured ten & their machine guns.

Two days later, the height of his shadow was

measured by the Hun; the distance ten rounds

a second needed to travel to reach his chest.

 

 

Sergeant Percy Clyde Statton

12 August 1918, Proyart, France

 

He was into his Shakespeare so like a woodcock

caught in a springe, he set a trap for the Germans

with his two Lewis gun teams who hid in a wood

that moved like Dusinane. Dashing over open ground,

he ambushed the old men hiding behind the trench’s

sandbagged arras, his envenomed revolver stung

the crews with its fangs until exhausted of its unction,

he grabbed his enemy’s own weapon & stabbed him

like Laertes. Statton had delved one mile deeper than

the Germans’ mine & as they retreated from the fray,

the Lewis guns opened their drum-pan’s sealed letters

& executed them like Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.

By the fight’s end things were most grave. He found

a friend’s corpse that night; with a bullet’s kiss he’d died.

 

 

Lieutenant William Donovan Joynt

23 August 1918, Herleville Wood, near Chuignes, France

 

He was digging up potatoes on Flinders Island

when the war broke open; this deep tillage of

political differences in history’s blighted field.

Soldiers were reduced to annuals; a cover crop

whose job was to add their bodies to the soil.

Assuming command, daughter plants extended

out from him, refugees from 6th Battalion, then

with a platoon of his own company, he attacked

Plateau Wood. Rousing the Hun from dormancy;

the trench’s root system wound through pines,

as Joynt led the vine kill of this cohort, plucking

prisoners out of the ground like eyes off a spud.

His culling done; he evacuated three days later.

He was the last pickout of his variety from WW1.


 

Lieutenant Lawrence (Laurence) Dominic McCarthy

23 August 1918, Madame Wood, near Vermandovillers, France

 

Orphaned early on, the state raised him as its own.

A prodigal boy, he returned the service by signing up.

Gallipoli bloodied him, then dysentery. He would have

cut out a hole in his trouser bottoms & fought on,

but the authorities curtailed his ample frame. In France,

‘Fat’ fought the language as much as the Hun; Pozières

& Mouquet Farm, Bullecourt, Beaumetz. Under Madame

Wood’s coppiced eaves, east of Vermandovillers, the

thinner maverick rushed a German post that plundered

the left flank. This state’s ward tore up four hundred yards

of the Hun’s tunnels like an institution’s kitchen, killing

twenty men. He captured fifty more after they raised a

bloody hanky, took his revolver & clapped him on the back.

Later, Bougainville took his only son & orphaned him again.

 

 

Lance Corporal Bernard Sidney Gordon

27 August 1918, Fargny Wood, near Bray, France

 

His men were glued between the Somme’s bank

& Fargny Wood, up against it, like staves pushed

together into rows. They were barrel-shaped, the

thickest circumference in the bilge, the company’s

middle, where most of the 41st Battalion huddled

as the Germans raked their position with gunfire.

Bung-holes appeared in many of his comrades,

so Gordon took on the Boche singlehandedly,

shot a gunner through his head & captured eleven.

He then cut beneath the French oaks, crafting an

attack on the coal scuttles he saw poking above

the trenches like rivets on a barrel’s hoop. He had

a mouthfeel for war; sixty-three Frontschwein & six

machine guns he planed into the curve of his will.

 

 

Private George Cartwright

31 August 1918, Rood Wood, near Peronne, France

 

They writhed in the shell crater’s dirt like horses

lost to the grinding necessity of a dust bath. Bodies

of dead comrades they used as driving aprons to

protect the living from the machine gun’s biting

spray. Their arms, bellybands as they slid limbs

around each other to secure their positions, blinker-

helmets shielded their eyes from death’s periphery.

To look was to die. Cartwright launched himself

from the gates; jumped over water-logged ditches

in a mad steeplechase, scattering grenades at Fritz

like throwing feed out to desperate animals. Watering

his stock again, he threw more bombs & unlocked

a gunner’s throatlatch. Eight beasts he destroyed.

Putting to, he rode their gun down the home straight.


 

Lieutenant Edgar Thomas Towner

1 September 1918, Mont St Quentin, Peronne, France

 

There was a creep of grey bodies down the slope,

like a boulder’s invisible passage along a riverbed,

or mourners who pass a coffin gently over their heads.

A scree of khaki & flesh that tripped up their advance,

like Towner’s pet kelpie back on ‘Valparaiso’ that always

shot between his legs. The rain metamorphosed Peronne’s

topsoil into molasses; a sticky black quagmire that licked

at his company’s Vickers guns as they set on the 2nd Guards.

At the ridge’s summit, the Hun had fortified a deep caldera,

like teeth set in gums, but the burly bushman rushed them

his revolver snapping like a dog as a bullet bit into his helmet.

His machine guns led the scarification of Mont St Quentin.

Captured ordnance added to the abrasion. After thirty hours,

bodies curved around the ridge like contour lines on a map.

