Anzac Centenary Reflections Competition Winning Entries
Official First World War Historian C.E.W. Bean once wrote that the Spirit of Anzac “stood and still stands for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance that will never own defeat”
The Anzac Centenary Reflections Competition called for entries that embodied Bean’s theory and reflected on the Anzac themes of compassion, courage, duty, integrity, mateship, resilience, teamwork and toughness.
Minor prizes were awarded in the areas of Photography, Poetry and Short Story writing. The major prize of a trip to Canberra to visit the Australian War Memorial was awarded to the overall winner.
The winning entries can be seen below:
Winning entry by Mr James Fitzroy. James won the minor prize for the Photography category and the overall major prize. His photograph “The Horsemen” is a tribute to the South Australian Horsemen who epitomised the mateship and bond between not only soldiers but also that of the Trooper and his horse.
Winning entry by Mrs Margot Ogilvie. “Silence” is a story about a WW1 veteran who struggles with the minute’s silence at the ANZAC Dawn Service each year, because it takes him back to the silences he experienced during the war. Actually, Arthur struggles with any silence. Silence reminds him of those moments when the shooting stopped at night, before the moaning of the wounded started up. And, even worse, the moment when the groaning stopped. Silence consumes Arthur with fear and death and horror. But he endures it in memory of his mates. And in the silence, he finds unexpected hope.
I try to avoid silence. I go out of my way to do so. I’ve slept with the radio on these past fifty years, much to my Margie’s disgruntlement. Until I reminded her how badly I sleep in silence.
She argued more than once that I should fill the gaps with conversation, then she’d laugh at her own twisted humour. She knew me better than anyone. She knew I wasn’t one to say much. I miss her now. I hope she knew how much I loved her, how much her sticking by me meant. I tried to show her, even if I couldn’t say the words. She knew. Surely.
About the only time I let silence catch up with me is April 25th each year. They say war is about sacrifice. Well, to me, remembering World War 1 in silence is a sacrifice. Because the silence of today echoes with the unavoidable, horrific silence of all those years ago. Let me try to explain . . .
I grew up the middle lad of five. We worked a spread of Murray Mallee land just out of Pinnaroo. Until the war, Dad always said he was glad he had sons, because it took all of us working hard to keep the place running. When war came, he was proud to manage without my two older brothers, so they could go and fight for freedom.
I was only seventeen, too young to fight. I appreciated silence back then, riding out across the hushed plains, checking sheep and dreaming of my own spread, and settling down with Margie.
As soon as I was eighteen, Dad signed the papers and I was off. Me and my two best mates, Paddy O’Leary and Bobby Bailey, heading off to war to become men. The silence of the farm seemed a long way away with calls of ‘best wishes’ bouncing around the train station from the gathered townsfolk. Mums and girlfriends gathered together, sobbing quietly, helping one another be brave. My Margie wore a courageous smile. She’d promised to wait for me, which didn’t make it any easier to leave her.
Although Broadmeadow was probably closer, we took the train to Adelaide. There was nothing quiet about our new home, Morphettville Camp, with excited soldiers getting to know each other and learning the craft of war. Street parades were even noisier, with rowdy soldiers in brand-new uniforms, full of expectation, cheered on by crowds full of national pride.
Months later at Outer Harbor, there was more cheering from the crowd. Already, we were heroes, just for going. They’d read the papers, heard the stories, knew war was no party. You could see it in the shadow behind their patriotic eyes. They wondered how many of us they’d never see again. I was glad my family hadn’t made the trip from Pinnaroo. Without their sad eyes and forced smiles, I could cling to my sense of duty and pretend I was off on the biggest adventure of my life. Off with old mates and new ones, to explore the world on a cruise that would take me places I’d never even heard of.
When the crowd disappeared, the chaplain gathered us all on deck to pray a blessing over our journey. He prayed for victory. He prayed for courage. He prayed for our safe return. After he said ‘Amen,’ there was silence, and the seed of hatred for it was planted deep in my soul. The hubbub of the crowd that had kept our courage buoyant, kept our sense of duty and integrity strong beneath us disappeared, and we sank into the silence of fear. Fear of all the unknowns before us. Fear that this might be the last time we saw Australia. Fear our mates might know we were afraid. This wouldn’t do. I cleared my throat and started on the Lord’s Prayer, more to break the silence than anything.
There is no way I can tell you the horror that is war. It is unspeakable. You had to be there, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Not even Eugene Michaels, the bully of fourth grade who’d conned my dad into letting him have the pick of our kelpie’s litter, only to hang the helpless puppy from a rafter in the shed. And hold me down to watch. I hated him. His vicious streak might have made him a great soldier, but he wasn’t in this battle. He had something wrong with his eyes and couldn’t come. The whole town had felt sorry for him. He was doubly sorry for himself, having to miss the adventure. None of us knew the truth.
