Salute to the Dead
In most military publications you will find a Roll of Honour to the fallen. Yet, each has always struck me as being cold and impersonal, usually listing the names of the dead in alphabetical order towards, or at the end of it. For me it is those who were killed who occupy the exalted position and for that reason I believe the Honour Roll, where practicable, should occupy a position towards the front. I also believe that a photograph alongside each name on the roll helps the reader to identify with the names. It is far too easy to dismiss the tragedy of war if we are not confronted with the faces of the victims. The easier it is to dismiss, the more likely we are to repeat past mistakes and allow war’s repetition.
This poem not only deals with this issue but also with the sacrifices made in vain, if the very values for which these men died, are allowed to be squandered. Hard fought freedom should not be abused by those who have sought to benefit from the efforts of others ... efforts which achieved that freedom for them. Freedom is never free!
“Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land, drawing no dividends from Time’s tomorrows.”
- Siegfried Sassoon, in Dreamers, 1917.
“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before
them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.”
- Pericles in his funeral oration to the Athenian dead in 431 B.C.
“They shall grow not old, as we who are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the Sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them! … LEST WE FORGET !”
- from the Ode of Remembrance by Lawrence Binyon, 1914.
Salute to the Dead
In this anthology of rhymes,
As you read of past times,
Of an era, just so hard to ignore,
We ought open our minds,
Awake to conflicting signs,
Splitting this country, like never before.
Let your eyes slowly scroll,
Down that long Honour Roll,
Over images you'll see listed there;
They fail to disguise,
Imploring looks in their eyes,
Quite obvious in each haunting stare.
And though it seems really queer,
I imagine I hear,
Faint voices from out of each page;
With no answers for them,
To questions from these young men,
With faces that never show age.
All asking: “What was it for,
To be killed in that war?
It could have been you and not me!
As you read out my name,
Tell me why, once again!”
A final request, in the form of a plea.
Oh yeah! We honour our dead!
That’s what we’re taught and ’tis said;
Pay homage to those like we ought.
Yet, there are those free who abuse;
Ungratefully protest to make news,
And ignore how their freedom was bought.
For this Great Southern Land,
Had held out its hand,
To share a life, to be lived without fear;
From violence and hate,
And a repressive police state;
Yet, some bring that behaviour down here.
A message clearly relayed,
To those faces dismayed,
Who all must be feeling the same;
Like their families who’ve grieved,
As well as being deceived,
For them I feel sadness and shame.
Although silence is golden,
Values and chances get stolen,
By radicals loud in the crowd;
So let us not that accept,
Instead honour our debt,
And tell those faces we’re sorry ... yet proud!
From The Australian newspaper