 

 

 

*Private Robert Mactier

1 September 1918, Mont St Quentin, Peronne, France

 

He was rough shooting again. On the farm near Tatura,

it’d been hares or wallabies that had popped up from

their beds of leaves under the Mallee, startled by the wiry

colonial’s noiseless stalking. Now, wooden barricades lined

the high ground of Mont St Quentin like show jumping

obstacles all in a row. At the first rail he flushed his prey

with a grenade, threw himself over & culled eight men,

a beater for his brigade’s zero hour rendezvous. At the

second barrier, he surprised six more targets, their arms

hung above their heads. The third gate he cleared as well,

killing the garrison. He’d bagged a dozen or more, when

at the fourth jump, trench wire flushed him into the open.

An MG08’s knockdown caused him to fall from his harness,

as a syndicate of the enemy declared his season closed.

 

 

 

Sergeant Albert David Lowerson

1 September 1918, Mont St Quentin, Peronne, France

 

Twelve machine guns embedded in the largest

coyote-hole Lowerson had ever seen excavated.

Their sheet metal water jackets shone with a dull

gleam from where the crews’ sleeves burnished

them, until they glowed like a vein of gold lit by

low candlelight. He worked at this awkward seam,

hurling stick bombs back at these claim-jumpers

atop St Quentin’s cratered summit, until he caused

a cave-in. Entering the portal, Alby captured thirty

miners caught up in the collapse of their position.

Malleable as soft ore, they were indistinguishable

from the tailings they had occupied. Mud-shod,

they drifted down the slope; a human slurry dredged

out of the earth like an exhausted motherlode.

 

 

 

William Matthew Currey

1 September 1918, Mont St Quentin, Peronne, France

 

That morning the field-guns stripped the 53rd of good

men; burnt flesh flensed from bone like black insulation

from hard wire. Every shell sounded as though lightning

had hit a transformer. Soldiers frayed in their dog holes,

an effective tool for the Germans earthed into the ground

above St Quentin, until Curry bolted out of the line, spark-

quick, he dodged machine-gun fire that moved with electricity’s

speed & put volts through the gun crew, leaving a smoking mess.

By mid-afternoon they encountered another live wire, a nest

of energy that electrocuted more men. Working alone, he cut

their cables with his Lewis gun, the drum pan mag whined

like a telegraph line strummed by a strong wind. Called

out early the next morning to rescue a lost company,

bullets crimped his respirator & gas soldered his throat.

 

 

 

Corporal Arthur Charles Hall

1-2 September 1918, Peronne, France

 

He’d seen animals treated with more respect in death.

7.92mm cartridges made dark cutter out of men’s bodies;

their muscle tissue bruised black from the high velocity

full metal jacket rounds. Hall jumped the railings of his

earthen barricade & charged the post, killing four beasts

& corralling fifteen more. There was a bull market for

carcasses that day, Australians & Germans fattened on

duty for France’s killing floor. Boys were weaned from life;

their corpses dressed by machine guns; heads, feet, hides

& organs cut away, then chopped up into smaller bits in

artillery’s boning room. The 54th crossed the Peronne

moat in single file, like cattle thirsting for water at dusk.

By night the yarding was done, the abattoir cleared.

The total number sold was some three thousand.

 

 

 

*Temporary Corporal Alexander Henry Buckley

1-2 September 1918, Peronne, France

 

Buckley called him ‘Ben’ after the famous bushranger

& was glad that Hall shared the blaggard’s courage

for their road was waylaid by a gang of the enemy.

Criminal, they charged the well-armed coach, rounds

mixed with the spring rain: wet right through, soldiers

didn’t feel their blood run into their boots, everyone

wore red socks that morning, the mud was flypaper

that trapped men as they fell twitching. Tongues flapped.

The sun sprinkled the 54th with gold dust as four Boche

fell to Buckley’s Enfield. Twenty others raised their hands,

imperialism’s precious cargo not worth the meagre pay.

The main camp retreated into Peronne’s cavernous shaft.

Gold-fevered, Buckley pursued them, but was unable

to ignore a machine gun’s strict warrant for his arrest.

 

 

 

Temporary Corporal Lawrence Carthage Weathers

2 September 1918, Peronne, France

 

He was Hannibal, outflanking Germans in Scutari trench.

His elephants; bombs that rained on their columbarium,

its boggy niches filled with flinching boys. Weathers killed

their consul, the water-logged trench deep as Lake Trasimene;

the officer dragged down to the crypt’s sodden floor.

A Lewis-gun covered the corporal, as oblivious, he scaled

the Alp-sized parapet & blasted the legion’s leftovers.

The light rain, a silken casket veil that shooed away flies.

One hundred & eighty prisoners moved cortege-slow

back to his lines, his head a door badge of blood,

his uniform bristling with souvenired pistols. Twenty

-seven days later he joined his brother, who’d fallen

at Gallipoli. His first & last defeat. Death kept him

ignorant of his honour, but his battalion kept his wake.

 

 

 

Private James Park Woods

18 September 1918, Le Verguier, near St Quentin, France

 

They let him in when the height restrictions plunged.

