YOUNG BLOOD: Port Adelaide-born Frank Lundie, pictured at 17, lied about his age to enlist in World War I, serving in the Middle East in the 9th Light Horse from 1917 - 1919.
Poetry was an expressive escape for soldiers serving in World War II, just as it had been for the likes of British poet Wilfred Owen, who used it to define the hell which was the Western Front in World War I.
But the poetry often written by World War II Australian AIF servicemen was different, particularly in relation to the war waged in the South Pacific against the Japanese.
Most Australian servicemen who enlisted had little or no concept of a tropical jungle. Whether city or country-born, they had grown up in Mediterranean, desert, savannah or cooler climates in Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales.
Even most Queenslanders, unless they were from the Far North, had little experience of the kind of dense, rampant rainforest that covered the mountains of Papua and New Guinea and the physical and mental challenges it posed.
The infantrymen were indeed strangers in a strange land.
Soldier poets struggled to define the dank, dark, brooding threat of daily field operations in the rainforest of the rugged Owen Stanley Ranges.
The men were not only thrust into a life-and-death battle for survival against the Japanese, they faced a far more varied and subtle, age-old enemy… nature.
During the war years, the popular Australian magazine The Bulletin published an occasional column called The Red Page which featured poetry mailed in from Australian soldiers serving overseas in the AIF.
Often in the poems, the men would attempt to define not only the tragedy and horrors of war but also the rain-drenched, forbidding landscape into which they had been dropped to seek out and fight a hidden enemy.
Many of these men’s poems were first published in newspapers and magazines, with some works later published in anthologies of verse after the war, when publishers were no longer restricted by the rationing of paper.
In the poem Soliloquy, Lieutenant Eric Irvin of the 7th Signals Division peers into the dark green hell, attempting to define his unsettling experience being threatened by raw nature.
Irvin, a Catholic school teacher before the war, enlisted in the AIF on May 31, 1940 and served in the Middle East, Papua and New Guinea, taking part in the Kokoda, Buna and Ramu Valley campaigns. His published works include Australian Poets of This War, published in The Australian Quarterly and a volume of his own poetry, A Soldier's Miscellany.
Silence, save the sullen drip
Of moisture to the heavy earth.
Heat that presses on the brain
And tautens every flinching nerve
Until the air is filled with madness.
Metallic, those leaves so strangely still;
Cut out of tin and painted.
Look how the water runs from every one,
An iridescent ball that bursts
With a sharp “plop” upon the ground
The sound is echoed all around.
God, will it never stop, that inexorable drop
From leaf to leaf, from leaf to ground?
Like the touch of a nightmare snake,
Each vine clings hungrily as I pass
But must not, can not hold me from my goal,
Which may be here: or there: or in the bole
Of that web-footed tree.
Everything is mad. The trees grow feet
And corkscrew themselves up to the sky,
Unable to escape the dragging vine
That holds them firm within its fetid bed.
Death I can face,
But hidden, creeping fate
That lurks behind each tree and palm,
The ultimate in hate,
Defeats the routine calm of conscious nerves.
Death is a soft enfoldment;
Not a sweep of pain from green
Embrasures, felt but never seen.
I have laughed at death - and know, if for my sin,
When danger passes, glamor enters in;
But where the glamor of this painted jungle mummer
To pass away a campfire’s easy chatter?
It lies within the future, and the present doesn't matter.
I will believe: I will believe: the present doesn’t matter.
- Sgt Eric Irvin, 7th Division Signals AIF
Published: The Bulletin, Page 2, Jan 6, 1943
* * *
Rhyme and reason
South Australian war poet Francis (Frank) J.P. Lundie was a career soldier, serving in both World Wars. Born in Port Adelaide on August 21, 1899, Lundie was 17 when he put his age up by three years to enlist for World War I, serving in the Middle East with the 9th Light Horse from 1917 to 1919.
In early 1940, the Commonwealth Government changed the active service age to under 40 years so Lundie sought discharge from the army on 29/5/40 and re-enlisted on 31/5/40 stating his birth date was 21/8/1900, making him young enough (39 1/2 years) for active service in World War II.
