Monday, April 23, 2012

That’s why I’ve penned these verses, The simple facts to tell.

I recently found a poem in my emails going to and fro between my Dad and aunts and uncles. I was about to delete it, thinking it was more of the family reunion stuff that we had all attended recently.

I am glad I didn't.

Instead I got to learn quite a bit about a very wonderful man.

I asked my Dad to tell me more about Grandpa Willis  (my Great Grandfather) and this poem. 
This is what he said (he didn't know he would be being blogged!)

Grandpa Willis was a very quiet and humble man and I feel sure he would have recognised the author of this poem if it wasn’t him. Also, if it was a copy you’d think there’d be another version somewhere but I have shown it to various people who love war history and none have seen it before.

We found the poem in Grandpa’s old trunk after he died. There he kept his War diary (in which was a well preserved poppy from the Western Front) which we all knew about but the poem wasn’t known about then. 

Grandpa was always loath to talk about the War – he felt it was a stupid and senseless waste of life. He was wounded in one of the major battles there and as kids we were always fascinated by the piece of shrapnel that they dug out of him back in England where he recovered, and the scar in his side from the operation. 

I’m a bit of a fan of the history of the Western Front and the famous part the Aussies played in the eventual victory, they were involved in many heroic battles to turn the Germans back - the town of Amiens was a key to the German hopes of pushing the Allies back to the sea, then crossing the Channel to take England. There was a decisive battle where the Aussies under their own General John Monash using a new and more modern approach to warfare beat and started the eventual retreat of the Germans and this "Key to Amiens" is a proud recollection of that. 

Grandpa was wounded in another famous battle, the Battle of Le Hamel which is a village not far from Villiers Brettoneux.

So today I have a treat for history lovers, for those that like poetry, for anyone who likes good writing and all that live a free life thanks to the bravery, courage and ultimate sacrifice of too many.

Lest we Forget.

How Amiens Was Saved

They boasted a front of granite strength
Which nothing on earth could shake
The arms and skill of fifty years
Defied our men to break.

They bent the line  for forty miles
And flushed with victory
Were pushing on to Amiens
To drive us to the sea

Across the smiling meadows
His columns held their sway
To the tune of “Rule Germania”,
And the song of “To the Day”

When Germania rides to victory
And the Kaiser doffs his crown
And the eagle sounds the trumpet
That “Britain’s trampled down”.

They roll the Allies forward
And Amiens is the key
It is the final flutter
For the channel and the sea

But now at Villers Bretoneux
They get a mighty shock
For the army of Australia
Is like a piece of rock

Entrenched upon the plateau
With Amiens in the rear
Are half trained rough Australians
Who never knew a fear.

He made his thrust at daylight
With the mighty Prussian Guard
But Australian sons of British blood
Refused to yield a yard

And back he came mid trumpets
And bullets poured like rain
But our duty was to hold the line
So we knocked him back again.

It was the morn of April
He made his great attack
With explosive shell and bullets
They failed to push us back.

We faced the cruel bayonets
But put him on the run
And we won the key to Amiens
Though they were three to one

And when the reliefs took over
We passed back to the rear
Silent by the fallen
For the price we paid was dear.

And the people of Australia
Safe from the slush and mud
Enjoying a life of freedom
Away from the stench of blood

And the mothers of Australia
Away in the Homeland dear
Saddened souls of affection
For a loved ones distant tear.

They knew not how they perished
Or how those brave men fell
That’s why I’ve penned these verses
The simple facts to tell.

Many a good and honest girl
Was struck with a sudden pain
Longing for her dear lover
Who’ll never return again.

Many a bright Australian child
Wailed at home in vain
Crying to greet a soldier Dad
Now numbered with the slain.

Mothers, fathers and sisters
Though the salt tears coursed like rain
Were proud of the soldier heroes
Whose fight was not in vain.

Many a fine Australian boy
Caused a mothers tears
By dying to save Australia
The land he loved so dear

Their graves are scattered o’er the land
And wild flowers clothe their bed
And springtime’s scent of glory
Spreads fragrance o’er the dead

Bright  poppies grow beside them
In bloom of scarlet red
Poppies, blood red poppies
Wave proudly overhead.

They’re buried where they perished
Where death had taken toll
And drops of blood have written
A long and glorious roll

The town boy from the office
The bush lad from the plough
The stockman and the rover
These  sleep forever now.

They gave their lives for Australia
And the German thrust was checked
And we won the Key to Amiens
And the Kaiser’s plan was wrecked

Possibly (Most likely definitely) written by Private Michael Willis, 14th Battalion - 4th Division. Wounded at the Battle of Le Hamel.


  1. goodness me. i don't comment very often, but i have to say thank you. such beautiful words, i'm very glad your family have preserved them. the simple facts indeed.

  2. Thanks for sharing such a precious and important part of your family history. It is something for you to be really proud of x

  3. How wonderful a Keepsake and Memory your Great Grandfather has left you and your family.
    Thank You so much for sharing.
    I love the handwritten start, such a beautiful script.

  4. I am all goosebumps.

    How profound.

    Thank you so much for sharing this piece of your family history. A world's history. I'm speechless. Such beautiful writing painting such awful imagery.

  5. Got all teary reading this. Thanks to "Being Me" for sharing your link. My grandfather is an ANZAC too and I am so thankful every day for the freedom bestowed upon us by these brave men!

    And how lovely was his writing! A almost forgotten art!

    1. Ooops. Should have said brave men AND WOMEN!

  6. This is a wonderful poem. Thank you so much for sharing!

    I went to Amiens and to the Australian war cemeteries when I was in France when I was 20. It was an amazing and very humbling experience.


  7. Wow, what an amazing part of history you have shared with us. Got all teary too. Lest We forget.

  8. What an amazing man. And a wordsmith too. It's so hard to imagine what war was like - but poems like these give us a glimspe. I'm so glad too that he penned these words so that we could hear them. I hope many generations into the future will continue to hear them - thanks to you Claire. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Lovely poem - what a gem for your family to have. I wonder did our Great Grandfathers cross paths? My great grandfather James Picken Cowey MC was in the 14th battalion, but transferred to the 46th battalion after Gallipoli with the AIF reshuffle. Maybe at the Western Front...
    Thanks for posting.

  10. Wow Claire, thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your family's history. What a poet and the handwriting! Very moving x

  11. Claire, grandpa was an amazing man, his letters and all the poems he written were all so beautiful. Everyday I feel he is with me, guides me through my life. I wished I had known him longer than I did. It's amazing how much we remember of someone even though I didn't know him for long.
    His war poem is beautiful and cherish as a member of his family.
    He was a gracious man who thought that his writing was nothing too special.

  12. Claire, I read this after I returned from the Dawn Service today.

    Thank you for sharing this poem and part of your families history.

    Lest we forget.

  13. This is such a lovely read, and very, very powerful. A wonderful story on a special day.

  14. Very lovely. Simple, yet profound. Thanks for sharing.


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