The war was aging well, it had matured for the Allies,

the Hindenburg outpost line beckoned, but a blockhouse

decanted his small unit into the bowls of shell craters.

The air was mousy with rot. The aroma stung his nostrils;

a field blend of the living & the dead, planted together,

they breathed in the earthy nose of bloodied soil.

Blue-green blooms chequered old bodies like tartan.

Without support, Woods & his men pressed forward

pulping the resistance. A mud pateux filled his mouth

as he lay atop the parapet throwing bombs at the Hun’s

counterattack. His shortness was a godsend; the Germans

were thrown back by his mincer, their zest gone, comrades

bloated as oak barrels. The bitter taste in everyone.

 

 

Sergeant Maurice Vincent Buckley (alias Gerald Saxton)

18 September 1918, Le Verguier, near St Quentin, France

 

He could reupholster torn cloth on coaches, transform

the frayed fabric for the rich into an emperor’s new clothes.

In this way he ripped out his old stuffing, called himself

Gerald Saxton & returned to the front with a new sheen.

Men clutched their ears as the barrages’ high-pitched

shrieks bansheed over them. A thousand trains braked

as one as the Hun’s lines vanished in pyroclastic eruption.

In the massed elephant charge aftermath, Buckley went

them, killing outposts with his Lewis gun. He shot from

the hip, a volunteer hosing down a bushfire, silencing field

guns & nests that tripped up his section. He fashioned a deep

buttoning into men’s bodies; pleated diamond holes he left

when he pulled together the strings of men’s lives. Death

was a horse that reared up after the war & unseated him.


 

 

Private (Edward) John (Frances) Ryan

30 September 1918, near Bellicourt, France

 

In that moment he was pure work. Ryan

could forget the years of hardship to come;

the Depression, the desperate wandering from

Balranald to Mildura, down & out on Melbourne

streets. The 55th were contracted to breach the Hun’s

position, to put a bulge in the Hindenburg defences.

There was no arbitration between the warring factions.

He was the first to turn up in the morning, clock on

for his shift. The strike busters came at them with

bomb & gun & broke back through their picket lines

looking to lockout the Australians from their gains.

Shouting like a shop steward, Ryan led a party to sack

them, making his grievance known as they chased off

the scabs. His only steady work was in the art of killing.

 

 

 

Major Blair Anderson Wark

29 September – 1 October 1918, Bellicourt to Joncourt, France

 

After six months of surveying mud, he flagged down

the thirty ton, diamond-tracked hulk & used its 8mm steel

plate to creep forward with his men & knock out the posts.

The war had turned; they trudged after these giants like small

children after their parents, or hunting dogs after their masters

who’d then fetch their kills. Nauroy fell, the headless Americans

accepted his solution & came on. A battery spat out its challenge,

but Wark rushed them, the field gun’s mouth hung open in an ‘O’

of surprise. Fifty more Hun compromised at Magny-la-Fosse,

but he needed three lives to function. Under the eaves of early

morning they attacked. Joncourt was a blur as he led from

the front; his appraisal was to kill the machine guns first.

His type was in service throughout the whole war;

the weathertightness of his design let no bullets in.

 

 

 

Lieutenant Joseph Maxwell

3 October 1918, Beaurevoir line, near Estrees, France

 

The Mark V would’ve superheated the crew,

a blast furnace peeling skin off the tankers like fat

scooped from a soup pot. But Maxwell released

the hatches, the crew slithered out like steam & were

lost to the fresh air. Some wire snaked double-helix

across the Beaurevoir line, but Maxwell found a

narrow passage through the prickly ductwork &

ejecting from it, he halved the gun crew. Under

pressure, he again engineered a gun team’s catastrophe,

their boiler blown, he allowed his flank company

to generate power. The Germans were running out

of fuel for the war; twenty wannabes shackled him,

but a barrage dispersed them like dandelion seed.

Valve clean, he bolted fast as a whistle’s song.

 

 

 

Lieutenant George Mawby (Morby) Ingram

5 October 1918, Montbrehain, near Peronne, France

 

They opened dawn’s corpse gate & strode through,

the borrowed light lit up the platoon’s faces like a struck

match, illuminating the rings on their foreheads from four

years of growth. A last contract. Snipers made bulls-eyes out

of their tin hats as Ingram led the assault over the crenellated

ground. B Company were deadened to machine gun chatter

as they scurried to the site of another job. The post was festooned

with Germans, but they killed forty-two of them; the green timber

unseasoned & full of moisture. An old woman’s tooth had scraped

out a quarry & here a hundred more apprentices tried to kerf them

with bayonets, but rushing the post Ingram nailed six, put weep

holes in their frames. Sixty-two did not become a dead load on

the stone floor. In a cellar’s heartwood thirty more gave up

the carcass of the war. A wounded burr on civilisation’s tree.

 

 

Russia


 

Corporal Arthur Percy Sullivan

10 August 1919, Dvina River, south of Archangel, north Russia

 

The Bolsheviks were bankrupt. Their garnishment

of North Russia was a blown safe, their promises

burnt bonds, as the Allied force assailed the Reds

on the Dvina River. Flies & mosquitoes bit harder

than bullets, there were more pamphlets than patrols,

‘Greetings to our dear brothers from the red trenches’.