Lundie joined the 2/27th Battalion (SX4083), with which he served in the Middle East, Papua, New Guinea and Borneo, constantly writing poetry based on his experiences throughout the war.
Between the wars he went to night school to further his education, worked as a labourer on fruit blocks in Renmark, South Australia, and on sugar plantations in Queensland. He was also a timber cutter, rabbit trapper and fox hunter.
After World War II, Lundie was classed TPI (Totally and Permanently Incapacitated) and unable to work. He was honoured in 1946 with the publishing of a 33-page collection of his poems titled Reveille, released by Hassell Press in Adelaide.
Lundie’s war experiences left indelible impressions of the primal jungles of Papua and New Guinea etched in his memory.
Years later, in a letter to the president of the Renmark R.S.L. Lundie wrote:
“This New Guinea is an extraordinary country; If the damned place was rolled out flat I think it would cover the Pacific Ocean.
“The interior is a vast maze of mountain ranges, with some impossible ridges in the high altitudes. If I had not seen this myself I would not credit that such wicked, ghostly lands existed.
“These are perpetually choked with clouds and everything is covered with a fine moss-like fern. I think here the sun never shines… just thick fog and underfoot, a deep mat of tiny fibrous roots.”
Sergeant Frank Lundie died on July 23, 1966, at the age of 66.
March of the Seventh
A ribbon of green 'neath an azured sky,
As the men in their jungle suits march by
But I see them again in the mountain heights,
In the tawny kunai's treacherous light.
I see them splashed with rain and mud,
Broken bodies and guns and blood.
Ever advancing, gaunt and lean
An endless column of jungle green.
And, too, I see as they march along,
In the faded green, a ghostly throng.
I hear the sound of their phantom feet
Silently pacing the sun-lit street!
For them the cheers and waving flags
In their darkened valleys and mountain crags.
My heart is filled with pride and pain
For the deathless band who march again.
And who shall stay their fateful stride,
Can stay the flood of the flowing tide?
Their guns are broken, their deeds are done -
But their standard is raised 'neath a southern sun.
Onward and upward 'tis borne along!
Mine ears are filled with their silent song.
And I look to hear through the years ahead
The triumphant tramp of our marching dead!
- Cpl F.J.P. Lundie, 2/27th Battalion (SX4083), 7th Division AIF
Published: The Courier Mail, Brisbane, Page 1, Aug 8, 1944
When morning breaks and in the dark,
The lads who bore death's awesome mark,
Remember what they hoped to do,
How grand they were, how staunch and true;
Remember what they meant to you,
When things get tough and food is short,
In every fight that must be fought;
Your job and theirs must now be done,
You win for them — what must be won,
In the darkest night, in the shining sun,
And when death comes to you at last;
Remember how they bravely died,
No matter to what depths you slide,
Your glory is, you stood beside,
- Cpl F.J.P. Lundie, 2/27th Battalion (SX4083), New Guinea, Sept 1942
Published: Murray Pioneer, Page 1, Nov 19, 1942; The Bulletin, Page 2, Jan 6, 1943
A soldier’s plea
Bear with me, dear, when I come back;
Forgive my faults, my stumbling way.
The self you seek I know I lack;
My hands are soiled, my feet are clay.
I need your help to see it through,
To build our world as it should be,
To do the things I want to do,
In love, I beg you, bear with me.
The world of war’s a world of change
Where men are lost in jungles vast;
And all the ways of peace are strange -
O, be my anchor, hold me fast!
Nor seek to probe my war-torn years;
They are my own, those times of pain;
I need your light among my fears
To guide me to myself again.
We’ll find our answer, you and I;
It may seem that our roads must part,
But, as you loved me, O stand by,
The “me” is still within my heart.
The scars the years of war have left
Are prices wars have ever cost,
Then leave me not of love bereft -
Help me to find the years I’ve lost.
Help me to see your love and trust,
Your courage through the years of care;
To walk the world, as walk I must,
Ready again to laugh and dare;
To think and work and sing and play,
To keep my head in tears and joy;
To walk with you in that dear way
We will not let grim wars destroy.
