Lest We Forget

April 25th is ANZAC Day here in Australia, commemoration of war dead, the particular date being that of the ill-fated landings at Gallipoli in 1915.

I can’t think of Gallipoli without thinking of Shane McGowan’s baleful rendition of “And The Band Played Walzing Matilda” with The Pogues. [Post Note … although the Pogues version is widely known, it was originally by Eric Bogle, and popularized by Liam Clancy and Ronnie Drew before the Pogues version.]

[The event remains a particularly poignant defining moment for the then very young nations of Australia and New Zealand, who “came of age” in the ANZAC involvement in the great war, starting at Gallipoli and ending in France, and in doing so discovered their stiff-upper-lipped colonial-ex-masters couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, even if ironically, they did organise an evacuation without a single fatality. As well as defining Australia and New Zealand, the event also effectively created Turkey out of the Ottoman empire, as hero Mustafa Kemal went on to become Attaturk – Father of the Turks. Churchill resigned over Gallipoli, not simply taking the rap as non-executive head of the operation, but also for his original pre-war blunder in confiscating two British-built Turkish warhips. As well as the 9000 Anzac dead, 86,000 Turks, 9,000 French and 21,000 British, including many Irish home-rulers at the time, all perished. Not to mention the countless maimed, and the ongoing historical repercussions, as the song reminds us.]

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over

Then in nineteen-fifteen my country said son
It’s time to stop rambling ’cause there’s work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off for Gallipoli

How well I remember that terrible day
When the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter

Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
And we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

Now those who were living did their best to survive
In that mad world of death, blood and fire
And for seven long weeks I kept myself alive
While the corpses around me piled higher

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, Christ I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying

And no more I’ll go waltzing Matilda
To the green bushes so far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

So they collected the cripples, the wounded and maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The legless, the armless, the blind and insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla

And as our ship pulled 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 and to mourn and to pity

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
And they turned their faces away

And now every April I sit on my perch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving the dreams of past glory

I see the old men, all twisted and torn
The forgotten heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask me, what are they marching for ?
And I ask myself the same question

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me ?

7 thoughts on “Lest We Forget”

  1. Although Shane McGowan’s covered this song with The Pogues, The original was writen and performed by Eric Bogle (It is on his Now I`m Easy album), In my opinion a much better version of this song. That said the Pogues rendition is still moving.

  2. Am i mistaken or was this song also not made famous by Lean Clancy before the Pogues.

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