No one could ski, or snowshoe, only the Canadians had

felt winter’s true colour. Their cut-off-time to cross the

swampy Shieka was now, but four men fell shrieking off

the plank’s greasy pole. Sullivan dove as full metal jacket

midges buzzed his ear & scooped up the beneficiaries

one by one. The redlining was done, as the British left this

poor neighbourhood. Eighteen years later, Sullivan slipped

outside Wellington barracks, as death called in his final debt.

 

 

 

*Sergeant Samuel George Pearse

29 August 1919, north of Emtsa, north Russia

 

His heart was a snow rabbit’s foot ready for the bolt.

Its thumping echoed down the black tunnel of his body

& reverberated from his mouth’s dry entrance. White fur

insulated him from the fear of death, gnawing through

barbed wire as though his leg was caught in a hunter’s trap.

Bullets bit into the fat pines, as Pearse made a bee line

for the Reds’ blockhouse. He had the bark on, no cold

feet as he angled his way over the crooked river, scanning

its snares & pitfalls. Incandescent dragonflies whizzed by

his ear. Grenades left his hands like stones skimmed across

water’s surface tension; their shot silenced one burrow.

He was the medicine to trap the Russians, but was long-

netted by a machine gun’s traverse as he ferreted out

the next warren. He was laid up in death’s warm den.

 


World War 2

 

 

*Corporal John Hurst Edmondson

13 April 1941, Tobruk, Libya

 

His adrenaline was Worcester sauce that masked

the bland taste of death in his neck & guts; there

were thirty targets set up on night’s long range.

He saw Mackell grappling with his own shadow

trying to pin it to the ground with his bayonet,

like a roo shooter staking out a fresh skin. Another

phantom was drawn to his Lieutenant’s steaming

back. Edmondson had blackened his own blade

with a smoke spell & so blessed, he killed both

doppelgangers with his magic strokes. The desert

sand drank greedily as this entropy was played out.

Ejected, the Afrika Corp made a trajectory for their

own lines & as the black liquid settled, his mortal

wounds reloaded & fired in the pre-dawn light.

 

 

Acting Wing Commander Hughie Idwal Edwards

4 July 1941, raid on Bremen, Germany

 

The air war was becoming a baby race; two year olds

that couldn’t last the European distance. Ack ack

guns built into a black music crescendo over Bremen,

as the Blenheims skimmed apartments in their tricky

steeplechase, bellies grazing chimneys as the twelve

bombers went all out. Their blind switch had been

German ships that reported their channel approach.

Boxed in between air & tile, they ducked under lethal

branches of high tension wires as Edwards’ squadron

attacked the port; their bombs dribbling out like horse

manure piling on cobblestone. Conditions were wretched.

The field was reduced; four didn’t finish the course, bearing

out into the strait as Hughie let the nags have their heads.

The purse was rich; a garrison finish from off the pace.

 

 

 

Lieutenant Arthur Roden Cutler

19 June – 6 July 1941, Merdjayoun and Damour, Lebanon

 

Their advance was shut down by Vichy tanks, H35’s

that hitched camel train slow across the Lebanese hills.

He was so low to the ground he could’ve swallowed stones,

his ostrich throat undulated as he ground telegraph wires

together like men rolled tobacco papers between fingers.

He reignited a spark, then counterattacked, trying to punch

the emergency stop on their momentum, to blow-out their

conveyer belt tracks, closing down production. Roughneck

infantry hid behind the derricks of the tanks’ turrets, as Cutler

fired, the armour too thick. The desert-ships ploughed on,

but he forced them to abandon their efforts, plugging off

their initiative’s deep well. A toolpusher by trade, he deflected

their thrust, but the French drilled a borehole through his leg.

He leaked oil for a day, until the mechanics found him.

 

 

 

Private James Heath Gordon

10 July 1941, near Jezzine (Djezzine), Lebanon

 

He was a ‘hatter’, as mad as anything Carroll created

to be bandicooting across no man’s land; the pungent

odour of crushed rosemary blessed Gordon’s elbows

& knees as he crawled over shell casings, their brassy

deposits glinting dully in the early Jezzine darkness.

He was humping the fortune of his company alone,

as bullets & grenades speculated as to where his body

was. He was trying to do the trick on the quiet, keep

his whereabouts secret from the enemy. Twenty feet

away, Gordon’s brain clocked on, a lit fuse, it sizzled

its way through his arms & legs, triggering adrenaline

to explode in his muscles, a TNT of action that lifted

his frame up, as he dropped on the post, skewering four

gunners. The rest gave up their claim as dawn rolled up.

 

 

 

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Groves Wright Anderson

18-22 January 1942, Muar River, Malaysia

 

The deadlock was broken, as Japanese Guards formed

an absolute majority in the Malayan peninsula & pushed

the Indians & the Australians back towards the Parit

Sulong bridge in a rolling humid scrimmage. The words

to ‘Waltzing Matilda’ bounced from the posts of millennia

-old trees, a proud address that fired up Andersen to take

out two nests personally as the brigade fell back. They had

to carry their wounded through the jungle, head-high like

soldier ants in a column, chewing a path back to the colony.

