March of Memories

Left, right - left, right . . .
We march today for memories (the grizzled Digger said)
Memories of lost dreams and comrades gone ahead
Comrades bloody war took, dreams that men have slain
(Left, right - left, right . . .) Not ours to dream again.
There was Shorty Hall and Len Pratt, Long Joe and Blue,
Skeet and Brolga Houlihan, and Fat and me and you:
Bright lads, the old bunch; eager lads and keen
That first day we marched down thro' this familiar scene.
Dreams were ours, and high hopes went with us overseas.
(Left, right - left, right . . . ) And now 'tis memories.

We march again for memories (the grizzled Digger sighed)
Memories of lost mates, of foolish hopes that died.
First, Shorty got his issue on the beach at Sari Bair.
(Left, right - left, right . . .) The vision of him there
Brought the dawn of disillusion. I needed little more
To blood me to the butchery, the filthiness called war.
Shorty, like a limp rag, slung there anyhow,
Sprawling on the warm sand like I can see him now.
Always was a merry mate, a rare lad for fun.
(Left, right - left, right . . .) And Shorty, that was one.

We march today for memories; and they come crowding fast
As each year adds another page to the story of the past.
Pratt went west at Mena Base; raved of home and peace.
(Left, right - left, right . . . ) His was a kind release.
For a Lone Pine shell-burst got him; and he was less than man.
'Twas a sniper's bullet bore the name of Brolga Houlihan.
We called him Happy Houlihan, the man who took a chance.
Then the Reaper paused and plotted for the rest of them in France -
Except Long Joe, the luckless, a youth ill-shaped for war.
(Left, right - left, right . . .) And Long Joe was four.

We march today for memories. Little else had we
When we marched home as veterans. Blue and you and me.
For Skeet went with a night raid, and none came back alive.
(Left, right - left, right . . .) So Skeet, he tallied five.
Five gone and four to fight; us and Blue and Fat,
Who vowed he was too big to hit; but a whizz-bang settled that.
Yet Fat was lucky to the end - an end that held no pain.
All hell erupted where he stood; and none saw him again.
And Blue marched, and you marched, and I, a war-torn three.
(Left. right - left, right . . . ) Marched with memory.

We march again with memories (the grizzled Digger spake)
One year? Ten years? How soon shall we awake
To glorious reality? For lately it would seem -
(Left, right - left, right . . .) - we march within a dream.
Where Shorty is, and Blue is, and Happy Houlihan,
That seems the only real land, with rest for weary man.
For Blue went out three years ago; and cruel slow to kill
Was the war-god, the grim god who claims victims still.
But you and I, old Digger friend, will soon march with the rest.
(Left, right - left, right . . .) In the Army of the West!

Today we march with memories, and years dull the pain.
But God help the young 'uns, mate, if they must march again,
(Left, right - left, right . . .) For the young must ever dream.
But we march with memories, and ghosts go at our side -
Len Pratt and Long Joe, whom men say have died.
And you walk like a ghost, mate; you do not turn to hear.
Or is it - Did the boys say you passed last year?
Out of this tangled dreaming has your troubled spirit flown?
(Left, right - left, right . . .) And I march alone.

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"March of Memories" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 8 Dec. 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/6448/march-of-memories>.

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