REMEMBERING WHAT MATTERS. What we’re living through at the moment is a little bit like wartime in some ways. Many of us are apart from loved ones or separated from our usual way of life. I’ve been finding myself reflecting on what matters most and I often do that while spending time with my horse Whitey somewhere. Spending time with my old mate Whitey has been a benefit of these unexpectedly quiet times when our usual guests are staying home.
I’m reminded of the poem The Offside Leader by William Henry Ogilvie and how much our animals mean to us, especially in difficult times. In that WW1 poem, the horse-team driver, who has witnessed terrible things, says he wants no praise or ribbons, just that he can take his brave and faithful mare, ‘the offside leader’, to a beautiful paddock he knows. There she can dream under lime trees, amidst the clover, where dragon-flies glisten.
Those WW1 battery horses (that pulled our artillery and Red Cross wagons and carts) have a special connection with Longreach. Davenport Downs Station near here bred horses for the Cobb & Co coaches and then, in wartime, their horses were sent to war as battery horses. They left from Longreach Railway Station to travel to Brisbane and then to the war fronts in Egypt or Europe.
As we remember our ANZAC heroes this year, I’m reflecting, as they must have done, on what really matters – our family, loved ones, community and the places that mean something special to us.
With no formal ANZAC Day ceremonies this year, I will ride Whitey down to Longreach Station at dawn to where the old horse-yards used to be. I will sit in silence to reflect. I will remember the brave men, women and horses who left from here and the things they were fighting for that meant so much more than praise and ribbons.
It is a beautiful time of the morning here as the sun is starting to get up. It gives me a tingling feeling as I think of those poor honest horses waiting right here on this very ground to be loaded on to the train any minute now, to be taken to some unknown land to help their masters fight for our land, and to think they were never to come home.
We truly have so much to thank them for – MEN, WOMEN and HORSES. I hope you have enjoyed the reflection as much as I have. It truly has brought a tear to my eye.
WE ARE ONE; WE ARE THE AUSTRALIANS”
The Offside Leader
This is the wish, as he told it to me,
Of Driver Macpherson of Battery B.
I WANT no praise, nor ribbons to wear ;
I ‘ve done my bit, and I ‘ve had my share
Of filth and fighting and blood and tears
And doubt and death in the last four years.
My team and I were among the first
Contemptible few when the war-clouds burst.
We sweated our gun through the dust and heat,
We hauled her back in the Big Retreat,
With weary horses and short of shell,
Turning our backs on them. That was Hell.
That was at Mons ; but we came back there,
With shine on the horses and shells to spare !
And much I’ve suffered and much I’ve seen
From Mons to Mons on the miles between,
But I want no praise, nor ribbons to wear —
All I ask for my fighting share
Is this : that England will give to me
My offside leader in Battery B.
She was a round-ribbed blaze-faced brown,
Shy as a country girl in town,
Scared of the gangway and scared of the quay,
Lathered in sweat at a sight of the sea,
But brave as a lion and strong as a bull,
With the mud at the hub in an uphill pull.
She learned her job as the best ones do.
And we hadn’t been over a week or two
Before she would stand like a rooted oak
While the bullets whined and the shrapnel
And a mile of the ridges rocked in glee.
As the shells went over from Battery B.
One by one our team went down,
But the gods were good to the blaze-faced
We swayed with the battles back and forth.
Lugging the limbers south and north.
Round us the world was red with flame
As we gained or gave in the changing game ;
Forward or backward, losses or gains,
There were empty saddles and idle chains.
For Death took some on the galloping track
And beckoned some from the bivouac ;
Till at last were left but my mare and me
Of all that went over with Battery B.
My mates have gone and left me alone ;
Their horses are heaps of ashes and bone.
Of all that went out in courage and speed
There is left but the little brown mare in the lead,
The little brown mare with the blaze on her face
That would die of shame at a slack in her trace,
That would swing the team to the least command,
That would charge a house at the slap of my hand,
That would turn from a shell to nuzzle my knee —
The pride and the wonder of Battery B.
I look for no praise and no ribbons to wear.
If I ‘ve done my bit it was only my share.
For a man has his pride and the strength of his Cause
And the love of his home — they are unwritten laws.
But what of the horses that served at our side.
That in faith as of children fought with us and died ?
If I, through it all, have been true to my task,
I ask for no honours. This only I ask :
Where I’d leave a brown mare with a blaze on her
‘Mid low leafy lime-trees in cock’s-foot and clover
To dream, with the dragon-flies glistening over.