The Japanese cut them off. There was no confidence left,

as the artillery & mortar rounds petered out. Andersen gave

his proclamation; the heavy weapons destroyed, the remnants

of his force dissolved & fled. His freedom was gagged when

Singapore fell. An adjournment that lasted three years.

 

 

 

*Private Arthur Stanley Gurney

22 July 1942, Tel el Eisa, Egypt

 

He was a flyer, breaking away at the bell lap

of this Egyptian race as though he was riding again

for the League of Western Australian Wheelman.

Gurney surged ahead after his officers were first-

blooded by the Germans, their brain buckets spilled

over the desert tarmac like pans left out to catch

the early morning dew. Their bullets were stones

kicked up by a passing truck, but he bayoneted

three who face-planted into the golden dust.

He used Tel el Eisa’s boulder-garden as cover,

spent casings left a chainring tattoo on the sand

as Gurney pressed his attack. Two more augured

out as the Private turned down his last straight.

He bonked as a bright pedal slammed into his chest.

 

 

 

*Private Bruce Steel Kingsbury

29 August 1942, Isurava (Kokoda Track), Papua New Guinea

 

The Japanese encroached along the Kokoda track

folding the Australians’ right wing back like an exquisite

origami crease. The severe roof pitch of the crinkled blue

mountains made Pte. Kingsbury reel as though he ducked

a drunk’s flailing swing. Signals arrived to counter-attack

the steely advance, which gazumped the 2nd/14th battalion

with its forced sale. It was no act of god that made him

bolt at the Japs, his only chattel, a Bren gun, that bleated

out its thirty bullets from its mohawk magazine. Man

& machine steamed from the jungle’s humid kickback,

as Kingsbury ran, a cane cutter poleaxing his ripe crop.

The beneficiaries were his fellow platoon members, this

auctioneer who spurred his party on to gain late purchase.

His final payment was due, as a sniper closed out the bid.

 


*Corporal John Alexander French

4 September 1942, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

 

The New Guinea jungle was all about how the fade

blended creek crossings, vines that draped muscled

arms into the water like whalers hauling up a carcass;

the understory of palms, heart-shaped succulents &

rainforest giants that dwarfed ‘B’ company as Goroni

was assaulted. The Japanese held on snug; three posts

kept a straight razor of bullets slicing trunks & leaves

as Cpl. French charged forward, his grenades tapering

off the resistance of the first nest. A second pillbox

was undercut with more grenades, as the shrapnel

shaved men down, leaving a canopy of smouldering

blankets. His Thompson gun was the strop on which

French sharpened his resolve, but a third post clipped

him high & tight. Seventy imperials had been cut down.

 


 

*Private Percival Eric Gratwick

25-26 October 1942, El Alamein, Egypt

 

He needed no one else to tell him what to do,

this Pilbara blacksmith’s first battle; officers all dead,

the apprentice rose from the rocky ground, a sudden

whirly-whirly that swept up its pent energy into a fatal

funnel & blinded the Afrika Corpsmen who faced him.

He tossed two grenades into a machine gun nest’s hot

smithy & tested his bayonet’s steel, bluing a mortar crew.

The 9th Division were alloyed to their task, mixing attacks

with counter-attacks in their four day pasting to break

Rommel’s mold. Gratwick’s charge was tempered just

short of a second post by a burst of soft metal cast

for a harder cause. He rang his last stroke & died an

instant journeyman, crossing from a solid state into air,

as his mates forged ahead & took the hill’s anvil.

 

 

 

*Sergeant William Henry Kibby

23-31 October 1942, El Alamein, Egypt

 

The night was charged with blackness; luminous tracer

scratched intense white lines into the starless background

as Kibby opened up with his Tommy gun killing three

Germans & seizing their post. Five times he crawled over

the landscape’s hard & soft texture, blending the fine

hairs of signal wires back together as shells blossomed

around Trig 29. They were backlit by dawn’s bloody hue,

as Kibby roused his platoon again, his design to lift out

another ridge’s bright chroma of enfilading fire from

his unit’s picture. As the morning light gradated from

twilight’s grey flat wash & mingled into a yellow palette,

the Sergeant had almost reached the last machine gun’s

vanishing point, when his horizon tilted over. Gravity

fed, incarnadine beads formed under his body of work.

 

 

 

*Flight Sergeant Rawdon Hume Middleton

28-29 November 1942, raid on Turin, Italy

 

Some angered flak god kicked in his cockpit over Turin,

making a mockery of his twenty-eight operational flights.

His right eye melted from the lightning bolt, his cheekbone

lay exposed like Prometheus’s liver in a giant eagle’s beak.

It would not grow back. The Stirling groaned, a wounded

behemoth that dropped hundreds of feet before it found

its strength again. For four hours, the flight crew hovered

around Middleton like parent birds that refuse to leave

the nest of a storm-downed chick. He was Odin-eyed,

a hot coal burnt in his socket, his flesh sizzled with pain.

