I wrote this poem after attending the ANZAC Day service at Bigges Camp park in Grandchester, in 2012. I thought about putting it up last year and forgot. So I’m posting it today in remembrance of fellow Cavalrymen who I served with in Vietnam, Ted ‘The Beast’ Beasley, Roland ‘Woody’ Wood and last but by no means least Brian ‘Snowy’ Marshall. RIP.
THE SHADOW MEN
The living – silent stand in groups, throughout the Bigges Camp Park,
Grey clouds hide the rising sun, the trees stand tall and stark.
Kookaburras try to laugh and settle for a cackle,
Magpies land on branches low, then they begin to settle.
The air is cool, the service starts and in one voice we sing,
An anthem now out-dated but for them it was to a king.
There are speeches, poems and messages that tell us why we’re here,
For we come to remember the fallen, and those that we held dear.
The bugle notes have faded, a minutes silence now,
And I see the shadows moving, from ‘neath my lowered brow.
They move out from a faraway place, where fallen soldiers go,
Their movements stiff, unwieldy, their booted feet move slow.
Standing together in ragged ranks, silently they wait
and shed their tears while the Ode is read, for they too have lost a mate.
Reveille sounds and heads held high they stare at the monument,
for the flowers there are a wreath of prayers, waiting to be sent.
While the honour roll is read, from names engraved in stone,
the shadow men step forward, knowing that they’ve come home.
They stare at faces in the crowd, at strangers they don’t know.
A voice echoes from the shadows, ‘C’mon Mates, it’s time to go.’
‘Don’t worry, they’ll still be here for many years to come,
for even we’ll remember them at the setting of the sun.’
I spied the owner of this voice, sitting on a ragged, Waler horse,
a shadow man had come to life, saw me and changed his course.
He wore a battered, felt slouch hat, with a faded emu plume,
and whistled along to Abide With Me, just slightly out of tune.
Bringing his mount to a weary stop – he held the reins with a calloused hand.
I looked closely at his tunic, torn and dusted with desert sand.
He sat patiently, until the final prayer was read,
turned his mount and faced the weary dead.
We sang a hymn from ages past, the shadow men joined in
and the kookaburras nesting high – added to the din.
The ghostly ranks that had amassed began to move away,
I called out to the horseman, ‘A moment, will you stay?
And tell me if you can, the place – where do you go?
So that when my days are over, then I will surely know.’
He reined in his horse and stared at me,
‘You were a cavalryman I see,
Then you will know the place my friend
they’re the open places – the plains that never end.’
Touching a spur to his horse’s flanks,
he raised his hat, I nodded thanks.
Then all the shadow men were gone,
and the ANZAC legend still lives on.
*Note* For my overseas readers, everything you need to know about ANZAC DAY can be found via this link. I came out of hiding today for this and I’ll be back Monday.