Saturday, November 10, 2012

A bucketful of water poured into a river

Today marks 94 years since the end of the First World War, and all around the world people will pause to think about those who have served in conflicts past and present, and those who never came home.

In honour of Remembrance Day, I wanted to share with you a news article I came cross while researching my WWI novel Between the Lines. In October 1914, Australian troops were massing around the country, preparing to march out to war in Europe.

The 16th Battalion (WA and SA) marching through Melbourne in 1914

After weeks of training at the Blackboy Hill camp in Perth's hills, the Western Australian 11th Battalion was transported into the city centre for a military parade to show off their strength and good order. Military parades were a long-standing tradition, but since the Boer War over a decade before, in which over 600 Australians died, the sense of celebration surrounding war had dimmed somewhat. This parade, coming on the heels of two months of news from the raging and deadly conflict in their eventual destination, Europe, was a sombre affair.

The report itself, viewed through the lens of history, is sadly prophetic. The flower of this state's manhood did indeed suffer heavily, first at Gallipoli, and then for years on the Western Front, exactly as it was feared they would- and yet they marched out anyway, and their families waved them farewell, knowing full well that they would be, as predicted, no more than a bucketful of water poured into a river. Those knowing sacrifices are the reason we still grieve so keenly so many years down the line.

Read on for the transcribed article below.

The Western Mail
Friday 2nd October 1914 






The life of a city is as the life of a man; it passes through many strange phases, through many stirring emotions. Its streets, day and night, resound to the tread of thousands who walk in spirit care-free, or broken. But it is given to few cities often to hear the relentless, purposeful tread of companies of men drilled, organised, and disciplined to kill, and when the hour does come, when that sound must in the name of national honour and courage be heard, the heart of every British city is nobly steeled to the natural grain of the thing.

The thought evoked by a contemplation of the fact of such a march can in its final analysis be nothing less than horrifying, but the innate courage of man or woman ever meets the call. Still a military procession is not as once it was, and when from Blackboy Hill on Saturday there descended upon Perth an army of battle-equipped soldiery, who with significant earnestness, ease, and swiftness swept through the city for an hour and then disappeared as suddenly as they had come, the impression was fostered that military parades nowadays are viewed by soldiers and populace alike in manner far different to that of the days gone past.

The years pass and the people grow in understanding; their imagination quickens and their conceptions are saner, sobered by the facts of knowledge. Time was when the mention of a military parade conjured up by its associations the spectacle of brilliant uniforms and the blare of music; when the martial ardour was violently stimulated into a passion that divorced reason but made the task of the recruiting sergeant the easier. On battle eve or in pacific hour it excited a cheering multitude; it turned a city of earnest men and women into cheering jingoists.

Today the colour, the brilliancy, and the playing of martial bands are becoming memories, as was brought home forcibly on Saturday. Then our soldiers, clad in earth-soiled khaki, with arms bared and brown, marched in a grim procession, resolute of purpose, through crowding rows of an almost silent people. The appanage and paraphernalia of the "death or glory" days was not there, but the nerves of the soldiers were at as healthy a tension as ever, and the hearts of no thronging crowd that ever was could have throbbed with truer or deeper emotion.

Outward manifestation was checked- restrained by the depth of feeling and the touch of understanding. The atmosphere was surcharged with the intangible quality of intelligence. Both those in the ranks and those who looked on knew of the goal whither the marching trended, and the spirit that permeated the sidewalks told its own eloquent story, that when the hour called each, now held back by some circumstance, would be ready to don the khaki.

For those who so soldierly marched the streets the call had come, and, they being ready and able, had responded at the bound. The circumstances of their lives had plainly been, largely, a preparation for the sudden emergency of war, and physically they represented the flower of the State's manhood. Folk of every calling, of every estate in life, looked down from crowded balcony upon the brown amorphous stream of men, who, whether born to wealth or poverty, had now but one common calling- that of risking and that of meting out death, and to do so unflinchingly with the carnage of warfare; to do so, not as they would, will, but in the way they were told and on a battlefield where they and their strength would be but as a bucketful of water poured into a river.

In the embarkation and disembarkation lay a revelation of the effectiveness of military operations. At the head of his command- a field battery of artillery equipped and ready for instant battle- Major Bessell Browne reached the capital by road, and, with the Army Service Corps and the Army Medical Corps, took up a position at the due time in the barrier-enclosed space before the railway station. The march was timed to leave that point at 3 p.m. To the hour, in fact a minute or so before, the infantry commenced to pour into the city in train loads.

Along the route of the march at that moment surged a silent, expectant crowd. As the first train ran swiftly beneath Beaufort-street Bridge those posted there raised a cry of welcome which pursued a quivering course right through the city as one whispered it to another.

The train drew up at the far platform. Quietly, swiftly, the men stepped forth, fell into line, uttering the while scarcely a word, and as, on the word of command they formed fours and wheeled to-the left over the spanning bridges, the train drew out and another ran into its place without a minute's delay. So it went on until the last company to disembark fell into the rear of a continuous stream that stretched far up Wellington-street.

Then began the march to the step of the kettledrum and the rally of an occasional bugle. From a window or shop front here and there fluttered a patriotic banner. With an athletic swing and to the rythmic swish of a thousand feet marching in step the men passed, swiftly through the city and back to the station where the entraining was just as noiseless and speedy as had been the disembarkation.

Now and again a cheer, deep-throated and emotional, would burst forth, more often a sentiment-inspired cooee would pass along the route, but, in the main, the people watched in understanding silence.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Claire! I just saw the link to your new blog at Deniz's site. Love the post. You are such a great promoter of the men and women who defend their countries. Thank you.