~ 1 ~
I wandered thru a country town ‘cos I had time to spare, And went into an antique shop to see what was in there. Old Bikes and pumps and kero lamps, but hidden by it all, A photo of a soldier boy – an Anzac on the Wall. “The Anzac have a name?” I asked. The old man answered “No… The ones who could have told me mate have passed on long ago. The old man kept on talking and, according to his tale, The photo was unwanted junk bought from a clearance sale.
“I asked around,” the old man said, “but no one knows his face, He’s been on that wall twenty years, deserves a better place. For someone must have loved him so, it seems a shame somehow.” I nodded in agreement and then said, “I’ll take him now.” My nameless digger’s photo, well it was a sorry sight A cracked glass pane and a broken frame – I had to make it right To prise the photo from its frame I took care just in case, “Cause only sticky paper held the cardboard back in place.
I peeled away the faded screed and much to my surprise, Two letters and a telegram appeared before my eyes The first reveals my Anzac’s name, and regiment of course John Matthew Francis Clancy of Australia’s own Light Horse. This letter written from the front, my interest now was keen This note was dated August seventh 1917 “Dear Mum, I’m at Khalasa Springs not far from the Red Sea They say it’s in the Bible – looks like Billabong to me. “My Kathy wrote I’m in her prayers she’s still my bride to be I just can’t wait to see you both you’re all the world to me And Mum you’ll soon meet Bluey, last month they shipped him out I told him to call on you when he’s up and about.”
~ 2 ~
That bluey is a larrikin, and we all thought it funny He lobbed a Turkish hand grenade into the CO’s dunny. I told you how he dragged me wounded in from no man’s land He stopped the bleeding closed the wound with only his bare hand.” “Then he copped it at the front from some stray shrapnel blast It was my turn to drag him in and I thought he wouldn’t last He woke up in hospital, and nearly lost his mind Cause out there on the battlefield he’d left one leg behind.”
“He’s been in a bad way mum, he knows he’ll ride no more Like me he loves a horse’s back he was a champ before. So Please Mum can you take him in, he’s been like my brother Raised in a Queensland orphanage he’ s never known a mother.” But Struth, I miss Australia mum, and in my mind each day I am a mountain cattleman on high plains far away I’m mustering white-faced Herefords, with no camel’s hump in sight And I waltz my Matilda by a campfire every night
I wonder who rides Billy, I heard the pub burnt down I’ll always love you and please say hooroo to all in town, The second letter I could see was in a lady’s hand An answer to her soldier son there in a foreign land Her copperplate was perfect, the pages neat and clean It bore the date November 3rd 1917. “’Twas hard enough to lose your Dad, without you at the war I’d hoped you would be home by now – each day I miss you more”
“Your Cathy calls around a lot since you have been away To share with me her hopes and dreams of your wedding day And Bluey has arrived – and what a godsend he has been We talked and laughed for days about the things you’ve done and seen” He really is a comfort, and works hard around the farm, I read the same hope in his eyes that you won’t come to harm. McConnell’s kids rode Billy, but suddenly that changed We had a violent lightning storm, and it was really strange.”
~ 3 ~
“Last Wednesday just on midnight, not a single cloud in sight It raged for several minutes, it gave us all a fright It really spooked your Billy – and he screamed and bucked and reared And then he then he rushed the sliprail fence, which by a foot he cleared” They brought him back next afternoon, but something’s changed I fear It’s like the day you brought him home, for no one can get near Remember when you caught him with his black and flowing mane? Now Horse breakers fear the beast that only you can tame,”
“That’s why we need you home son” – then the flow of ink went dry- This letter was unfinished, and I couldn’t work out why. Until I started reading the letter number three A yellow telegram delivered news of tragedy Her son killed in action – oh – what pain that must have been The Same date as her letter – 3rd November 17 This note she never sent to John, became then one of three She sealed behind the photo’s face – the face she longed to see.
And John’s home town’s old timers – children when he went to war Would say no greater cattleman had left the town before. They knew his widowed mother well – and with respect did tell How when she lost her only boy she lost her mind as well. She could not face the awful truth, to strangers she would speak “My Johnny’s at the war you know, he’s coming home next week.”
They all remembered Bluey he stayed on to the end A younger man with wooden leg became her closest friend And he would go and find her when she wandered old and weak And always softly say “yes dear – John will be home next week.” Then when she died Bluey moved on, to Queensland some did say I tried to find out where he went, but don’t know to this day. And Kathy never wed – a lonely spinster some found odd She wouldn’t set foot in a church – she’d turned her back on God
~ 4 ~
John’s mother left no will I learned on my detective trail This explains my photo’s journey that clearance sale So I continued digging cause I wanted to know more I found John’s name with thousands in the records of the war His last ride proved his courage – a ride you will acclaim The Light Horse Charge at Beersheba of everlasting fame That last day in October back in 1917 At 4pm our brave boys fell-that sad fact I did glean That’s when John’s life was sacrificed the record’s crystal clear But 4pm in Beersheba is midnight over here…….
So as John’s gallant spirit rose to cross the great divide
Were lightning bolts back home a signal from the other side?
Is that why Billy bolted and went racing as in pain? Because he’d never feel his master on his back again? Was it just coincidental? same time same day same date? Some proof of numerology, or just a quirk of fate? I think it’s more than that you know as I’ve heard wiser men, Acknowledge there are many things that go beyond our ken
Where craggy peaks guard secrets ‘neath dark skies torn asunder Where hoof beats are companions to the rolling waves of thunder Where lightning cracks like 303’s and ricochets again Where howling moaning gusts of wind sound just like dying men Some Mountain cattlemen have sworn on lonely alpine track They’ve glimpsed a huge black stallion – a Light Horseman on his back.
Sure Sceptics say it’s swirling clouds just forming apparitions Oh no, my friend you can’t dismiss all this as superstition The desert of Beersheba – or windswept Aussie range John Clancy rides forever there – Now I don’t find that strange. Now some gaze at this photo, and they often question me And I tell them a small white lie, and say he’s family. “You must be proud of him.” they say – I tell them, one and all, That’s why he takes the pride of place – my Anzac on the Wall.
©Copyright circa 2005 by Jim Brown
Note: Today is the 99th anniversary of when Australia and New Zealand commemorate their fallen military.
It is not done to glorify war, but to remind us yet again how lucky and blessed we are to have (mainly) young people prepared to sacrifice their lives in the belief of keeping their homelands safe from tyranny.