I hated silence more each time I heard it, every night spent in muddy trenches all over France. Not so much for the silence, but for the noises that surrounded it. As night fell, the unthinkable sounds of battle hushed. I hated the noise of war. The explosions. The gun fire. The yelling from our troops and theirs.
Then with darkness came the quiet. And the cold. That first night, I sighed with relief. No more shooting. No more killing. No more war until the new light of tomorrow. It was like every man alive held his soundless breath. But then the cacophony of horror began. The groaning, the wailing of our wounded troops and theirs. The painfilled cries of ‘stretcher bearer’ springing up from no-man’s land. The shuffle of soldiers heading out to retrieve their fallen mates. The scurry of rats, heading out to retrieve their dinner.
Even worse, the second silence of the night, when the moaning stopped and Paddy wasn’t beside me. I’d lost track of my best mate, hadn’t seen him fall. So many were still out there in the night, surrounded by the silence of death. Gone forever for the glory of war.
Months after Paddy was gone, it was my turn to lie silent between our trenches and theirs, surrounded by the lifeless, soundless bodies of dozens from my company. The pain and fire coming from my leg pinned me to the ground. I thought of calling for a stretcher-bearer, but the words just wouldn’t come. The darkness closed over me from within, numbing the pain. Was this the silent darkness of death? My last thought . . . of my sweet Margie.
But I wasn’t done with life just yet, it seemed. And silence was nowhere to be found in the hospital, kept away by moans of pain from tough Aussie diggers, screams from soldiers wild with demons fresh from battle, the hum of nurses full of compassion, the sobs of men broken in body and spirit. And I joined the orchestra of agony when they told me I’d left my leg in the mud of the Somme.
For weeks, I wished I’d followed Paddy to the great Beyond. Death would have been better than this. This agony, this loss, this disability. They told me I was lucky to be alive, lucky to be going home. I should have been more grateful, I suppose. But lying in the hospital at night, far from my mates who fought on, far from Paddy’s lonely grave, far from my Margie, the silence of deep sadness engulfed me and took me again to the front.
Others had nightmares too, I guessed by the sudden screams punctuating the night. Nurses soothed brows, offered pain relief with sips of water, reread letters from home, then slipped away softly to avoid disturbing our hard-earned, short-lived peace.
The trip home was nothing like the journey off to war. We’d been young, with barely a thought for what we faced, brave enough to go regardless, into unknown danger. We did it out of duty for our country, and for freedom. We’d grown up overseas, men together against all odds, full of courage and integrity, with a touch of Aussie larrikin thrown in to keep us humble. Coming home, we were broken. We’d never be the same. We’d shared something no-one else could ever comprehend. That would bind us together.
As Outer Harbor came into view, the chaplain gathered us all on deck to pray. He’d been with us all the way. He understood. Because he prayed for patience and compassion from and for our families. He prayed for victory over our demons. He prayed for courage. After he said ‘Amen,’ there was silence and the seed of hatred for it grew deeper in my soul. We’d left so many behind, some alive and fighting on with courage and resilience, others buried in the frozen soil. It was those faces that loomed before me in the silence, Paddy, Bobby and the rest. We stood in fear-filled silence, afraid of all the unknowns before us. Afraid they’d pity our brokenness. Afraid of not knowing how life worked anymore, with us so altered by the battle. This wouldn’t do. I cleared my throat and started singing Keep the Home Fires Burning, more to break the silence than anything.
I didn’t expect a welcome as they wheeled me down the plank. It was too far to come from Pinnaroo. My composure was fragile just being on Aussie soil again, and then I saw them – Dad and Mum and precious Margie. If I wasn’t sitting down, I would have crumpled. So much for being a tough returning soldier, brought down by three loved ones from home. Happy sounds engulfed us, shouts of recognition, cries of reunion and squeals of joy. Despite the rowdy chatter, I could see the silence in my Margie’s face. It filled her eyes and spilled over down her cheeks. She knelt beside my wheelchair.
‘Thanks for coming all this way,’ I muttered.
‘Same to you,’ she chuckled softly, ‘you’ve come a long way more than me.’
All the way home in the train, they told farm stories, town stories, even district stories, filling in the pieces of what used to be my life. But none of it mattered.
Slowly, ever so slowly, I settled back into post-war life. I settled for life without a leg. I settled for life without Paddy or Bobby. I settled for sleepless, haunted nights. It was by no means all bad, but there were times when it took all the courage and resilience I’d acquired at the front to face another day.