Fuel spent, he could barely croak out orders for his crew

to abandon ship over the English coast. He turned

the doomed craft back out to the Channel; his last act

was a sea burial. In February his body washed ashore.

 

 

 

*Flight Lieutenant William Ellis Newton

16 March 1943, Salamaua Isthmus, Papua New Guinea

 

Fifty-two times he’d flown through the black cocoons

of enemy flak; always his fearless metamorphosis on

the other side of that dark country, which earnt him

his nickname, ‘The Firebug’ as flames reeled out from

his Boston’s spinneret. Straight to the target, his flimsy

bomber was often holed like a spider’s web that boys

had thrown stones through. Smoke filaments trailed

behind him like a warp of ebony thread, as he landed

the plane, flooring the pedals of his rickety wooden loom.

Two days later Newton attached his silk to the same forest

above Salamaua & dropped his venom. His imago done,

a skein of anti-aircraft fire ignited his ship. A fortnight

later, a Japanese weaver’s thousand-folded steel shuttle

tied off the Flight Lieutenant’s final weft of thread.

 

 

Private Richard Kelliher

13 September 1943, near Nadzab, Papua New Guinea

 

The banana trees were straight as paschal candles,

their yellowy-green trunks bright as flame as Kelliher

performed last rites, collecting spare ammo from five

of his section gunned down by the hidden nest. He

knew Richards would be martyred if he didn’t reach

the wounded corporal, so up he charged, hurling two

grenades into the wooden stall where the machine-gun

sang its piercing litany. Forced back, Kelliher grabbed

a Bren gun reverently in both hands like a processional

cross & marched forward sending bursts into the post’s

slitted mouth. When incense smoke began to pour out

of the trench’s chimney, he dragged him out of danger

by his shredded khaki vestments. His sinewy arm’s font

delivered water, healing the wounded man’s holy thirst.


 

Sergeant Thomas Currie Derrick

24 November 1943, Sattelberg, Papua New Guinea

 

At Sattelberg, Derrick found a new irritation for the sand

that had stung his Battalion’s eyes at Tobruk, Tel el Eisa

& El Alamein. The edges of the kunai grass were sharp;

samurai swords slicing the company’s legs as they probed

a cliff face where Japanese marines were dug in like ticks

into a scalp. Repulsed, he had to dislodge these colonists,

so the crepuscular hunter left at last light & bombed his first

post dead. To gain the crest, the fell sergeant scaled the wall

on hands & feet; gravity, a feared enemy of his wild mission.

He attacked six more nests, who all fled from his patrolling

& then led his section to their first purchase. Three more

pillboxes he attacked with grenades, until the enemy were

overwintered by death. At Tarakan, a light machine gun’s

proboscis fired a random burst as ‘Diver’ folded his wings.

 

 

 

Corporal Reginald Roy Rattey

22 March 1945, near Tokinotu, Bougainville

 

The New Zealand corsairs swooped like Haast’s eagles

scything the Japanese dug into Slater’s Knoll with tracer

claws; the soldier’s bodies were bird fragile & fractured

into clods like freshly tilled earth. Rattey knew the way

to stop this bull resistance was to run at the livestock,

so lifting his Bren gun from the hip like a fence post

he charged forward, bellowing. The gun teams were

corralled by his fierce display, the weapon-pits ran red

as a slaughterhouse floor as Rattey’s section cleared

three pillboxes in the crush of their advance. In the

fourth post the survivors jumped their fences & bolted;

stampeding into the Bougainville bush rather than

be turned into greasy offal. The stock work done,

Rattey cleaned his knives ready for the next roundup.


 

*Lieutenant Albert Chowne

25 March 1945, Dagua, Papua New Guinea

 

There was a pattern of rottenness underfoot to all

of this, a defect; a wounded creature’s death throes

lost in the anonymity of the drunken forest. Chowne

measured the length of the path’s leg, the breadth

of the hill’s shoulders, where the machine guns

were sewn into the knoll like epaulettes on a dress

jacket. His threw grenades with a stiches’ accuracy

as though he were tossing pebbles at his sweetheart’s

window & unpicked their seams. He bundled up the

steep slope, towards the summit that would later bear

his name & stood over three foxholes, made to measure

coffins which claimed two more bodies. He made a fatal

error, standing manikin still for too long, bullets cut out

buttonholes in his left side as a cloak draped over him.

 

 


*Corporal John Bernard Mackey

12 May 1945, Tarakan Island, Indonesia

 

The jungle wet was an oven door opened on the face,

a heat mist that obscured the eyes with sweat & made

men blink as if crying. Mackey & ‘Yorky’ stalked along

the spur’s sharp incline as though they were headwaiters

balancing delicate plates; nothing was level, as they began

the slow climb up ‘Helens’ gnarled ridge like bread rising.

A smoke grenade dusted the air with white flour, as they

summited; four Japanese gunners reached out & scooped

them into a foxhole the size of an industrial dough mixer.

