I recently came across the following poem in Jungle Warfare – With The Australian Army In The South Pacific (1944) and as I read, its verses struck me as not only timeless, but also somehow relevant to our world today. In it, the author ponders the overgrown state of the tropical jungles he has encountered, and as he observes the shattered palm battlefields he sees the ghosts of those who fought there, and feels the weight of their sacrifice and the obligation it carries – to never again be repeated. His poetry delves into the simple and often primal feelings that drive ordinary men and women feel to serve their countries in times of war, yet yearns for a world where such sacrifice is not necessary.
It was penned during 1944 in New Guinea by Maurice Lindsay Bull, a Victorian soldier with the Australian Army.
Hidden Battlefields – New Guinea
I came – as yet I knew not battle’s roar –
To view the scenes of conﬂicts gone before,
And thought to ﬁnd, throughout this rugged land,
Destruction, debris, death, on every hand.
But this I saw –
A climbing, twisting, trailing mass of vine,
Through foliage fresh and branches intertwined,
A living cloak of variegated green,
That covered o’er the sight of what had been,
And one thing more –
For here and there, like sentinels of Mars,
Stood stately palms, beheaded, thick with scars
Of bullet, bomb, and shell, and all the rest
Through which men fought and bled, yet stood the test
Of total war.
And then I pondered how we might repay
The sacrifice of men who passed this way,
And realized if we could somehow bring
To this sick, war-torn world those simple things
They struggled for –
The very right to work, the right to play,
To live and love and hope, the right to pray,
To keep secure the greatest of all joys –
The carefree laughter of their girls and boys;
They asked no more.
If we in times to come forsake our greed,
And grant, to rich and poor, to every creed,
Those rights, then all the toil the fear the pain
And death they suffered, shall not be in vain,
And they once more
Will rise in glory, and, like sentinels,
Stand quiet guard, while over hill and dell
The foliage fresh of peace will gently rest,
And men with freedom, love and hope be blest
– Maurice Lindsay Bull