Contrast is the theme for this week’s photo challenge, but it made me think also of contrasting experiences. The poems in my father’s poetry book demonstrate strong contrasts between the life he had led at home in Australia and the life he was struggling to endure in North Africa in 1941/42. Here are the first verses of two poems he recorded that show the difference. I have transcribed the poems (below the images) in case his handwriting is unclear.
The first poem was written by Pte. L. Partridge (NX2196) and was published in the A.I.F. News, 20th December 1941. The Tweed River forms part of the border between the states of Queensland and New South Wales. The countryside and coastline south of the river are fertile and scenic and would well be missed if one was on the other side of the world in a war zone. My father spent a lot of time fishing along this coastline.
The second poem was written by a soldier in Tobruk, a town in Libya which was taken from the enemy by the 2/15th battalion of the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Forces) at Easter 1941. It was Germany’s first defeat in WWII (Tobruk’s Easter Battle 1941, John Mackenzie Smith).
Springtime on the Tweed
Far away my fancies wander
And in wayward dreams they lead
Out across the blue seas yonder
Where it’s springtime on the Tweed.
There are scrub-clad hills surrounding
The river’s emerald sheen,
Crops of corn and cane abounding,
Wondrous shades of brown and green.
The Shell at Dusk
A flash in the sky, a distant roar
The awful approaching screaming whine,
You drop on your face, in the dust once more
And curse the Hun and his 5 point 9.
She bursts to your left where Fred went to ground,
You’re deaf as a post and covered in dirt,
Hot jagged shrap has whistled around
And that one’s gone, and you’re still unhurt.
After reading that Shepheard’s Hotel welcomed British Army Officers but not ordinary troops, I thought of this poem that my father wrote. These are his thoughts after an attempt to indulge in a few drinks in a cabaret. The poem is several pages long; here are three of the verses. My transcriptions appear below the images.
Seven Days’ Leave
The digger grinned as he heard his name
They were dishing out the pays,
Next thing, he gave a hearty shout,
He’d got leave for seven days.
That night for him was sleepless,
He couldn’t help but think
If he’d see the sights of Egypt,
Get in a game or drink.
About the town of Tel Aviv
He wandered for a while,
Looking for a lair-up pub
Where he could spend his pile.
He came across a cabaret
But ’twas “For Officers Only”,
He felt a little homesick then,
Almost a little lonely.
A man’s got a ton of bloody dough
And can’t get a bloody drink.
“For bloody officers only” thought he,
Wouldn’t it strike you bloody pink.
After hours of solid searching
And of pests all out to sell
He came across a cobber,
“With him”, he’d been thru hell.
This drawing is from one of my father’s sketch books. You’ll see that the woman in his heart thought bubble is not my mother (see entry for 7th February). Perhaps she’s the woman who was posing in the art class. Perhaps she’s the generic woman that every soldier thinks about in the desert, standing next to a cactus, holding a very big gun.
There’s no real sun in my city today. Just clouds. So I searched through my father’s poetry book; here’s the beginning of a poem about the merciless sun that Australians often live under. The poem is attributed to M.A.N., 1941; the illustration is by Ron Bruce.
This is my mother, drawn by my father. Years ago, I took it out of his sketch book and had it framed, and now it sits beside my desk. I often focus on the round buttons and the round brooch on her dress.
The sketchbook dates from about 1942/43. This portrait is a very close likeness, as once observed by a visitor who saw the drawing and then a photo of Mum at about the same age.
Like this week’s photo challenge, the following poem and its miniature illustration also have a peaceful theme. My father was in the Middle East in 1941 thinking about the sun rising in his home country. I give you the first of four stanzas.