Two Soldiers, Two flyers
It seems that one of the most fertile environments for the creation of poetry is an extreme emotional experience followed by a period of idleness. It is probably for that reason that combatants in that most awful of human activities, war, produce so many fine poems. In Australia, during the second World War, one anthology alone, Poets at War featured poems written by more than 70 service men and women.
One of the Queensland poets included in that book was Shawn O'Leary, who was born in Ipswich, in 1916. He was educated at the University of Queensland, and became a freelance journalist, before enlisting in the second AIF, and serving in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Pacific. His one book of poetry, Spikenard & Bayonet (1941), is subtitled 'Verses from the Front Line'. For the most part, it explores O'Leary's experience in the Middle East, especially at Tobruk. O'Leary rose to the rank of lieutenant, continued to publish poetry on military themes for the rest of the 1940s, and wrote a regimental history in the 1970s. He died in Ayr, North Queensland, in 1992.
Many of the Australian servicemen who endured such hardship in the middle east were called upon shortly afterwards to defend their homeland from a potential Japanese invasion. Howarde Tilse was one of the 'Moresby Mice', who named themselves in ironic distinction to the 'Rats of Tobruk'. He was born at Mareeba, North Queensland, in 1911, and educated at Brisbane Central Technical College. Tilse worked as a freelance journalist, and served with the second AIF and RAAF from 1940 until 1945. His war time poetry, was collected in The Musings of a Moresby Mouse: Papuan Poems (1944). Tilse continued to published poetry, sporadically, through the 1950's, and died in 1974.
Pat Galligan did not get to live that long. He was born at Imbil, near Maryborough, in 1921 and grew up in north west Queensland. According to James Devaney, he was an outstanding school boy athlete, and was beginning to establish himself in literary and artistic circles when war broke out. Galligan joined the RAAF. He was serving as a gunner, when his plane was shot down during a bombing raid over Cologne, in 1943. A month later, his brother, also an airforce gunner, was also killed. Pat Galligan's only book of verse, To Those Who Survive, was published in 1945. It is tempting to overestimate the literary quality of authors whose lives are cut short. But the poignancy of lines like these is difficult to ignore.
And I would see Corinda when the summer's at its height;
Though storms blow down the river, and we curse the heat at night.
from Spirit of Things Gone
Ken Bradshaw did come home. He was born in Oakey, Queensland, in 1919, and grew up in central and north Queensland. He studied engineering at the University of Queensland, and was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship for Queensland in 1941. But instead of taking up his scholarship, Bradshaw enlisted in the AIF, and was taken prisoner at El Alamein. He served out the rest of the war in Italian and German prison camps.
Bradshaw was a true all rounder. From the age of 10 or so, his literary and artistic efforts began to appear in North Queensland newspapers, and while at University he edited the literary journal Galmahra. Bradshaw's s first book of poems was published in 1941, but his next book 'And After' (1946) shows the extensive literary benefits of a life experience which he surely would not have chosen to endure. After a brief sojourn back in Brisbane, Bradshaw took up his scholarship, pursued a brilliant engineering career, became an early proponent of the University of the Third Age, and returned to publishing his own poetry in the 1990s. He passed away some time in the early 2000s.
I have selected 5 poems by these four poets for this website. The contribution by O'Leary is Those at Home . It is a simple, prosy, free verse prayer of the loneliness of a soldier waiting for mail in a now legendary theatre of war.
I have chosen two poems by Howarde Tilse. Barbaric Night is a love letter home, which was first published in the Port Moresby barracks magazine Moresby Mice in 1943. Despite the pressure of war time censorship, 'Cenotaph' which also appeared in Moresby Mice, presents a decidedly unromantic view of war:
Death leers from the jungle – mockingly,
And smiles all-knowing from the skies:
With bony hands outstretched, caressingly...
But light of bitter mockery in his eyes.
The piece I have selected by Pat Galligan, Sky Death was first published in Poets at War, in 1944. A longer version appears in To Those Who Survive under the title To Australia. It is an eerily prescient work, written at Mt Isa in 1941, apparently before Galligan's enlistment.
The poem by Ken Bradshaw is the only work I have included that was written after the war ended. Queen Street- Sunday shows the kind of ennui, that at the right time on the right Sunday, can still be experienced outside the GPO in Brisbane today. After what he had been through, how alien must this have felt?
Best Books to Buy:
O'Leary, S. – 'Spikenard & Bayonet', Melbourne, Bread and Cheese Club, 1941.
Tilse H. – 'The Musings of a Moresby Mouse', Brisbane, Barker's Book Store 1944.
Galligan, P. – 'To Those Who Survive', Melbourne, Georgian House, 1945.
Bradshaw, K.H. – 'And After...', Brisbane, Shipping Newspapers (Qld) Ltd, 1946.