Tag Archives: mateship

Being There For Each Other…An ANZAC Day Tribute.

These days, it seems that ANZAC Day – the 25th April – is the only day almost universally held sacred and respected throughout Australia. ANZAC Day commemorates when the Australian and New Zealand forces first set foot at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli on the 25th April, 1915. However, it’s come to represent all Australians who’ve served in armed conflicts, because as we’ve unfortunately come to find out, the Great War wasn’t “the war to end all wars”.

Kids at the cenotaph

As Scouts, one or both of our kids have participated in the local ANZAC Day march for almost the last 10 years. In particular, they’ve marched in memory of Geoff’s Great Uncle Private Ralph French who was killed in action near Mont St Quentin 4th September, 1918.

Robert Ralph french Photo

Geoff’s Uncle, Private  Ralph French 

However, Geoff also had his Uncle Jim who served at Gallipoli and Beersheeba with the lighthorse  and his brother Daniel served in the Sinai campaign in addition to Uncle Angus who he never met and Uncle Len. His grandmother also had one of the those embroidered French postcards from her cousin Jack Burke. Not so many served on my side of the family. There was my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealey and the two Gordon brothers, Roland and Frank. That was WWI. Geoff’s Uncle Ralph and Uncle Walter both  served in New Guinea during WWII along with my Great Uncle, Jack Gordon. More recently, Geoff’s brother Terry was on the last ship to Vietnam and as a medic, nursed the injured returning home and at least one cousin served in the Gulf War.

Poppies Geoff Amelia Jonathon

Geoff and the kids find Uncle Ralph at the Australian War Memorial

So, as you could imagine, ANZAC Day weighs heavily on our hearts and we’ve done our utmost best to ensure our kids know what it’s about. WWI and almost WWII are drifting beyond living memory. So, it’s no longer a scenario of “lest we forget”. We need to pass on the stories and sow the seeds. Ensure the younger generations know what happened, the sacrifices and the importance of maintaining the peace, though not always at any cost.

Robert Ralph French cenotaph

This year, our don was supposed to be commemorating ANZAC Day at the dawn service at Villers Bretonneaux on the battlefields of France. I went into overdrive researching what our family members went through over there, so he wouldn’t be standing there like a dingaling not knowing what had happened. However, thanks to the coronavirus, his excursion was obviously cancelled along with ANZAC Day marches throughout Australia. It is a solemn time, and it’s quite significant that we can’t do ANZAC Day in the usual way. Indeed, we couldn’t even watch the march on TV, although no doubt the Dawn Service was televised and hopefully we can watch that again later tonight. We didn’t get up to light candles and stand at the end of the driveway. I don’t know if many people did it around here, but it didn’t feel the same and I thought I’d rather do something on my blog.

Jack Quealy WWI

My Great Great Uncle Jack Quealey

Anyway, while we were watching the ANZAC Day coverage on TV today, I heard this incredible poem describing a soldier’s dependence on “mateship”. I don’t know why I’ve never heard this poem before, because it’s a poem every Australian should know right alongside Waltzing Matilda and the Man From Snowy River. Indeed, even more so, because what it refers to as the male bond of “mateship” could just as easily be represented by words such as:  “friendship”, “trust”, “Compassion” and “love”. Values which are just as important at home, as on the battle field, and we have much to learn from the brave and selfless men and women who have served our people. Moreover, we can add to them, our brave fire fighters and the front line warriors battling the coronavirus along with the teachers caring for their children in our schools. From our home to yours, we thank you.

major-james-norbert-griffin

Geoff’s Great Uncle, Major James Griffin.

So, after all that “Blah, blah, blah” (as my daughter would say), here’s the poem, followed by an actual story which lived out these lines in the trenches of WWI France.

MATES 

Duncan Harold Butler 1906-1987

I’ve traveled down some dusty roads, both crooked tracks and straight,
and I have learnt life’s noblest creed summed up in one word, “Mate”.
I’m thinkin’ back across the years, a thing I do of late
and these words stick between me ears “You gotta have a mate.”

Someone who’ll take you as you are regardless of your state
and stand as firm as Ayers Rock because he is your mate.
Me mind goes back to ’43 to slavery and hate
when man’s one chance to stay alive depended on his mate.

With bamboo for a billy-can and bamboo for a plate,
A bamboo paradise for bugs was bed for me and mate.
You’d slip and slither through the mud and curse your rotten fate
But then you’d hear a quiet word – “Don’t drop your bundle, mate.”

And though it’s all so long ago this truth I have to state,
A man don’t know what lonely means ’til he has lost his mate.
If there’s a life that follers this, if there’s a Golden Gate,
The welcome that I wanna hear is just “Goodonya mate”.