Mackey punched down on the team, kneaded their throats

until the flesh softened under his hands. He then mashed

a grenade through a pillbox’s cyclops eye-socket, scoring

their bodies’ crusts. Rushing a third post with Yorky’s gun,

he killed two apprentices, but fell, heavy as a baker’s stone.

 

 

 

Private Edward Kenna

15 May 1945, near Wewak, Papua New Guinea

 

Pinned down, he rose up from the ground like a fountain

from a broken water hydrant; a geyser of action that fired

his Bren gun at the Japanese bunker, spraying the machine

gun post. Kenna was a baffle that changed the battle’s flow.

The nest zeroed in on him, but the bullets bent around him

like water poked by an electrically charged rod. Some sped

between his arms & body like a cricket ball smashed back

at the bowler. He felt their momentum tickle his ribs; only

fifty metres from him, the rush of air like a sharp intake

of breath. Metal fatigue claimed his weapon, so he juggled

guns until a Matilda crawled up next to him, flung its brass

& shut off the pillbox’s bleed. Three weeks later a bullet

cracked the bowl of his mouth. It took a year for the doctors

to plug it. When he married, his nurse wore porcelain white.

 

 

 

Private Leslie Thomas Starcevich

28 June 1945, near Beaufort, British North Borneo, Malaysia

 

The fig trees were a headframe for the crystalline sky

reinforcing the blazing firmament as Starcey’s battalion

assaulted Beaufort. They tracked down a wooded spur

following this snaky vein that let tailings of sunlight spool

in golden middens about the soldiers’ boots. His Bren gun

jackhammered two nests of Japanese light gunners, five

died from this sudden cave-in, an avalanche of blackness

took them. In a coyote hole, seven more had dug in, but

Starcey towered over them like a union organiser ranting

about their collusion. He stopped mid-spiel, changed the

banana-shaped clip, as cool as a dynamiter walking away

from his lit fuse & blew their bodies’ ore. The Imperial

soldiers were stretched out as if asleep from a tiring shift.

His job done, the motherlode of war had petered out.

 

 

 

Private Frank John Partridge

24 July 1945, Bonis Peninsula, Bouganville

 

It was all banana growing country, high altitude,

high rainfall, steep ridges, volcanic soil, coastal;

an island like this could keep the world in vitamins

Partridge knew, as his section farmed the jungle

preparing for their assault on Base 5. A serpent in

the undergrowth struck him in the left arm & thigh,

an occupational hazard, not mortal, but irritating as

he rushed the bullet-packing shed. A grenade burnt

out the leaf litter & scattered the hired help; Partridge

finished one follower off with his bayonet, his early

years chopping down bunches heavy as grain sacks

had hardened his technique. His bruised fruit leaked

out liquid & he collapsed as if heat struck. He was the

youngest, the last of the war, the final flowering stalk.


 

Vietnam


 

*Warrant Officer Class 2 Kevin Arthur Wheatley

13 November 1965, Tra Bong Valley, Quang Ngai province, South Vietnam

 

He held those red dwarf twins in his palms,

their mechanisms removed, atoms danced

along his fingertips as he readied for his new

beginning. With these stars he would recreate

their future. A universe waited to spring from

his forehead, as old gods murmured in his ear,

pleased with the day’s actions. Swanton curled

at his feet, a supplicant to their glory, cheeks

a camera flash’s afterglare; their myth glowing.

Calmly, he hurled them, holding his breath like

a child testing the bottom of an unfathomable

pool with their soft powers. Gusts of gray rain

returned to buffet their hair & push them over.

death, a guilty bully, covered them with space.


 

 

*Major Peter John Badcoe

23 February – 7 April 1967, Thua Thien province, South Vietnam

 

He was a creature of spirit, a Scottish red cap,

some fey elemental that stalked the fields of Sia

& cavorted around Hue. Reports grew about him,

legendary sightings that children whispered to each

other; these wise siblings bent on spreading stories.

On the day he revealed his secret, dodging the spells

that flew at him, he rescued young princes caught

in the village, until he stopped at the end of school.

When he was uncrowned, the blood-coloured beret

slipping from his tired head, they saw he was fairy

handsome, his face fixed now in immortality. So

they raised a shrine, a grass mound where his deeds

were planted in the earthen memory. Where his own

children, fully-grown, would one day find him.

 

 

Warrant Officer Class 2 Rayene Stewart Simpson

6 and 11 May 1969, Kontum province, South Vietnam

 

Perhaps there’s something in the name, in the war genes

for belly crawling beneath wasps’ nests: once the child

rolled up his father’s old newspapers & stove lit, torched

the hexagonal hives, their grasp of mathematics collapsed

as each blind pilot in their cockpit burned alive. Here he

dressed up for killing, dead leaves for fangs, nose-pressed

into the earth, its texture like the inside of steamed pudding.

He ate dirt, his toddler’s appetite for danger placed him ten

metres from the chimera’s flame. He stirred up the hornets

spraying them with fragments of insect killer, lethal doses

to subjugate their warlike instincts as he inserted his sting.

