Remembering and giving thanks

The bugle is sounded; it’s playing The Last Post.
The diggers spring to attention when they hear that mournful note.
They have two minutes silence.
You don’t hear a sound.
That’s in respect for the soldier in the ground.

The diggers wear a flower, the poppy is red
They throw it in the grave when a soldier he is dead.

Joe McSweeny – Soldier

 

War 1914

What a mug I have been
fighting in the war for the Queen
trying to dodge the enemy lead
jumping over the stinking dead.
Someone said you got good pay;
the mighty sum of four bob a day.

You chase the enemy day and night
strike me lucky, they give you a fright.
There are bursting shells of every type,
this goes on all the night.
I feel so crook and half fed,
I’d give a quid for a night in bed.
My legs are aching, my feet are sore
I have a toothache and a very sore jaw.

The Sergeant said, “In you go.”
The trenches is cold and covered in snow.
You shake and shiver to early morn
Out you hop, over the top, at the break of dawn.
Now the big guns boom and bark
they send big shells out in the dark.

Now the Diggers brave and true,
they hop over the top, same as you.
They fight the enemy, they were brave,
the hungry Digger without a shave.
Now they laugh and give a cheer
we would give a quid for an Aussie beer.

The soldier’s life it’s like being in hell
They take him out and give him a spell
They march him round and he is feeling fine
Seven days later, he is back in the line.

The Aussie boys are fighting machines,
They proved that by beating the enemy at the city of Messines,
In the trenches in Belgium and on the fields to the south
They Howitzer the enemy and bayoneted them out.

Now the war is over you can hear people say
‘Thanks to the Diggers, we will keep it that way’.

The bloke that wrote this was a backwoods kid
Everybody laughed at whatever he did.
Now he is old, his hair is grey
and if he was writing for money he would starve the next day.

Now you have heard my prattle and chatter,
No wonder I am as mad as a hatter.

Joe McSweeny

The bloke who wrote this was my great-grandfather.  A quiet and gentle man when I knew him.  He wrote a few ‘poems’ about his time in the war and while there are only several pages of notes and few words the essence, between the larrikin humour and the now political incorrectness, reveals a horror I hope never to face.

Lest we forget.

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Stories of yesteryear

Joe McSweeney

What a mug a man be
to go fighting in the war over the sea
Half starved, the pay was low
a man was mad to even go.  

Joseph McSweeny

There is an exhibition coming to town – The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience. It sounds like a big event. It is a free exhibition that showcases the story of Australia’s involvement in the First World War. From what I’ve read, there will be a good many stories  as well as photos of Australians who served our country during the war. It’s timely and synchronistic, for me, that this event should be coming to my city.

I have been pouring over some writings and photographs of my great-grandfather, Joe’s recently.  He was a character.  I wish I had known him better, though I am getting a sense of him through his musings. I met him several times when he was old and sick and in no mood for silly noisy little girls. My grandmother and my father have both shared stories of him that have intrigued and me. I knew he was an artist and sign writer. I knew too that he had fought in the first world war. My great-grandfather captured some of his life in poetry. Some of it is long and prose like, some short and snappy, some of it is good, a lot is not.  However, I have learnt much about his life through these handwritten notes.  I have discovered he was a swagman and wandered out west looking for work on various stations, orchards and farms when times were tough. He worked in shearing sheds and in a butcher shop; anything to make a quid.

His writing paints a picture of what it was like to be a soldier in the first world war. He doesn’t go into depth or detail. In fact, he seems to skirt around the edges of the atrocities of war. Often I find the greatest messages lay in the gaps and silences. There are many postcards he collected while abroad and a few he sent home to his wife, my great-grandmother and his daughter, my Nana.  These were short notes but very touching. Among his effects are a pile of vintage postcards with beautifully painted images of women clad in their undergarments. Oh, they are very tame by today’s standards but I imagine they were outrageously risqué in some circles way back when. They are exquisite reminders of a time long ago. A time not forgotten. A time of heroes and ordinary men and women who left these shores not knowing what horrors awaited them. A time when these same ordinary men and women, the lucky ones, returned home to carve out lives for themselves when their whole view of the world and life had been irrevocably changed.

I would dearly love to share some of Joe’s writing about the war with you though I realise now, so many years after it was written, that much of it is politically incorrect and may offend some readers. His poems were written in a different time, when feelings about the enemy were raw. Some things, I guess, are best kept private. Below I have included a short ode he wrote, it gives you an idea of the larrikin he was.

Have you heard the story about sign writer Joe?
He fell on the floor with a heavy sound
It took some time to bring him round.

The butcher rubbed his ribs with greasy hand
and sat him in a chair, he could not stand.
The butcher grinned and laughed outright
Poor old Joe, looked an awful fright.

Back to the job he went once more
His ribs was aching and arm was sore.
Down he got and gave a grunt
Through the door and out the front.

Now dear readers, this is no lie
The poor old bugger
Went home to die.

The Spirit of ANZAC Centenary Experience will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from the 17th until the 30th June. You can book tickets online at http://www.spiritofanzac.gov.au