- Cpl F.J.P. Lundie, 2/27th Battalion (SX4083)
Published: The Bulletin, Page 12, Sept 1945
OLD BLOOD: Frank Lundie, pictured at 40, lied about his age to enlist in World War II, serving in the Middle East, Papua, New Guinea and Borneo in the South Australian 2/27th Battalion from 1940 - 1945.
* * *
Angels by their side
One of the most recognised Australian war poets of the genre was Canadian-born Sapper H.E. “Bert” Beros (NX6925), Royal Australian Engineers, 7th Division AIF, who also served in both World War I and World War II.
He wrote his famous Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels poem early on the morning of October 14, 1942, around 4am in the Owen Stanley Ranges at Dump 66 on the Kokoda Track after standing down from guard duty.
A fellow soldier who read Beros’s poem, penned a copy and mailed it home to his own mother, who in turn was so impressed that she mailed it to the Brisbane Courier Mail in which it was first published on October 31, 1942, with the author unnamed.
Due to its popularity, the poem was again printed on November 13, 1942, with its pending publication heralded the previous day in the Courier Mail’s Editorial column:
FUZZY WUZZY ANGELS
“THE tribute to The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels of Owen Stanley Track, first published in The Courier-Mail on October 31, is to be republished in tomorrow's issue.
“These rough-hewn verses by an Australian soldier in New Guinea have touched the hearts of tens of thousands of people. They have done more than that. They have brought home to Australians the debt that our fighting men owe to the native carriers of Papua.
“The native races of Papua have been wards of the Commonwealth of Australia for 36 years, and the loyal service they are rendering in this war, especially their tender care of our wounded men, is a reward of good administration, not less efficient because it was humane.”
The poem became an emotional touchstone for families throughout Australia fretting over the uncertain fate of their loved ones fighting in the jungles of Papua and New Guinea.
Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels touched the social conscience at a time when both the AIF and the Australian Government were struggling to find positive news on the progress of the war in the Pacific.
The poem was, in many ways, lyrical propaganda which overlooked fundamental problems associated with the jungle campaign – stretched supply lines, poor communications, limited medical and evacuation facilities and uncertain support from often press-ganged, unarmed native carriers who would sometimes drop their loads and (quite logically) flee into the jungle when the Australian troops came under fire.
But Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels managed to inspire the nation’s collective consciousness that the Australian fighting man was being watched over by God come down to Earth in the form of indigenous angels, humble New Guinean stretcher-bearers.
The 54-poem booklet Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and other verses by Sapper Bert Beros was released in 1943 and dedicated to the author’s two sons, Pte Laurie Beros (a Prisoner of War in Italy) and RAAF A.C.1. Cecil Beros.
Published by F.H. Johnston Publishing Company, Sydney, the booklet sold for two-and-sixpence.
Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels
Many a mother in Australia,
When the busy day is done,
Sends a prayer to the Almighty
For the keeping of her son,
Asking that an angel guide him
And bring him safely back—
Now we see those prayers are answered
On the Owen Stanley Track.
For they haven’t any halos,
Only holes slashed in their ears,
And their faces worked by tattoos,
With scratch pins in their hair.
Bringing back the badly wounded
Just as steady as a hearse,
Using leaves to keep the rain off
And as gentle as a nurse.
Slow and careful in bad places
On the awful mountain track,
The look upon their faces
Would make you think that Christ was black.
Not a move to hurt the wounded,
As they treat him like a saint;
It’s a picture worth recording,
That an artist’s yet to paint.
Many a lad will see his mother,
And husbands wee’uns and wives,
Just because the fuzzy wuzzies
Carried them to save their lives
From mortar bombs, machine-gun fire,
Or a chance surprise attack,
To safety and the care of doctors
At the bottom of the track.
May the mothers of Australia,
When they offer up a prayer,
Mention those impromptu angels,
With their fuzzy wuzzy hair.
