Today is ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand, our national day of remembrance. Today is the 95th anniversary of the landing of Allied troops, including the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey during World War 1, an ill-fated attempt by the Allies to secure access to the Black Sea. The invasion quickly became a stalemate, with Allied troops trapped on a narrow stretch of seaside-cliffs, and over the following eight months, heavy casualties were incurred by both Allied and Turkish troops, including the loss of over 10,000 Anzacs, before Allied troops were finally withdrawn.
ANZAC Day was observed in both Australia and New Zealand from 1916 – the year following the landing – and now commemorates those lost in all the wars and military actions in the decades since then.
In honour of the day, I bring you some poems by CJ Dennis, from The Moods of Ginger Mick, a verse novel first published in 1916. Dennis’ highly successful The Sentimental Bloke, published the year before, had introduced Ginger Mick, a rough, larrikin rabbit-seller from the back streets of Melbourne and good mate of The Sentimental Bloke, who narrates both books. The Moods of Ginger Mick was written in the early years of the War, and tells, through the Bloke’s eyes, of Mick’s somewhat reluctant volunteering as a soldier, and his experiences at Gallipoli. I’ve always loved it, and some of the poems still move me to tears every time I read them. Yes, there’s a strong current of patriotism and nationalistic pride throughout, but looking beyond that, there’s also an emotional honesty: Mick may become a hero, but he’s no shining, cultured knight, and The Bloke tells with heart-wrenching rawness of the costs of war on those left behind. One of the things I’ve always loved about CJ Dennis poems is that he is, at heart, a romantic – realistic and definitely male, but the rough, tough Bloke and Mick have feelings and struggle with them, and don’t shy away (much!) from admitting that to themselves.
For those interested, you can read all all of Mick’s story in the fourteen poems of The Moods of Ginger Mick here. They’re very much written in Australian vernacular, but you can check the Glossary for unfamiliar terms.
Below the fold, I’ve included excerpts from two poems.
Extracts from The Call of Stoush
Wot price ole Ginger Mick? ‘E’s done a break –
Gone to the flamin’ war to stoush the foe.
Wus it fer glory, or a woman’s sake?
Ar, arst me somethin’ easy! I dunno.
‘Is Kharki clobber set ‘im off a treat,
That’s all I know; ‘is motive’s got me beat.
Ole Mick ‘e’s trainin’ up in Cairo now;
An’ all the cops in Spadger’s Lane is sad.
They miss ‘is music in the midnight row
Wot time the pushes mix it good an’ glad.
Fer ‘e wus one o’ them, you understand,
Wot “soils the soshul life uv this fair land.”
A peb wus Mick; a leery bloke wus ‘e,
Low down, an’ given to the brinnin’ cup;
The sort o’ chap that coves like you an’ me
Don’t mix wiv, ‘cos of our strick bringin’s-up.
An’ ‘e wus sich becos unseein’ Fate
Lobbed ‘im in life a ‘undred years too late.
‘E wus a man uv vierlence, wus Mick,
Coarse wiv ‘is speech an’ in ‘is manner low,
Slick wiv ‘is ‘ands, an’ ‘andy wiv a brick
When bricks wus needful to defeat a foe.
An’ now ‘e’s gone an’ mizzled to the war,
An’ some blokes ‘as the nerve to arst “Wot for?”
Wot for? gawstruth! ‘E wus no patriot
That sits an’ brays advice in days uv strife;
‘E never flapped no flags nor sich like rot;
‘E never sung “Gawsave” in all ‘is life.
‘E wus dispised be them that make sich noise:
But now – O strike! – ‘e’s “one uv our brave boys.”
Why did ‘e go? ‘E ‘ad a decent job,
‘Is tart an’ ‘im they could ‘a’ made it right.
Why does a wild bull fight to guard the mob?
Why does a bloomin’ bull-ant look fer fight?
Why does a rooster scrap an’ flap an’ crow?
‘E went becos ‘e dam well ‘ad to go.
The call wot came to cave-men in the days
When rocks wus stylish in the scrappin’ line;
The call wot knights ‘eard in the minstrel’s gastrointestinal lays,
That sent ’em in tin soots to Palerstine;
The call wot draws all fighters to the fray
It come to Mick, an’ Mick ‘e must obey.
The Call uv Stoush! … It’s older than the ‘ills.
