Not a celebration.
Maybe a commemoration.
From my perspective, honouring all those on all sides who fought and died in such a futile conflict; equally those who died or who were unalterably damaged by that stupid stupid war.
The war to end all wars.
To my shame, I admit I knew nothing about the Australian poet-soldier, who was one of the Gallipoli contingent, Leon Gellert, until this evening.
(Image Credit: Wikipedia)
Gellert is generally regarded as Australia’s finest war poet – ‘the Rupert Brooke of the Australian Imperial Force’. according to his biographer (and a former Herald colleague), Gavin Souter. Leon Maxwell Gellert, born in Adelaide in May 1892, was the grandson of a schoolmaster who had emigrated from Hungary.
He enlisted in the AIF on August 22, 1914, eighteen days after Britain had declared war on Germany. For seven weeks his battalion was kept in reserve on its troop ship before being ordered to land at Ari Burnu beach at dawn on April 25.
Gellert survived nine weeks on Gallipoli before coming down with dysentery. Evacuated to Malta, he contracted typhoid and was sent to England to convalesce. His reputation was made when his collection of fifty-five poems – Songs of a Campaign including Before Action, The Return, War!, The Death and The Attack at Dawn – was published.
After editing the prestigious Art in Australia magazine, Gellert moved to Sydney and joined The Sydney Morning Herald in 1942, initially as magazine editor, then as literary editor.
Here are two of his poems. By way of introduction, however:
These poems . . . were written by 23-year-old Australian soldier-poet Leon Gellert, from Adelaide, a combatant at Gallipoli, to mark the evacuation of the peninsula in 1915.
Nine decades after Gellert penned those lines, his poem The Last to Leave was chosen as the emotional centrepiece of the unveiling ceremony of the Australian War Memorial on 11 November 2003 in front the Queen.
The Jester in the Trench
‘That just reminds me of a yarn,’ he said;
And everybody turned to hear his tale.
He had a thousand yarns inside his head.
They waited for him, ready with their mirth
And creeping smiles, — then suddenly turned pale,
Grew still, and gazed upon the earth.
They heard no tale. No further word was said.
And with his untold fun,
Half leaning on his gun,
They left him — dead.
The Last to Leave
The guns were silent, and the silent hills
had bowed their grasses to a gentle breeze
I gazed upon the vales and on the rills,
And whispered, “What of these?’ and “What of these?
These long forgotten dead with sunken graves,
Some crossless, with unwritten memories
Their only mourners are the moaning waves,
Their only minstrels are the singing trees
And thus I mused and sorrowed wistfully
I watched the place where they had scaled the height,
The height whereon they bled so bitterly
Throughout each day and through each blistered night
I sat there long, and listened – all things listened too
I heard the epics of a thousand trees,
A thousand waves I heard; and then I knew
The waves were very old, the trees were wise:
The dead would be remembered evermore-
The valiant dead that gazed upon the skies,
And slept in great battalions by the shore.