I don’t think I can say anything about the anniversary of this disastrous campaign, which was masterminded by Winston Churchill, that hasn’t been said many times over in the past week, and far more eloquently than I could manage.
That said, I simply can’t ignore the anniversary. So, as is often my want where emotional situations are concerned, I’m going to resort to other people’s poetry:
The Last To Leave
The guns were silent, and the silent hills
Had bowed their grasses to a gentle breeze.
I gazed upon the vales and on the rills,
And whispered, ‘What of these?’ and, ‘What of these?
These long-forgotten dead with sunken graves,
Some crossless, with unwritten memories;
Their only mourners are the moaning waves;
Their only minstrels are the singing trees.’
And thus I mused and sorrowed wistfully.
I watched the place where they had scaled the height,
That height whereon they bled so bitterly
Throughout each day and through each blistered night.
I sat there long, and listened – all things listened too.
I heard the epics of a thousand trees;
A thousand waves I heard, and then I knew
The waves were very old, the trees were wise:
The dead would be remembered evermore –
The valiant dead that gazed upon the skies,
And slept in great battalions by the shore
To My Brother
Give me your hand, my brother, search my face;
Look in these eyes lest I should think of shame;
For we have made an end of all things base.
We are returning by the road we came.
Our lot is with the ghosts of soldiers dead,
And I am in the field where men must fight.
But in the gloom I see your laurell’d head
And through your victory I shall win the light.
The Last To Leave was written by Leon Gellert, who enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force eighteen days after WWI broke out. He served in the 10th Battalion, and landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. He became one of the the vast number of casualties – wounded by shrapnel and then contracting septicaemia and dysentery soon after. He was evacuated to Malta in July 1915 and then onward to London where he was diagnosed with epilepsy and given a medical discharge on his repatriation to Australia in 1916.
To My Brother was penned by Siegfried Sassoon, after his brother, Hamo, took a sniper bullet to his leg during the Gallipoli campaign, contracted septicaemia and died in October 1915.
I would also like, this month, to draw your attention to a new anthology of WWI stories that will be released this Friday, 1 May. The anthology contains 13 stories, by ten authors, all of which focus on lives of GLBTQI people during the Great War. I was honoured to be asked by the editor to review the book before it was released, and you can find what I thought of A Pride of Poppies here.