“And what have we to fear now?” he went on, raising his eyes for a moment from the puckered, interested brown foreheads below him and looking out over the shimmering distant silver of the horizon, as if away over there, over the edge of the world, he could read what the next few months had in store for them. “We know what we have come for, and we know that it is right. We have all read of the things which have happened in Belgium and in France. We know that the Germans invaded a peaceful country and brought these horrors into it, we know how they tore up treaties like so much paper; how they sank the Lusitania and showered their bombs on harmless women and children in London and in the villages of England. We came of our own free wills—we came to say that this sort of thing shall not happen in the world so long as we are in it. We know that we are doing right, and I tell you that on this mission on which we have come, so long as every man plays the game and plays it cleanly, he need not fear about his religion—for what else is his religion than that? Play the game and God will be with you—never fear.
“And what if some of us do pass over before this struggle is ended—what is there in that? If it were not for the dear ones whom he leaves behind him, mightn’t a man almost pray for a death like that? The newspapers too often call us heroes, but we know we are not heroes for having come, and we do not want to be called heroes. We should have been less than men if we hadn’t.”
The rapt, unconscious approval in those weather-scarred upturned faces made it quite obvious that they were with him in every word. In those simple sentences this man was speaking the whole soul of Australia. He looked up for a second to the wide sky as clear as his own conscience, and then looked down at them again. “Isn’t it the most wonderful thing that could ever have happened?” he went on. “Didn’t everyone of us as a boy long to go about the world as they did in the days of Drake and Raleigh, and didn’t it seem almost beyond hope that that adventure would ever come to us? And isn’t that the very thing that has happened? And here we are on that great enterprise going out across the world, and with no thought of gain or conquest, but to help to right a great wrong. What else do we wish except to go straight forward at the enemy—with our dear ones far behind us and God above us, and our friends on each side of us and only the enemy in front of us—what more do we wish than that?”
There were tears in many men’s eyes when he finished—and that does not often happen with Australians. But it happened this time—far out there on a distant sea. And that was because he had put his finger, just for one moment, straight on to the heart of his nation.
TO THE FRONT
France, April 8th.
So the Australians are in France. A great reception at the port of landing, so we hear. A long, weary train journey in a troop train which never alters its pace, but moves steadily on, halts for meals, jogs on again, waits interminably outside strange junctions. Some days ago it landed the first units, somewhere behind the front.