Jan Tully is someone I can honestly call a lifelong friend — she has known me since I was very little. She is a grief counsellor and funeral celebrant, and a great friend to refugee families from Iraq. Her father, Phill Rawlins, wrote this poem in 1958. Apart from his obvious ear for metre, I can hear in it a familial sensitivity to loss and remembrance. Thanks, Jan, for letting me reprint it here.
The Old Digger
When he’s marching through the City on some Anzac afternoon
Some would see a thing of pity in his thinned out old platoon.
Do they see what he is seeing, hear the tramp of ghostly feet?
No! They only hear the cheering and the bass drum’s solid beat.
But the Digger, when he’s marching pays small heed to local sounds,
When in memory he is roaming over far-off battle-grounds;
Takes small note of martial music or the shouting in the street
When his thoughts are with the fallen left in Anzac, Greece or Crete.
Some folks say that it’s all nonsense, to remember those long dead,
They’d rather watch the horses or a football match instead.
But he thinks he sees their faces when he’s marching with the band,
Seems as if he hears their laughing voices somewhere near at hand.
On this day above all others, seems he hears their ghostly feet,
When he’s marching with his brothers down some crowd-lined city street.
If he bears himself with courage and his eyes are damp with pride
Then you’ll know his ghostly comrades are marching by his side.
Yes, he’s faithful to his mem’ries though his eyesight may be dim,
Though his hair may fast be greying, still, it’s all the same to him.
So he trysts with living comrades, men whose friendship still is fine,
On the day the ghost battalions go marching to the shrine.
Do not wonder at his coming to the March on Anzac Day
If he’s living in the city or he’s many miles away.
For it’s hard to tell a civvy the things a Digger feels
When he thinks he sees old faces,
Hears the click of unseen heels.