An ANZAC Day post:
The letter, from my father to his mother, my grandmother, and baby brother, is written on a biscuit pack wrapper, as he had no writing paper. It is the 21st of September 1942 and he and his fellow soldiers of the 2nd/31st Battalion 25th Brigade of the 7th division 2nd AIF, all volunteers, are bivouacked on Imita Ridge, in the ranges behind Port Moresby — they have begun to drive the Japanese back over what will become known as the Kokoda Trail of the Owen Stanley Ranges — he will be one of the first to find the village of Kokoda deserted by the retreating Japanese.
He is 21 years old, a platoon sergeant, and a veteran of the Syrian Campaign, where he was severely wounded. He will suffer more wounds, internal parasites, starvation, exposure to the elements, and cerebral malaria from which he will come close to death, but will be one of the 56 soldiers of the original 800 strong infantry battalion who will stand to parade at the end of the campaign. This poem is a tribute to him, sergeant Allen Noel O’Brien, and his fellow soldiers.
(The letter was found at the bottom of a drawer some 45 years after it was written, following the death of my Grandmother.)
The night was drifting closer — the rain a misty veil.
They’d gained this slender foothold by a steep and muddy trail.
The soldier glanced to westward — a weak and fading light,
And overhead the sullen sweeping clouds— a mournful sight.
His uniform was wet and stained, the air was turning chill.
His boots and socks were water logged and leeches drank their fill.
The unfurled flimsy groundsheet, his head and shoulders cloaked,
As his half blanket he unrolled — it too, was sodden — soaked.
He scanned the gloom around him — saw the ghostly forms of men.
He wiped the rain streaks from his face, and lifted up his pen.
His precious ink he opened, and with care the pen he dipped.
The paper for the letter, from a biscuit pack he’d ripped.
He knew that he must hasten, very soon there’d be no light,
And once night fell a feeble glow would draw the sniper’s sight.
For in the dark the enemy would climb the highest tree,
And should a digger strike a match, then home he’d never see.
So with his slouch hat held to shield his letter from the rain,
He penned the loving words: “Dear Mum, I’m writing home again
To say that all is well with me and hope that you are too,
And hope the little one and Sis are not too much for you.
I’ve not received a letter from you yet but pray I will;
I know you will have written Ma, so I am hopeful still.
How is my girl who waits for me? Tell her I’ll not be long.
This business will end soon I think, meanwhile we must be strong.”
He asked for news of relatives and friends since long ago;
Of younger brothers who would soon be joining in the show.
Then finished off the letter with a reassuring line:
“Don’t worry for me Mother, for your son is doing fine.”
He folded up the letter, and he slipped it in his pack
When chance arose he’d hand it to be taken down the track.
But while he could, he’d try to sleep, for come the morning light,
“Advance!” would be the order; very soon would come the fight.
— D.N. O’Brien