- Sapper H.E. “Bert” Beros (NX6925),
Royal Australian Engineers, 7th Division AIF
Celebrated Australian war correspondent Osmar White offered an alternative perspective on the poem Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels in his book, Parliament of a Thousand Tribes published in 1965, which closely examined the post-war emergence of the new nation to Australia’s north, Papua New Guinea.
In his description of the experiences of native carriers who had been recruited by the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) during World War II, White described the dramatic impact of the mobilisation of native labour to the extent that “in some villages every able-bodied male over the approximate age of sixteen was rounded up, transported to the clearing centres and drafted to whatever type of work that had priority in the immediate emergency.”
In reference to Sapper Beros and his poem, White wrote of “a sentimental soldier with a bent for versification (who) wrote some lines of doggerel which described native stretcher-bearers as ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’.”
White also conceded that, during the campaign in the Owen Stanley Ranges, war correspondents greatly publicised the part played by carriers and stretcher-bearers on the Kokoda Track, emphasising their endurance, gallantry and loyalty.
“While it is true that some natives did show the qualities for which they were praised, it is equally true that the majority did their work only because the white men in command bullied them into it. Few if any were serving voluntarily and most would have deserted if possible,” wrote White.
“The Australian public was in a highly emotional state, alarmed and humiliated by the ease with which the Japanese had swept through the Pacific and threatened the continent with invasion. It was in desperate need of some reassurance that it was fighting on the side of the angels—an alignment which is presumed to ensure eventual victory.
“Failing the apparition of celestial angels in the New Guinea storm clouds to match the reported phenomenon at Mons, when the Germans were carrying all before them in the First World War, terrestrial angels would have to suffice,” wrote White.
“Almost overnight the most sullen, reluctant New Guinean employed on the military supply routes became in the minds of a large section of Australians a heroically faithful underdog offering proof by gallantry and devotion that he was not only a Christian gentleman at heart but he was also profoundly grateful for the benevolence of Australian policy and performance in the past.
“The speed with which the public image of a New Guinean was transmogrified from that of bloodthirsty cannibal with a bone through his nose to that of a dusky-skinned, mop-headed, sexless Florence Nightingale must forever remain an inspiration to political propagandists,” White concluded.
A Soldier’s Farewell to his Son
I stand and watch you, little son,
Your bosom’s rise and fall,
An old rag dog beside your cheek,
A gayly coloured ball.
Your curly hair is ruffled as you
Rest there fast asleep,
And silently I tip-toe in
To have one last long peep.
I come to say farewell to you,
My little snowy son.
And as I do I hope that you will
Never slope a gun,
Or hear dive-bombers and
Their dreadful whining roar,
Or see or feel their loads of death
As overhead they soar.
I trust that you will never need
To go abroad to fight,
Or learn the awful lesson soon
That might to some is right,
Or see your cobbers blown to scraps
Or die a lingering death,
with vapours foul and filthy
When the blood-flow chokes the breath.
I hope that you will never know
The dangers of the sea.
And that is why I leave you now
To hold your liberty,
To slay the demon War God
I must leave you for a while
In mother’s care – till stars again
From peaceful heaven smile.
Your mother is your daddy now,
To guard your little ways,
Yet ever I’ll be thinking of you both
In future days.
I must give up your tender years,
The joys I’ll sorely miss,
My little man, farewell, so long,
I leave you with a kiss.
- Sapper H.E. “Bert” Beros (NX6925),
Royal Australian Engineers, 7th Division AIF
We knew he came from the Western State,
Though to us he remained unknown;
For the WX was marked in his hat -
The rest a mortar had blown.
We buried him there, on the mountain spur,
where the trees are draped in moss;
We thought of his mother, no news for her
of that irreplaceable loss.
Just a boy he looked, with his snowy hair,
As we laid him down in the clay;
The padre’s voice was low and clear,
No others had words to say.
Yet we knew a mother would watch and wait,
for a letter sent by her boy,
How she would dream of the things he did,
How his first words caused her joy.
And as he went off to school or game,
he’d wave her fond goodbyes.
Just as he did when the great call came,
And the hot tears hurt her eyes.