Lovin’ an’ fightin’ – there’s no more to tell
Concernin’ men. an’ when that feelin’ thrills
The blood uv them ‘oo’s fathers mixed it well,
They ‘ave to ‘eed it – bein’ ‘ow they’re built –
As traders ‘ave to ‘eed the clink uv gilt.
War ain’t no giddy garden feete – it’s war:
A game that calls up love an’ ‘atred both.
An’ them that shudders at the sight o’ gore,
An’ shrinks to ‘ear a drunken soljer’s oath,
Must ‘ide be’ind the man wot ‘eaves the bricks,
An’ thank their Gawd for all their Ginger Micks.
Becos ‘e never ‘ad the chance to find
The glory o’ the world by land an’ sea,
Becos the beauty ‘idin’ in ‘is mind
Wus not writ plain fer blokes like you an’ me,
They calls ‘im crook; but in ‘im I ‘ave found
Wot makes a man a man the world around.
Lovin’ an’ fightin’ . . . when the tale is told,
That’s all there is to it; an’ in their way
Them brave an’ noble ‘ero blokes uv old
Wus Ginger Micks – the crook ‘uns uv their day.
Jist let the Call uv Stoush give ‘im ‘is chance
An’ Ginger Mick’s the ‘ero of Romance.
So Ginger Mick ‘e’s mizzled to the war;
Joy in ‘is ‘eart, an’ wild dreams in ‘is brain;
Gawd ‘elp the foe that ‘e goes gunnin’ for
If tales is true they tell in Spadger’s Lane –
Tales that ud fairly freeze the gentle ‘earts
Uv them ‘oo knits ‘is socks – the Culchered Tarts.
Extracts from “A Gallant Gentleman”:
A month ago the world grew grey fer me;
A month ago the light went out fer Rose.
To ‘er they broke it gentle as might be;
But fer ‘is pal ‘twus one uv them swift blows
That stops the ‘eart-beat; fer to me it came
Jist, “Killed in Action,” an’ beneath ‘is name.
‘Ow many times ‘ave I sat dreamin’ ‘ere
An’ seen the boys returnin’, gay an’ proud.
I’ve seen the greetin’s, ‘eard ‘is rousin’ cheer,
An’ watched ole Mick come stridin’ thro’ the crowd.
‘Ow many times ‘ave I sat in this chair
An’ seen ‘is ‘ard chiv grinnin’ over there.
An’ now – well, wot’s the odds? I’m only one:
One out uv many ‘oo ‘as lost a friend.
Manlike, I’ll bounce again, an’ find me fun;
But fer Poor Rose it seems the bitter end.
Fer Rose, an’ sich as Rose, when one man dies
It seems the world goes black before their eyes.
Trent tells ‘ow, when they found ‘im, near the end,
‘E starts a fag an’ grins orl bright an’ gay.
An’ when they arsts fer messages to send
To friends, ‘is look goes dreamin’ far away.
“Look after Rose,” ‘e sez, “when I move on.
Look after … Rose … Mafeesh!” An’ ‘e wus gone.
An’ so – Mafeesh! as Mick ‘ad learned to say.
‘E’s finished; an’ there’s few ‘as marked ‘im go.
Only one soljer, outed in the fray,
‘Oo took ‘is gamble, an’ ‘oo ‘a ‘is show.
There’s few to mourn ‘im: an’ the less they leave,
The less uv sorrer, fewer ‘earts to grieve.
A gallant gentleman … Well, let it go.
They sez they’ve put them words above ‘is ‘ead,
Out there where lonely graves stretch in a row;
But Mick ‘ell never mind it now ‘e’s dead.
An’ where ‘e’s gone, when they weigh praise an’ blame,
P’raps gentlemen an’ men is much the same.
They fights; an’ orl the land is filled wiv cheers.
They dies; an’ ‘ere an’ there a ‘eart is broke.
An’ when I weighs it orl – the shouts, the tears –
I sees it’s well Mick wus a lonely bloke.
‘E found a game ‘e knoo, an’ played it well;
An’ now ‘e’s gone. Wot more is there to tell?
A month ago, fer me the world grew grey;
A month ago the light went out fer Rose;
Becos one common soljer crossed the way,
Leavin’ a common message as ‘e goes.
But ev’ry dyin’ soljer’s ‘ope lies there:
“Look after Rose. Mafeesh!” Gawd! It’s a pray’r!