Auckland New Zealand
Earlier this year, I chanced upon a poem on our local website which touched me to the extent that I contacted its author. It transpired that he had written it on the back of an old cigarette packet, whilst on active service in Borneo some 30 years ago. It had lain untouched to the present day, when he decided to post it. It was written shortly after his best friend was killed in an ambush. I asked if I might write something by way of a tribute to him, to his friend, and indeed to all those New Zealanders and Australians who fought in the Indonesian campaign. He kindly agreed, and “The Flag” was the result.
For those unfamiliar with New Zealand - the star formation on our National Flag is symbolic of the Southern Cross - and the NZ is commonly referred to as “the land of the long white cloud.”
Come, all who rise to greet each dawn in disaffected manner,
Yet daily walk in favour born of freedom’s sovereign banner;
Then ponder well your shield of Union flag and Southern Cross,
And edge in gilt the men who built her mast of tragic loss.
See her ride the wind with pride! She draws her halyards tauter,
In proud salute to those who bore her far across the water.
Her tribute to her sons and daughters, conscious of her price.
And those she lost, who paid her cost in blood...... and sacrifice.
Beneath the verdant canopies of Asia’s long campaign
The Kiwi footprint once was found where now it walks again.
Not river’s flow nor sunset’s glow its memory could erase
For one, its image long will carry, ‘til his final days.
Just one more Kiwi soldier with his sworn allegiance true
To banner starred and spangled bright on sea of royal blue.
In dire threat from forces dark and of his own perdition,
The politicians backed his cause - with verbal ammunition.
As from their lofty corridors of self-perceived noblesse,
They gambled with the lives of men in Asia’s game of chess.
That you and I should live the joy of countless peaceful dawns,
Is not our debt to knights or kings, but courage of the pawns.
Ah, - courage? Yes, they talk of her, in eloquent oration.
Such plausible magniloquence concerning State and Nation.
Yet were they present with him in that bloodstained Asian river
With bayonet fixed, emotions mixed, and stomach churning quiver?
Alas - not so, it seems as though, the protocols of war
Dictate that they be far away upon a leeward shore;
Too far to see the jungle vast, nor feel its stifling heat;
Or hear the sub-machine gun blast its grim staccato beat.
As on that fateful day, patrolling waist deep in the slime,
Reality became his nightmare in a trice of time;
That fiery flash of ambush scattered all upon the scene
And stilled the heart of his best friend, who was a Royal Marine.
Who would no more the trial endure of suppurating sore,
The gauntlet of malaria, and leeches by the score,
Nor threat of rodent’s poisoned bite, nor sting of eyes infected;
He’d done his job, for them, for us, his duty as directed.
Now if the orators perchance to knock on Heaven’s door,
God grant it may be opened by a child of East Timor.
In battle past, the die was cast, but democratic right
Died in procrastination’s bloody never-ending night.
And so the child may lead them where the mists of time enshroud
A land where all men dwell in peace below a long white cloud.
Wherein her heroes gather still, in hallowed dawn parade.
They wonder sometimes....... “Is it worth the sacrifice we made?”
Behold these men assembled here beneath the Standard’s mast.
Beside each one, a vacant place, without a shadow cast.
Where souls of comrades lost abide, by human eye unseen;
One Kiwi, one Australian....... and .............a British Royal Marine.
© 1999 Rod Walford