Thursday, November 11, 2010


It's almost time to close out another Remembrance Day, but just to leave you with something a little less dry here's a couple of songs that give something other than a glorification of militarism. Yeah I know, just when you thought you were finally really and truly free of 'Molly's Poetry Corner'. Well I promise you no 'high culture' this time. No promises for the future.


It seems like this should be the granddaddy of them all, but this was actually written in 1971 by singer songwriter Eric Brogle. It tells a story of an old Australian veteran and his bitter thoughts at the commemoration of ANZAC Day, the Australian version of Remembrance Day and Veterans' Day. You can hear this song sung by Marjorie Roswell at this link.

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again

Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong
Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Here's another one, 'I Ain't Marching Anymore' by Phil Ochs. This was originally released in 1965 for the album of the same name during a period of time when America's war in Vietnam was building up. This song became Ochs' most famous piece. It takes the point of view of a soldier from all the wars in American history from 1812 on. You can see a video of Ochs performing this song at this link.

Phil Ochs
I Ain't Marching Anymore

Oh I marched to the battle of new orleans
At the end of the early british war
The young land started growing
The young blood started flowing
But I ain't marchin' anymore

For I've killed my share of indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the little big horn
I heard many men lying
I saw many more dying
But I ain't marchin' anymore

It's always the old to lead us to the war
It's always the young to fall
Now look at all we've won with the sabre and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all

For I stole california from the mexican land
Fought in the bloody civil war
Yes I even killed my brother
And so many others
And I ain't marchin' anymore

For I marched to the battles of the german trench
In a war that was bound to end all wars
Oh I must have killed a million men
And now they want me back again
But I ain't marchin' anymore


For I flew the final mission in the japanese sky
Set off the mighty mushroom roar
When I saw the cities burning
I knew that I was learning
That I ain't marchin' anymore

Now the labor leader's screamin' when they close the missile plants,
United fruit screams at the cuban shore,
Call it "peace" or call it "treason,"
Call it "love" or call it "reason,"
But I ain't marchin' any more.

Finally we have Buffy Ste. Marie's 'Universal Soldier'. A little local patriotism here. Ste. Marie was born a mere 20 miles or so from where I grew up in the Quapelle Valley. this song debuted in 1964. it gathered little attention at first but took off when it was rerecorded by folk singer Donovan in 1965. You can see various videos of Ste. Marie performing this song at this link.

Universal Soldier
Buffy Sainte-Marie
He's five feet two and he's six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He's all of 31 and he's only 17
He's been a soldier for a thousand years

He's a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain,
a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew
and he knows he shouldn't kill
and he knows he always will
kill you for me my friend and me for you

And he's fighting for Canada,
he's fighting for France,
he's fighting for the USA,
and he's fighting for the Russians
and he's fighting for Japan,
and he thinks we'll put an end to war this way

And he's fighting for Democracy
and fighting for the Reds
He says it's for the peace of all
He's the one who must decide
who's to live and who's to die
and he never sees the writing on the walls

But without him how would Hitler have
condemned him at Dachau
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He's the one who gives his body
as a weapon to a war
and without him all this killing can't go on

He's the universal soldier and he
really is to blame
His orders come from far away no more
They come from him, and you, and me
and brothers can't you see
this is not the way we put an end to war.

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