The ANZAC on the wall

I wandered thru a country town, ‘cos I had some time to spare, And went into an antique shop to

I wandered thru a country town, ‘cos I had some time to spare,
And went into an antique shop to see what was in there.
Old Bikes and pumps and kero lamps, but hidden by it all,
A photo of a soldier boy – an Anzac on the Wall.

‘The Anzac have a name?’ I asked. The old man answered ‘No’.
The ones who could have told me mate, have passed on long ago.
The old man kept on talking and, according to his tale,
The photo was unwanted junk bought from a clearance sale.

‘I asked around’, the old man said, ‘but no-one knows his face,
He’s been on that wall twenty years… Deserves a better place.
For some-one must have loved him, so it seems a shame somehow.’
I nodded in agreement and then said, ‘I’ll take him now.’

My nameless digger’s photo, well it was a sorry sight
A cracked glass pane and a broken frame – I had to make it right
To prise the photo from its frame I took care just in case,
Cause only sticky paper held the cardboard back in place.

I peeled away the faded screed and much to my surprise,
Two letters and a telegram appeared before my eyes
The first reveals my Anzac’s name, and regiment of course
John Mathew Francis Stuart – of Australia’s own Light Horse.

This letter written from the front… My interest now was keen
This note was dated August seventh 1917
‘Dear Mum, I’m at Khalasa Springs not far from the Red Sea
They say it’s in the Bible – looks like a Billabong to me.

‘My Kathy wrote I’m in her prayers… she’s still my bride to be
I just can’t wait to see you both, you’re all the world to me.
And Mum you’ll soon meet Bluey, last month they shipped him out
I told him to call on you when he’s up and about.’

‘That bluey is a larrikin, and we all thought it funny
He lobbed a Turkish hand grenade into the CO’s dunny.
I told you how he dragged me wounded, in from no man’s land
He stopped the bleeding, closed the wound, with only his bare hand.’

‘Then he copped it at the front from some stray shrapnel blast
It was my turn to drag him in and I thought he wouldn’t last.
He woke up in hospital, and nearly lost his mind
Cause out there on the battlefield he’d left one leg behind.’

‘He’s been in a bad way Mum, he knows he’ll ride no more
Like me he loves a horse’s back, he was a champ before.
So Please Mum can you take him in, he’s been like my own brother
Raised in a Queensland orphanage he’ s never known a mother.’

But Struth, I miss Australia Mum, and in my mind each day
I am a mountain cattleman on high plains far away.
I’m mustering white-faced cattle, with no camel’s hump in sight
And I waltz my Matilda by a campfire every night

I wonder who rides Billy, I heard the pub burnt down
I’ll always love you and please say hooroo to all in town’.
The second letter I could see, was in a lady’s hand
An answer to her soldier son there in a foreign land.

Her copperplate was perfect, the pages neat and clean
It bore the date, November 3rd 1917.
‘T’was hard enough to lose your Dad, without you at the war
I’d hoped you would be home by now – each day I miss you more’

‘Your Kathy calls around a lot since you have been away
To share with me her hopes and dreams about your wedding day.
And Bluey has arrived – and what a godsend he has been
We talked and laughed for days about the things you’ve done and seen’

‘He really is a comfort, and works hard around the farm,
I read the same hope in his eyes that you won’t come to harm.
McConnell’s kids rode Billy, but suddenly that changed.
We had a violent lightning storm, and it was really strange.’

‘Last Wednesday, just on midnight, not a single cloud in sight,
It raged for several minutes, it gave us all a fright.
It really spooked your Billy – and he screamed and bucked and reared
And then he rushed the sliprail fence, which by a foot he cleared’

‘They brought him back next afternoon, but something’s changed I fear
It’s like the day you brought him home, for no one can get near.
Remember when you caught him with his black and flowing mane?
Now Horse breakers fear the beast that only you can tame,’

‘That’s why we need you home son’ – then the flow of ink went dry-
This letter was unfinished, and I couldn’t work out why.
Until I started reading, the letter number three
A yellow telegram delivered news of tragedy,

Her son killed in action – oh – what pain that must have been
The same date as her letter – 3rd November 1917
This letter which was never sent, became then one of three
She sealed behind the photo’s face – the face she longed to see.

And John’s home town’s old timers – children when he went to war
Would say no greater cattleman had left the town before.
They knew his widowed mother well – and with respect did tell
How when she lost her only boy she lost her mind as well.

She could not face the awful truth, to strangers she would speak
‘My Johnny’s at the war you know, he’s coming home next week.’
They all remembered Bluey he stayed on to the end.
A younger man with wooden leg became her closest friend.

