He Was A Mate
Poetry by Lachlan Irvine
He was a mate, a real good mate ‘e was,
A friendly sort of feller, liked a joke;
And if it had to happen, it’s a shame
It had to happen to such a decent bloke.
But – ah, fair dinkum, don’t it make you wonder
What God in Heaven’s thinkin’ about up there;
The way He chooses who to sacrifice
To me somehow it doesn’t quite seem fair.
You’d think He’d want to take a bloke like me
Who’d be no loss to no-one here on Earth;
But no, He always seems to pick the best
Whose life amounts to ten times what mine’s worth.
But I suppose He’d say it’s not His fault,
It’s us and how we treat our fellow man;
And if too many good blokes’ lives are lost
We can’t just blame it all on His great plan.
He slung us here on Earth and said “Righto,
Get on with it you blokes, the world is yours”;
But all we’ve done is fight among ourselves
And destroy each other with our endless wars.
Now, there’s a sort of aching here inside,
I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong;
But a soldier can’t afford to feel this way,
He’s got to grit his teeth and carry on.
So how’s a bloke supposed to deal with this?
I know they trained me well, I can’t complain;
But this is somethin’ you don’t learn about
When they teach you how to play the soldier’s game.
They teach you how to shoot and how to kill,
You even learn which enemy to hate;
But nowhere in their training do you learn
How to live with the loss of a real good mate.
Commentary from Lachlan Irvine:
The purpose of this poem was to portray some of the thoughts that go through a young soldier’s mind when one of his mates is killed. In that sense, the poem is intended to have a general application. When I wrote it however, I had a particular mate in mind. His name was Gary Polglase, known to his friends as “Polly”. He was a dog handler in the Anti-Tank Platoon, 3RAR. Here he is pictured with his dog, Julian, just a few weeks before his death, which occurred in April 1968.
Here’s a link to more poetry by Lachlan Irvine:
Lachlan Irvine Poetry
LEST WE FORGET !
The soldier stood and faced God,
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,
Just as brightly as his brass.
‘Step forward now, you soldier,
How shall I deal with you ?
Have you always turned the other cheek ?
To My Church have you been true?’
The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
‘No, Lord, I guess I haven’t.
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can’t always be a saint.
I’ve had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I’ve been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.
But, I never took a penny,
That wasn’t mine to keep…
Though I worked a lot of time,
And the bills got just too steep.
And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I’ve wept unmanly tears.
I know I don’t deserve a place,
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
Except to calm their fears.
If you’ve a place for me here, Lord,
It needn’t be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don’t, I’ll understand.
There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.
‘Step forward now, you soldier,
You’ve borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets,
You’ve done your time in Hell.’
Supplied by Red Wuillemin