Perhaps she will know in some unknown way,
Of that little rugged cross,
The remains of her hero beneath it lay,
Where the trees are draped in moss.
We cursed the foe, who stripped the dead,
No pity on them can be shown.
We marked his cross so it can be read,
- Sapper H.E. “Bert” Beros (NX6925),
Royal Australian Engineers, 7th Division AIF
CHRISTMAS GIFT: Injured at Buna in the Battle of the Beachheads on the north coast of Papua, Private George (Dick) Whittington of the 2/10 Infantry Battalion is guided to safety on Christmas Day 1942 by Papuan native Raphael Oimbari (AWM014028). Picture: George Silk
An angel on earth
George Silk, a photographer for the Australian Department of Information during World War II, captured this iconic image by chance on Christmas Day 1942.
Queenslander Private George Whittington (QX23902) of the 2/10th Battalion was wounded and temporarily blinded during fighting at Buna on the north coast of Papua, when a sniper shot creased his forehead.
Mid-afternoon, Papuan Raphael Oimbari, from Hanau Village 10km south-east of Buna, was leading Whittington back along the track through tall kunai grass to the main dressing station at Dobodura as the photographer was walking up the track towards the battle front.
Silk surreptitiously took the photograph of Whittington and Oimbari then at the last minute, after they had passed, turned around and ran back to get the wounded soldier’s name.
“One of the things that is interesting about the photo is that although George Silk documented the name of the Australian soldier at the time, Raphael Oimbari wasn’t identified,” wrote Australian War Memorial Senior Historian Dr Lachlan Grant.
“His identity was unknown until the 1970s when Whittington’s widow put a call out in the media because she wanted to identify who the Papuan was so that she could thank him.”
The identity of the carrier was eventually revealed as Raphael Oimbari, who went on to become a strong advocate for the commemoration of the native contribution to the war effort through the 1980s and into the 1990s.
The profound humanitarian aspect of Silk’s image resonated with all who saw it.
The photographer’s powerful photograph of Whittington and Oimbari was originally censored by the Australian Department of Information.
“The Australian authorities were very strict with their censorship, particularly with images coming back from the front line,” Grant wrote.
“There was great frustration among Australian journalists and some of them left Australian agencies to work for the BBC or other agencies where they felt they had more freedom to report on what was happening on the front lines.”
Silk’s image helped change the way Australians perceived the role of native Papuans and New Guineans during the war, particularly following its publication in the leading American magazine Life on March 8, 1943.
The publication of the image in Life boosted Silk’s international reputation as a photographer to the extent that he worked for the magazine for the next 29 years, from 1943 to 1972, and was twice named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Union.
In the 1970s, Raphael Oimbari was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and visited Australia several times in the following years as an ambassador for Papua New Guinea’s World War II stretcher-bearers, porters and labourers.
A statue of Oimbari and Whittington stands at the Canberra Services Club, Manuka, where Oimbari was a guest in November 1992. Another statue of Oimbari is located at Port Moresby in Jack Pidik Park.
Raphael Oimbari continued to live in Hanau Village, dying aged in his mid-80s in July 1996. He was buried beside his modest two-room bush house and the Australian High Commissioner, David Irvine, and other dignitaries attended the funeral. Oimbari’s grave features a bronze plaque on a plinth depicting the famous photograph.
After recovering from his head wound, Whittington returned to the 2/10th Battalion to be involved in the Battle of Sanananda, which ended in late January 1943. Soon after, he contracted scrub typhus and was evacuated to a military hospital in Port Moresby.
Whittington died from the disease at the age of 23 on February 12, 1943, less than seven weeks after the famous photograph was taken of his rescue. He never saw the picture.
Whittington is buried in Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.
His grave is marked with a bronze plaque which reads:
WHITTINGTON, Private, GEORGE CHARLES, QX23902. AIF. 2/10 Bn. Australian Infantry. 12th February 1943. Son of Francis Cecil and Mary Waise Whittington; husband of Constance Matilda Whittington, of Nundah, Queensland.
Sources: AWM, Raphael Oimbari Foundation