And so to all who ask us why we keep these special dates,
Like ANZAC Day, I tell ’em “Why? We’re thinkin’ of our mates.”
And when I’ve left the driver’s seat and ‘anded in me plates
I’ll tell Ol’ Peter at the door “I’ve come to join me mates.”

…..

From your soldier boy

Embroidered French Card.

As I mentioned, I wanted to share a story which exemplified the incredible bonds of mateship outlined in this poem. I stumbled across this story during my WWI research.

Coincidentally, two newspaper men crossed each other’s paths in training camp at Kiama (South of Sydney) before they left for the front. They were George Washington Brownhill journalist and proprietor of the Forbes Advocate, and Sergeant Ray Colwell, a journalist with the Daily Telegraph. While in training in the UK, Brownhill sustained a football injury to his leg, which effectively put him out of action. However, fortunately, he saw just enough service to write a series of informative articles and letters home. Indeed, in his case, the pen was certainly mightier than the sword and I am most grateful for that. Unfortunately Sergeant Ray Colwell, was killed in action on the 7th June, 1917 at Messines. Although he wasn’t with him at the time, George Brownhill wrote a glowing letter outlining their friendship to Ray’s parents:

LATE SERGT. RAY COLWELL

The following letter has been received by Chaplain Colwell from Sergeant-Major Brownhill, who was Sergeant Ray Colwell’s great friend from the time he entered camp at Kiama until his death at the front: — What would it be possible for me to write in any way to lessen your sorrow?

However, it may be a comfort to you to hear from me, who was your dear son’s constant companion and friend for almost the whole of the time that he was in the uniform of his King and country.

Something in me claimed him as a chum the first time I saw him at Kiama, and it pleases me to think that he responded. I liked and admired him, and thought of him almost as a brother. He was one of the whitest, straightest, and sweetest natured men I have ever known, or expect ever to know, and possessed many intellectual qualities that made his friendship a privilege. I never heard him express a wrong sentiment, and believe that he never harboured one.’ He was kind and thoughtful to a degree in his dealings with his fellow-men and soldiers, and every member of the reinforcements of which he and I were members loved and admired him.

To me personally he was tender when he might have been harsh, thoughtful and patient when he might have been any thing else, and always a clean-thinking, clean-living, honest fellow, whose companionship I delighted in.

Ray left England for France a little earlier than I did, but I joined up with him at Bapaume, got apportioned to the same section and tent, and together, side by side, we marched into our battalion’s share in the great engagements at Bullecourt. There we were in the trenches for two days and the best part of three nights, during which time we were subjected to heavy enemy shelling, and the worst elements of snow and rain. We shared the same dug-out, helped one another in our work, kept together for protection against the cold, and exchanged confidences in the long watches of the night. When our platoon was relieved I was in a rather broken-down condition, and it was largely by Ray’s help that I got away from the danger zone.  The enemy seemed to guess our movements, and poured in a shower of shells as we crept away into the darkness. That was the time of all times when a man might have thought of himself first.

Ray, being strong and well, could have been one of the first out of the shell area, but his place was in the rear, helping his almost helpless friend, and cheering me on with words and actions of encouragement. He was a man all through the episode, and I will never forget how good he was to me, and how self-sacrificing.

Afterwards I was in hospital for a fortnight but then rejoined the battalion, and our comradeship was resumed in all its warmth, save that while he strong and buoyant, was out on parade each day, I remained on the sick list and in quarters. When the battalion was moved up to ‘the region of Messines I was sent back to hospital, and finally reached Le Havre; where a Medical Board declared me unfit for further active service, and I am now engaged in clerical work in our base depot office. It was thus that the ties of our mateship were severed, and thus that I was not with Ray at Messines.

Will it be any consolation to you to know that the end was instantaneous, and the agony of a lingering death was spared him? He died from wounds in the head, and he died as a soldier and a man, as brave, as kindly, and as good a fellow as ever wore the uniform’ of his country. And if he had had time for one last thought, it would have centred around the father and mother, his brothers and sisters, who were the all in all of his love and affection. An arm of aid to the weak, A friendly hand to the friendless; Kind words — So short to speak, But whose echo is endless. The world is wide— these things are so small — They may be nothing, but they are all.  Methodist (Sydney, NSW : 1892 – 1954), Saturday 29 September 1917, page 7

Surely, there’s little doubt that everyone would love to have a friend like Ray!

Lest we forget!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

The Silence After the Storm…Friday Fictioneers.