Of his own breed, he carried them back in; broken wings

grounded some, others he knew would never soar again

as he placed his own body between the fire & each soul.

 

 

 

Warrant officer Class 2 Keith Payne

24 May 1969, Kontum province, South Vietnam

 

Prophet-wounded in the hands & hip he cast boiling

stones at every bush that burnt; a salt dressing lathered

his body stinging his mind to attention as he reeled them

back in like tired marlin. By night he stalked his own men,

green light footprints his only guide as he snaked over dead

leaves, reading the fluorescent logo of squashed roots. His

head in decay, with Odysseus’s sharpened mind, he ordered

men ‘lying doggo’ to crawl out of night’s cave. They clutched

at the camouflaged fleece & held on. Lethal glow-worms fell

from trees, the jungle itched with fire as they snuffled away

under the giant’s pockmarked gaze. As dark’s black boulder

descended upon his jettisoned crew, he lifted some light as

sugar-bags & stole away. He led them out of this raw section,

forty dog-eared pilgrims whose candle-light had gone astray.


 

 

Afghanistan


 

Trooper Mark Gregor Strang Donaldson

2 September 2008, Oruzgan province, Afghanistan

 

Can fear oxidize the heart? Corrode the legs from under you?

He logged on in the back of the truck & was jacked into his own

first person shooter. The initiative writhed around him; a green

garden hose turned on full bore, snaking out of his grip. To seize

it, he grafted anti-armour weapons to his arms as if he was a cyborg

& caught like a magnesium flare. Silica fused when his control lit up

the white earth. His situation call for finger intelligence constructed

from games of red rover? He was ‘it’, drawing heat down upon the

back of his neck, hair whispers of almost gotcha as he ran buying the

most precious of commodities, platinum time, the invisible bullion

of breathing space. They couldn’t tag him. Weighed down by duty’s

late call, he hurled off his rusted superstructure & sprinted 80 metres,

his primary school lungs topped up, to snatch first prize from death’s

air-cooled mouth. When he warmed down, all that was left was a man.


 

 

Corporal Benjamin ‘Ben’ Roberts- Smith

11 June 2010, Kandahar province, Afghanistan

 

They choppered into a bear market, their percentage

of success fell rapidly as the Taliban pinned them down

with accurate rocket & machine gun fire. Chunks of mud

straw brick evaporated into dust storms as the SAS wounded

hunched behind medieval clay walls, gritting teeth & hooking

They were diminishing returns whose effectiveness lessened

as units of blood were lost. ‘Ben’ read the futures; he knew the

initiative had to be wrenched back to secure their takeover bid.

He rose up; bullish, forty metres from the insurgent’s monopoly.

His strategy was to have a crack at it. In the space of a hammer’s

fall, his patrol commander knocked one nest out with a grenade,

then the corporal charged, drawing fire like investors to a blue chip

company. His hostile tactic worked. The leftover gunners panicked,

their shots went wide, as his big business raided their market share.

 

 


Corporal Daniel Alan Keighran

24 August 2010, Oruzgan province, Afghanistan

 

There was a throughness to his actions that day; he

moved the battle’s energy along the irrigation canal’s

spine, a fluid grace seizing the initiative from the Taliban

who poured it on the joint 6 RAR-Afghan patrol pinned

in this bespoke oasis. The distant mountains were American

paint horses; brown & white splotches covered their smooth

coats, where winter & summer contested for high-altitude

dominance. Their fight was a kind of dressage; a competition

where the highest training would win out in the end. Keighran

pirouetted & took to the bald ridge, directing & receiving fire.

His gait was counteroffensive perfect, his bare arena became

the point of contest. The firefight, noisy as a factory pressing

metal, stamped out its rapid produce. MacKinney fell, grief

converted to anger as the patrol closed the gate behind them.

 

 

 

*Corporal Cameron Baird

June 22, 2013, Oruzgan province, Afghanistan

 

The tracer bullets were Christmas tree lights that signalled

for Baird’s team to floor it; under fire they wrecked six clunkers

while tearing down their mission’s strip. He ran on all eight bangers.

He didn’t need the bolt-on goodies for show; he used stock parts

for his weapon’s drive-train as they neared the compound’s wall.

The big-block engine of his heart thumped out decibels like an

AC/DC concert. He led from the front, avoiding two more near

misses as the race drew to its end. On the third final lap his gun

misfired; very toey, it’d overheated. On the second final lap, Baird

made up lost ground, but had to pull over for a pit stop. Reloaded

with fuel, he gunned down the final straight, but the smoke from

burnt rubber obscured him from his crew. When the dust fell, it

was clear to his team who’d won. However, his muscle car was

totalled; some rival’s fan had thrown a rock onto his race track.

 

 

‘Lone Pine Sonnets’ were first published in Southerly: Long Paddock ‘War and Peace’ issue 2016.

 

‘The Somme Sonnets’ were shortlisted in the 2014 Newcastle Poetry Prize and first published in ‘Once Wild: 2014 Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology.

* denotes posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

 

 


 

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