It was going to be the trip of a lifetime. Sydney, Cairo, Constantinople, maybe even Jerusalem if there was time and breath left in us. We came from the far-flung reaches of the earth to the bustling capitals of the Middle East. Just me, my good mates - Blue, Grim and his cousin Frank - our chaperone Sergeant Major O’Donnell, and 1,500 other lads of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade.
Frank copped it at Gallipoli, never even set foot on the beach. I left him screaming on the metal deck of the landing craft awash with ***** and blood as he watched his innards unfurl. ****** oath, they stunk! Like ten-day-old snags left out in the Adelaide sun. His Mum always said she’d have his guts for garters if he enlisted underage. I reckon she’d never use that expression again. She was a nice lady too, that Mrs Gibson.
Tell me, fair dinkum, what do 18-year-old, daring-do dreamers from Parramatta know of the chain of high command, a war of geopolitical strategy and stiff upper lips. The bewhiskered gentlemen who manoeuvre their pieces in imperial map rooms will live to fight another day, and yet hold their fallen troops accountable for the unpredictable tides of history.
Grim took Frank’s death hard. From that day on his war was one explosive suicide mission. In the end, he walked into a spray of Turkish gunpowder at Chunuk Bair. The Distinguished Conduct Medal he earned that day sits on my mantelpiece beside a photo of the four of us at Giza. His sister Molly, my dear sweet Molly, turned out to be the love of my life. Funny how that happens - the threads that hold us together, the ties that bind brothers, the strangers who become our saviours.
The sergeant major succumbed to typhoid fever in Palestine and that left Blue and me. We sit and remember. We laugh at the horror during the day and shiver in our beds at night. We wage war with ourselves, our choices, our victories and defeats. We marvel at the world and the territorial ambition of nations, shake our heads at the repetition of dumb history, and raise our wavering fists to those same men in their ivory towers. It’s in all the newspapers that the Vietnam conflict is this generation’s Dardanelles Campaign. ‘A vain and protracted engagement fought in a topographically hostile arena with disproportionate loss of life’ is what I read. Yet wonder of wonders, a Yank - Blue knows his name...but I forget...Neville Someone - walked on the moon last month. Do y’reckon we helped to make that happen? Four cobbers from New South Wales, who had a knack with horseflesh and a taste for kangaroo feathers, on an adventure which spanned more lifetimes than I could ever have imagined.
The 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade was a mounted infantry brigade of the First Australian Imperial Force, which served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I. During the Gallipoli offensive, the brigade served in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). After being withdrawn to Egypt, they took part in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign until their disbandment after the end of the war in 1919. [Wikipedia]
Cobbers - friends
Fair dinkum - true, no *******
Kangaroo feathers - the distinctive emu feather plume which adorned the slouch hats of the AIF light horsemen. So named as a practical joke by the cocky troopers themselves.
Snags - sausages