Ailsa’s photo challenge focuses on travel, http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/12/21/travel-theme-festive/, and most (if not all) my contributions have been of photos taken far from home. Usually, travel is for the fun of it. But occasionally, throughout history, people have travelled to far-off lands to help defend them. For soldiers, travel is small compensation for a life that is dangerous, short on comfort and long on discipline. Christmas, for those raised in countries where it is celebrated, is a time when they feel particularly separated from their countrymen back home. For the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Forces) in the Middle East in WWII, some comfort was offered in the establishment of a newspaper, the A.I.F. News. It was not only the first army newspaper for Australian troops, but the first in any theatre of war. Initially it was printed in Jerusalem, and later transferred to Cairo. Here’s the Christmas issue for December 1941.
Another form of comfort was writing. So far away from home at Christmas, the soldiers didn’t feel festive or joyous, especially if they’d seen horrors and lost companions in grim battle scenes. Many wrote poetry about the separation from girlfriends and families; the following poem, Christmas Bells, expresses both kinds of grief, separation that is temporary and the other, which is for ever. The poem is in my father’s poetry anthology, but it was written by Spr. E. Locke and was published in the A.I.F. News Christmas edition in the photo above. I’ll add my transcription after the image.
“Say, cobber, did you hear a sound
above the battle’s din?
A sound as sweet as music
that awakes response within;
I’m sure I heard it clearly,
above the bursting shells,
I’m sure the sound was happiness,
the chime of Christmas Bells.
“It wasn’t on the battlefield,
but came from o’er the foam,
from the land of joy and sunshine,
and the folks we left at home;
It seemed to hold a note of peace,
to tell of joys to come;
of many happy Christmases,
when fighting days are done.
“And now the dust of battle
and the torn and broken ground
have changed into a happy scene
and friends are all around;
How strange! The noise of screaming
shells has changed, and now I hear
The merry laugh of happy friends
That I hold ever dear.
“The scene is fading fast, mate,
But the Christmas bells ring clear,
and they’ll miss us over there, mate,
when they greet the newborn year;
But yet we will be there with them,
to give the year a start;
For though we’re miles across the sea
We’re always in their heart.”