And he would go and find her when she wandered old and weak
And always softly say ‘yes dear – John will be home next week.’
Then when she died Bluey moved on, to Queensland some did say.
I tried to find out where he went, but don’t know to this day.

And Kathy never wed – a lonely spinster some found odd.
She wouldn’t set foot in a church – she’d turned her back on God.
John’s mother left no Will I learned on my detective trail.
This explains my photo’s journey, of that clearance sale.

So I continued digging, cause I wanted to know more.
I found John’s name with thousands, in the records of the war.
His last ride proved his courage – a ride you will acclaim
The Light Horse Charge at Beersheba of everlasting fame.

That last day in October, back in 1917
At 4pm our brave boys fell – that sad fact I did glean.
That’s when John’s life was sacrificed, the record’s crystal clear
But 4pm in Beersheba is midnight over here……

So as John’s gallant spirit rose to cross the great divide,
Were lightning bolts back home, a signal from the other side?
Is that why Billy bolted and went racing as in pain?
Because he’d never feel his master on his back again?

Was it coincidental? same time – same day – same date?
Some proof of numerology, or just a quirk of fate?
I think it’s more than that you know, as I’ve heard wiser men,
Acknowledge there are many things that go beyond our ken

Where craggy peaks guard secrets ‘neath dark skies torn asunder,
Where hoof-beats are companions to the rolling waves of thunder
Where lightning cracks like 303’s and ricochets again
Where howling moaning gusts of wind sound just like dying men.

Some Mountain cattlemen have sworn on lonely alpine track,
They’ve glimpsed a huge black stallion – Light Horseman on his back.
Yes Sceptics say, it’s swirling clouds just forming apparitions
Oh no, my friend you can’t dismiss all this as superstition.

The desert of Beersheba – or windswept Aussie range,
John Stuart rides on forever there – Now I don’t find that strange.
Now some gaze upon this photo, and they often question me
And I tell them a small white lie, and say he’s family.

‘You must be proud of him.’ they say – I tell them, one and all,
That’s why he takes – the pride of place – my Anzac on the Wall.

By Jm Brown

  1. Sue Tog  

    What a beautiful poem. I could feel the mum’s sadness, her grief that her only son was dead. It is a story in verse. War is such a terrible thing. Respect to all who have ever served.

  2. Vandra Neylan  

    Just beautiful, I am in tears, not only for the Anzac on the Wall, but for all the lost boys and girls xxoo

  3. carol  

    Wow! just…. Wow!!! So moving! I hope they all found peace somewhere sometime!

  4. What a wonderful tale.Here in England we have a war cemetery,one section devoted to the Anzac troops,walking through one day i came across a grave and inscription to a young NZ solider from the south who left the family farm to fight with the Anzacs.He had gone through the whole war and was waiting for return to NZ at a transit camp in UK when he caught Spanish flu and died,not returning to his homeland.His remains are here in Staforfshire among the trees in a well kept grave with other Anzac comrades.When i visit Australia and the war memorial in Geraldton,i think of him and his mates who never returned home RIP.

    • Pam Webber  

      Do you have this soldiers name as exactly this happened to a relative of mine. He came from Aickens, South Island NZ. Would love to hear if it is his grave you have seen, thank you.

  5. Margaret Whitehead  

    Beautiful portrayal …so wonderful to see a perfect stranger taking an interest in the Anzac on the wall, and pursuing the chaps origins. His story would make an inspiring if not very sad movie.!

  6. Brilliant story… Thanks for sharing the story of this Anzac Legend with us all who read this production. Its Inspirational for all to learn of , and understand the great sacrifices of our fellow Australian Men and Women forebears. Respect to all who have ever served.

  7. Gaenor Mackay  

    I agree with Margaret Whiteheads comment that this poem would make an inspiring movie. So much rubbish is being foisted on us from Hollywood and yet there are so many good stories out there waiting to be told. As one whose father fought in WW1 and experienced living through the whole of WW11, and as an animal lover, I find this poem covers a lot of emotional ground- love of country, love of family and mates, love of animals, loyalty and courage in having to deal with a handicap.

  8. Jean Moylan  

    That’s such a beautiful, moving story & through my tears I read it to the end. There must be so many stories like this one – heroes to the end.

  9. john lewin  

    i can only dream of what its truley an insperational story

  10. Susan Gabriel.  

    What a very moving poem. and Marin’s contribution about the war grave was moving too.

  11. Margaret  

    what a moving poem I have saved poem’s for years but this is one of the best I have read in a while
    and I have shared it on my Facebook page

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *