Father’s Day

My father died eons ago, but I’ll post one of his poems today, Father’s Day, to thank him for volunteering to join the army to go the Middle East back in the 40s.

Ron Bruce (my father in the slouch hat) with Ernie Weeks (my mother’s brother). By an amazing coincidence they ended up in the same hospital here in Kantara, Egypt

I get the feeling from this poem that as he was thinking and writing, he was probably regretting his decision to go so far from home, but at last he was coming back and couldn’t wait to get off the ship he had sailed on for weeks, the Duntroon. I also get a sense of appreciation for the hard-working nurses who attended him in Kantara Hospital, Egypt, and now on board this ship.

Duntroon, troop ship 1942

Thoughts

As I lie in my bed and gaze around,
I long for the day they set me aground,
My mind wanders back to my hometown
For this goddamned ship is getting me down.
I think of the fun and the times I’ve had
I think of my Sweetheart, my Mum and Dad,
I wish for the places I’m longing to see,
I wish for the faces of those dear to me.

You see, I’m in dock, on board this fine ship,
And I’m anxiously waiting the end of this trip.
I watch all the faces, the expressions they wear,
Some fat, some thin, and some have no hair.
Then there’s the Sisters in capes coloured red,
As they carry the medicine to ease a sick bed,
Their hours are endless, thanks often nil,
I’ve ne’er heard one grumble
And p’raps never will.

R.E.B.

Thoughts, R.E. Bruce, 1942

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Weekly photo challenge: Signs

When the Australian government, among others, announced this week they’re sending troops off to Iraq to fight (if only in the skies for now), I thought Here we go again.  As I rode past this bin today, the sign “General Waste” reminded me of the futility of war.  It might seem an obscure connection, but when you see the page from my father’s anthology of war poetry compiled in about 1942, you’ll think what I thought.  First, the bin:

General Waste bin

Second, a poem entitled “General Waste”, originally written in World War One by Reverend Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, who volunteered as a British chaplain to the army on the western front.  He was also known as Woodbine Willie for the Woodbines he smoked and handed out to the wounded and dying.  But he had a threefold reputation, for he was also a great anti-war poet.

In Dad’s poetry book, I’ve often read “General Waste” and felt the hollowness of war.  Studdert Kennedy wrote it in about 1917, but his poems were recalled by soldiers fighting again in World War Two.  Dad has called it “General Waste”, though searches online suggest it was called simply “Waste”.  There are a few spelling errors in his script, so I’ve transcribed it:

Waste of muscle, waste of brain,
Waste of patience, waste of pain.
Waste of manhood, waste of health,
Waste of beauty, waste of wealth.
Waste of blood, waste of tears,
Waste of youth’s most precious years.
Waste of ways the saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, Waste of God.
War!

"Waste" by Rev. Studdert Kennedy, c1917
“Waste” by Rev. Studdert Kennedy, c1917 (my father’s script)

Thanks WordPress for this week’s photo challenge.

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Friendship

FRIENDSHIP

Perhaps you, my blog readers, could help me understand something about this poem that my father wrote:  As you get towards the end you’ll see a line about a ‘flare’;  what do you think was happening?  Read the whole poem and let me know if you can enlighten me.

Sixty-nine refers to Hill 69 near Gaza, Palestine, where my father’s battalion was recovering after having defended Tobruk in Libya;  at Hill 69 they did further training as well as garrison and border protection.

The photo shows the first verse in his handwriting but I’ve transcribed all the verses, which you’ll see below the image.  I was inspired by the ‘Friendship’ theme of this week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge to add this poem, which, you’ll find, is about friendship in war.

The poem is signed with my father’s initials, R.E.B.  I ask that it not be copied without my permission and without credit to him.

Red Kane of 69

“Something’s brewing,” said Red to his mate,
As they gazed along the line,
“It don’t get quiet for nothing,
Not here, at Sixty-nine.”
He thought of a time, two months ago,
He got a similar hunch,
And Jerrie came over in “Spitfires”,
And wiped out most of his bunch.

The “TRICK” was as old as the bloody hills,
The one they pulled that night.
In a couple of patched-up Spitfires,
They made that bloody flight;
All eyes looked in their direction,
The shout went up, “All’s Well”,
In came the bloody Spitfires,
Turning loose All Hell.

“I’ll square that deal, cobbers,” he said,
Damned near fit to howl,
“Even if it cost me me bloody life,”
“By bloody fair means or fowl;”
For he was a Dinkum Aussie,
Big and strong as a lion,
And he was a natural marksman too,
Red Kane, of Sixty-nine.

And now as he gazed across the sand,
Something to him was clear,
There was Jerry movement on tonight,
And to him came a great idea;
And so he spoke in whispers,
As he conversed with his mate,
Tonight they’d square a deal,
Regardless of their fate.

The Jerries moved with caution,
More cautious still, was Kane,
He wondered how his mate was,
If things panned out the same;
Complete in every detail now,
He lay face down, in prayer,
For five in every hundred yards,
He’d set and laid a flare.

That night, his mates were avenged,
Paid back, more than two-fold,
Paid by the help of his very own life,
For he now lay stiff and cold;
He’s gone to the great Beyond now,
A place of Perfect Design,
And greater love hath no man,
Than Red Kane of Sixty-nine.

Ronald E. Bruce, 1941
© Patricia Worth, 2012

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