Pluck – Eva Dobell – some ANZAC Day words


Crippled for life at seventeen,
His great eyes seems to question why:
with both legs smashed it might have been
Better in that grim trench to die
Than drag maimed years out helplessly.

A child – so wasted and so white,
He told a lie to get his way,
To march, a man with men, and fight
While other boys are still at play.
A gallant lie your heart will say.

So broke with pain, he shrinks in dread
To see the ‘dresser’ drawing near;
and winds the clothes about his head
That none may see his heart-sick fear.
His shaking, strangled sobs you hear.

But when the dreaded moment’s there
He’ll face us all, a soldier yet,
Watch his bared wounds with unmoved air,
(Though tell-tale lashes still are wet),
And smoke his Woodbine cigarette.

Eva Dobell (1876 – 1963)

Today is ANZAC Day. The 25th of April is one of Australia’s most important national days. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War at Gallipoli. It is a day of remembrance for those from both countries who have died in any wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

Often war related poetry is from a male perspective. This poem by Eva Dobell is from firsthand experience as a nurse.

Pluck = spirited and determined courage and was certainly needed by many war victims in dealing with horrific wounds at an early age.

S1 – many nurses and medics have thoughts of this nature when seeing the horrors of the condition of their patients. However, recovery even in such adverse conditions is still possible and an on-going life possible albeit a very different life.
S2 – the irony that the soldier falsified his age in order take part in the war and fight for country while others were more circumspect. He was very young and probably out for adventure and without understanding.
S3 – He is about to be dressed and again he shows determined courage in not showing any weakness to the nursing staff.
S4 – He faces his bared wounds as a soldier with unmoved air but the nurse sees the tell-tale suffering undergone in his eyes as he smokes a cigarette. Woodbine was a brand that was cheap and popular with the working class and with soldiers during both World Wars. Smoking was acceptable in the recovery wards.

Eva Dobell on Wikipedia

And here is a link to previous ANZAC Day Posts including the Australian poet Judith Wright.

War Baby – Pamela Holmes

It is Anzac Day today in Australia (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.) Too often we hear male oriented war poems. Here is a poignant poem from the home front, from the other side of the equation.

War Baby

He has not even seen you, he
Who gave you your mortality;
And you, so small, how can you guess
His courage, or his loveliness?

Yet in my quiet mind I pray
He passed you on the darkling way –
His death, your birth, so much the same –
And holding you, breathed once your name.

Pamela Holmes

Pamela Holmes was educated at Benenden School, Sussex. Her husband, Lieutenant F.C. Hall, was posted missing believed killed in December 1942. Their daughter was born four months after his death.

From ‘Poetry of the Second World War’ selected by Edward Hudson, with a preface by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire V.C.

Life continues.

Anzac Day …  a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping.

The Trains – Judith Wright – Analysis – ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day 2015


Two trains of roses have been placed down the inside the back wall at the entry of Nelson Cathedral, New Zealand.

The following is my choice of a war poem and it is ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) day today when the ‘World War 1 Gallipoli’ campaign is on the minds of Australians and New Zealanders. This year also marks hundred years since the birth of Judith Wright in 1915. This is a generic poem about pending dark days as war approaches.

The Trains

Tunnelling through the night, the trains pass
in a splendour of power, with a sound like thunder
shaking the orchards, waking
the young from a dream, scattering like glass
the old mens’ sleep, laying
a black trail over the still bloom of the orchards;
the trains go north with guns.

Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet
hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger,
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall mind be sober,
since blood’s red thread still binds us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children’s sleep’; laying
a reeking trail across our dreams of orchards.

Racing on iron errands, the trains go by,
and over the white acres of our orchards
hurl their wild summoning cry, their animal cry….
the trains go north with guns.

Judith Wright

The first stanza reminds me of the time I was staying in a rondavel in a valley in South Africa when on the way to Durban. The trains disturbed my sleep as high up they trundled through tunnels in the hills making an eerie sound at the same time. Trains are very powerful images and coming suddenly at night representative of the foreboding onset of war. And more importantly these lines show how both old and young would be affected. The young might dream of adventure unknowing of the nature of war and being easily misled by any recruitment drive, whereas the old know only too well what is at hand and their hope for the the next generation is shattered like broken glass. The peace of the orchard is now clouded by the events which were unfolding represented by the trail of black smoke over white spring blossom. The trains are going north with guns and this was appropriate to the Australia situation as Darwin was first in line in the Second World War.

The second stanza likens the war-trait in the human condition to a tiger within the blood of all generations. It seems this tiger will always be present to trouble each generation and as in the first stanza reeking a trail across our dreams for peace (orchards). And how can mind be sober when it has to confront the terror of this tiger. It seems that the mind of man has to continually deal with war in whatever form. The last lines highligh the manic-force with which the war-cry manifests, represented by the trains travelling on iron errands, rather than iron rails. It is an animal cry reflecting the ever present unstoppable base elements of the human condition.

As the world gets smaller and smaller war and conflict is quicky brought to our attention by the media – wherever it is occuring, so you could say that ‘train-noise’ is a more frequent visitor to the background of the mind. Whether this awareness makes the world better equiped to deal with such situations is another matter – but we live in hope.

yesterday the earth shook
today there are poppies every where

We give thanks that we are lucky enough to live where peace prevails!

I have also commented on this poem on my previous Site.

   … and the following are links to previous ANZAC Day Posts …

Previous ANZAC Day words 2014

Previous ANZAC Day words 2013

The Fragrance at Flanders – Anzac Day 2014

The Fragrance at Flanders

This was not scented Alps
where nothing but the daylight changes,
nor descending by the Starnberger See
after early exercise, strolling into
the Hofgarten to drink coffee with friends
as unbridled talk merges
with the expanse of morning.

Nor was this a plunge
into a Bloomsbury morning
of Clarissa opening French windows
to the breath of a summer day. Nor a
blackbird singing in the daze of early light,
or the buying of flowers while thoughts distract
to the arrangement of a party.

At Flanders, in the half-born morning
body after body fell
indiscriminately into the mud.
Each man glad to take their final leave,
exuding a common stench
until it accumulated in a message
that couldn’t be ignored.

For a brief moment
there was a lull in the fighting
as the men were buried.
And for once there was a sensitivity
as if Christ had walked out of dead flesh
to bring together both sides –
or just nature self-correcting.

Richard Scutter 25 April 2011


… and here is a link to another poem