Last evening, my iPod shuffled a couple of Eric Bogle cuts into the mix. A Scot who has lived for more than 40 years in Australia, he is best known for his powerful songs about World War I.
The cut we listened to is ‘The Gift of Years’. About 15 years ago, the Turkish government invited survivors of Gallipoli to return and visit the graves of their compatriots. This song imagines the reactions of one of those aged Aussies:
For the last time here I stand,
In this familiar foreign land,
Back with the mates I left behind,
Fixed forever in their time.
The first song of Bogle’s I learnt was ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, an imagining of another Gallipoli soldier:
So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.
When I first went to Sydney, I was stunned to find that the iconic Opera House – that supremely beautiful symbol of the highest architectural and musical culture – sits at the south end of Circular Quay. The Opera House became, to my eyes, a memorial mixing the tragedies of the soldiers of two world wars and the highest peaceful aspirations of their country.
These are only two of Bogle’s songs about World War I. They have haunted me but more importantly they have transformed me. Give them a listen. Remembering is the most important part of Remembrance Day.
NOTE: I have linked to both the Bogle website bio (probably an autobio) and the Wikipedia bio. Both appear to have unreliable narrators, particularly on dates in the former and on song interpretations in the latter. Also, a hint to the sensitive: despite his deep sense of the tragic, he can be very funny along the lines of Billy Connolly.