Like the day I sat my Margie down and told her I wouldn’t hold her to her promise. She laughed, until I didn’t, then she up and slapped me, right across the face. She slapped a hero in a wheelchair. Still, I turned and wheeled away. She chased me down.
‘You left more than your leg on the battlefront, Arthur Cooke. You left your senses there as well, if you think a little thing like a wheelchair is going to keep me from marrying you.’
We hollered back and forth for a while, both as stubborn as each other. Then we talked more calmly. Soon after, we were married.
. . . Between my Margie and our children, and then our grandchildren, I didn’t have to face the silence again. And of course, there was the all-night radio. But every ANZAC Day, I attend the Pinnaroo Dawn Service, in remembrance of my fallen mates. I brace myself, and endure the minute’s silence in their honour. Their faces still loom in the silence, like it was yesterday we headed off on that gruesome adventure. In the silence I remember the suffering, the horror, the death. I remember the heroes, the duty, the courage. I remember my mates, Paddy and Bobby and the rest.
I feel the tension rising within me as the silence lingers longer. Then, just before the bugle breaks it, I hear the song of morning birds. I hear a baby cry, a restless child asking, ‘How much longer?’
I hear the sounds of life. In commemoration and reflection, there is life. That’s what we fought for.
It was worth it.
The judges were unable to separate these two entries, as a result two minor prizes were awarded for the poetry section of the competition.
Winning entry by Miss Grace Jobson. “Passed and Past” follows the encounters of a young soldier in his prime, as an old digger and takes us on a journey recording his love and mateships throughout the war.
PASSED AND PAST
I may be slow don’t beep me
With a little respect, I want you to treat me
Don’t whinge and whine its now your time
To do your country proud.
Driving down these barren roads
Thinking of my fallen foes
No matter age, race, weight or size
It is always a gift that I can open my eyes
Throughout the war I lost many mates
All of them would become the nation’s greats,
Willie, Nelson, Alf and Dan,
Died for their country, doing all that they can.
I had known Nelson since he was eight,
I had known him until he was late,
Forever knowing he had my back,
He sprawled his body out over the track.
Before the war, I was a different bloke,
Me and Willie, ain’t a day we never spoke.
We were the town’s hooligans,
Getting up to all kinds of shenanigans
You were the most reliable of so few
Our mateship so true,
Sacrificing yourself, taking a bullet,
For the sake of our friendship; me and you.
Since the Battle of Lone Pine,
We have seen the passing of lost time,
World leaders have never learnt
That our people are grown to be fodder, not burnt.
We were told this was all an adventure,
That it would all be good fun,
As soon as we made that pledge,
Our slow trek to death had begun
Fortunately for me, this was not true,
Unlike my best mate Willie who would never again see his Prue,
Speaking to my grandson, it’s hard for him to understand,
Our nation’s best heroes, died protecting our land.
“Grandpa, you’re my hero! Tell me ‘bout the war”
He giggles and smiles like as if he is sure,
I feel somehow ashamed and tell him not to be silly,
Little did he know he was describing my mate Willie.
I am not a hero,
I didn’t give all I could
The war still did change me,
If I was given the opportunity again,
I can’t lie and say I would.
These honorary medals pinned to my chest,
Represent our nation’s very best,
I wear these out of pride and respect,
The grieving process is an aftereffect.
Poppies lining a sea of red,
On November 11th, we remember the dead,
The Last Post plays in memory of them,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
Remembrance Day comes on the same day every year,
Does it bring us together out of sadness or fear?
I treat every day as it is my last,
Never not thinking about the Passed and Past.
Winning entry by Mr Alan Hughes, ‘Christmas 1915’ is a poem about a soldier in the trenches at Anzac Cove, reflecting on home before going over the top.
“Bloody Pommy generals,” he cursed into the night.
For they were going up and over at early mornings light.
The Turks were primed and waiting, just a little up the hill.
The choice he had was simple, to be killed, or to kill.
The night was clear and starlit, but he found it hard to breathe.
He thought, this is a lousy way to spend a Christmas Eve.
With anger, hate and conflict instead of peace and love.
He lay back on his groundsheet and watched the stars above.
But he didn’t think of wise men, or of mangers, or of birth,
not of Mary, nor of Joseph, for there was no peace on earth.
Instead, he thought of carols, and presents ‘round the tree.
Of Mum and Dad and Sis and Bubs, at home, all safe and free
For these were things of Christmas, familiar things he knew.
Then a chill ran through his body as the captain’s whistle blew.
Thoughts of home and Christmas, he gave up with a wrench,
Picked up his gun and bayonet, and climbed out of the trench.
Veterans SA would like to thank everyone who submitted entries and congratulate the winners from each category.