The police found Mandi McDonald’s Commodore Stationwagon 500 metres downstream. She and the two children aged eight and six were deceased. The storm had hit Toowoomba with such fury. Mandi had been driving the kids home from school, and the car was swept away in the surging currents. Her husband was distraught. Lost all his family in an instant. No one knew how he was going to get through it. Or, even if he could. They all came to the funeral, and didn’t mean to stay away.  They just couldn’t find the words and didn’t know what to say.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Banjo Paterson…Letters to Dead Poets #atozchallenge.

G’day Banjo,

Of course, I couldn’t possibly write my series of Letters to Dead Poets without including you.  Walzing Matilda has long been Australia’s unofficial national anthem and The Man From Snowy River is an iconic Australian poem illustrating values of mateship and community which have made this nation strong.

Banjo_Patterson

Back when  was 10 years old in primary school, we all strived to remember the lines of: The Man From Snowy River, which has since been made into a film. I remember going over and over those lines almost hearing the sound of pounding hoofs in the metre:

There was movement at the station,

for the word had passed around

That the colt from old Regret had got away

And had joined the wild bush horses –

he was worth a thousand pound,

So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.

All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far

Had mustered at the homestead overnight,

For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,

And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,

The old man with his hair as white as snow;

But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up –

He would go wherever horse and man could go.

And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,

No better horseman ever held the reins,

For never horse could throw him while the saddle-girths would stand –

He learned to ride while droving on the plains.

That was as far as all my memorising ended up…the end of verse 2.

So, after that rather lengthy introduction, I suppose I should get on to the reason for my letter. Why am I bothering to contact you from the 21st Century, when you’ve been resting in peace for so long?

Well, I have one simple question:

What does it mean to be a man?

After all, for so many years the Man from Snowy River was consciously or unconsciously held up as the ideal Aussie bloke…especially after the movie was released. With his rugged, bushman’s physique, he was Australia’s answer to the American cowboy.While this image wasn’t exactly accurate with most of our population living in urban areas, it was consciously or unconsciously reinforced by strength of the Australian Lighthorse units during World War I.

Somewhere a long the way, the legend was born.

Man-From-Snowy-River-aus-dvd

Since you created this iconic Aussie bloke, that’s why I asked you what it means to  be a man. Not for me but for my son. I know things have changed quite significantly but surely some of the fundamentals are still the same? I’m hoping for some man-to-man advice please. Well, make that man-to-man-via-his-Mum advice.

As I mentioned in my first letter to AA Milne, our son recently turned 12 and started high school. While this is hard enough, he is also about to enter the swirling vortex of pubescence. While I could well have asked Milne the same question, I forgot.

So, what are your thoughts? What does it mean to be a man beyond time and place? Is there something at the core? Or, are there so many themes and variations, that there are no underlying truths? No “Essence of Man” which I could simply put in a bottle and sell?

I wonder…

Yet, as much as I’m getting into this whole writing letters to dead poets idea, I do have my concerns. Thinking about how much things have changed, your advice could well be out of date. Your Man from Snowy River would be stonkered by how much things have changed. He wouldn’t even know what a computer was, let alone how to send an email or connect up with people all around the world via the Internet. He might know how to ride a horse but what good is that, trying to get through the main streets of Sydney now? He’d end up underneath a bus. That is, if a bicycle courier didn’t get him first.

Yet, at the same time, there must be qualities, characteristics, actions which transcend time and are part of the human condition and that’s what I’m searching for.

While I was thinking about all of this, I suddenly realised how little I know about you. You are such a household name throughout Australia and yet I barely know anything about you at all. You’re a bit like that person who’s always been living just down the road that you keep seeing yet, you don’t really know. You just think you do. So, I really should have done my research before we engaged in such lengthy conversation. I know nothing about you the man. You’re a name without a face lost in the misty passages of time.

Isn’t that the same with most writers, poets, artists? We admire their work without knowing the first thing about them. Without finding out whether they’re an inspiration after all?

Perhaps, we need to pick our role models more carefully.

Anyway, the sun has now well and truly set on what was an exceptionally warm Autumn day and I need to return to the land of the living.

I don’t know if there is any way you could possibly reach me at all but I’d love to hear from you!

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

 Notes

Banjo Paterson was born 17 February 1864 at “Narrambla”, near Orange,
New South Wales, Australia and died of a heart attack on 5 February 1941 (aged 76)
Sydney, Australia.

He is best known for his quintessential poems: The Man From Snowy River, Waltzing Matilda and Clancy off the Overflow which you can read Here.

 

Letters to Dead Poets for the A-Z Challenge So Far:

Inspired By A Living Poet: Flying With A Living Poet.

Letter from A Dead Poet: Don’t Sit By My Grave and Weep!

A- Letter to AA Milne