Western Mail, Thursday 28 December 1933, page 2
Hereunder is one of the final passages in that excellent story of the Palestine campaign, "Red Dust," by "Donald Black." Readers may remember that Black (his real name is Gray) was a University student, who enlisted when he was seventeen. After three years in Palestine, while on his way home, he writes:
The moon beams upon the empty desert sands, sands I once hated, now they seem almost friendly. My thoughts project into them and are mirrored back in living images like, a mirror. Through my mind pass memories of the weary bygone months spent here, now turning into years. In passing away from it all, I picture not the hardships, but the friends I have met. Memories come in a jumble interspersed with regrets and not a little sadness.
So real are they that perhaps I half dream. The noise of the rattling train, the presence of three figures lying huddled on the floor of the truck are non-existent. My mind, my heart, my soul is out there, there in the desert. Memories press in upon me and weigh me down with their realism. I see things that I had hardly thought of before.
How often that for which we live and strive becomes as nothing when we possess it. I have lived, or rather existed for what seems ages, awaiting today, the day I should go home. Now it is here it means nothing; it is as ashes. Just to pick up one's belongings and line out for the last time - it seemed so easy and desirable. The thought so enwraps one that we forget, or do not think, of the heart-tuggings it will mean.
I had thought myself fortunate in leaving ahead of the regiment, in taking an opportunity that presented itself. How much that regiment has become to me, how much the friendships behind mean to me, I now know.
Some scattered little white crosses - all that is left of a faithful horse – memories of days and nights spent with these who are no more - all these things flash past my imaginary vision out in the desert. These sands I may never see again; had thought I had never wished to, how they fascinate now - they are more than I have ever understood.
It is here that manhood has come. I have jumped the period of youth, it is somewhere amongst this wilderness, given for a cause. The desert that has always seemed so unfriendly, that has kept us ever at a distance, has a lure that one does not realise till leaving it. The body will pass out and away from it, but a little corner of the mind will always be devoted to its memory. Something of us all will be left behind.
The star-spangled sky that always is so low. It has seen and knows, it .smiles that we think we can escape or ever forget the years spent beneath its canopy. That I ever shall forget I doubt; some day the magnetism will become too strong, I will tread those places again; they grip my heart top firmly to avoid.
Faces appear to me, faces of friends that are gone, whose bones lie out in the open, friendships such as one will never know again, blood brotherhoods. I see them as we were together, as we lived, as they died.
Greatest friend of all, old Blackboy. He looks at me half in sadness, half in joy. I tell him I did it for the best, a poor reward for a great service, but the best I could bestow. It was painless to him; to me always a regretful memory. I owe you my life more than once, faithful friend!
I picture Smith, gone where, only God knows. I have never heard of him since that morning in the valley when his brain snapped.
Where now is the glamour and the glory? It was a sham. We were heroes, nothing was too good, promises were easy; now it is all over, the world is safe from autocratic kings, democracy will rule. But what of those who made it possible, who have given their all in sacrifice, whose bodies and minds are shattered? Will they be forgotten and sink into oblivion, whilst the usurper at their desks takes what they have forfeited for patriotism.
What of those who have given their youth, who west away smiling boys and came back hardened men? Will the world allow for the fire that has twisted their- souls? Will it make allowances or will it accept the same ability as from the man who never left his home shelter? If the years torn from his life at times make labour difficult, will the world bear with him?
I sink down and dream, dream that I ride across the Jordan Valley. Ride for the last time through the dust, the red, red dust. Friends are about me, real friends. The hypocritical world with its false values and greed are behind, far behind. Here is peace in a world peopled with friendly faces that I know. It is not that I fear the other battle ahead still to be fought, the battle of life, it is that I am saying good-bye to something that many of us have never known – our youth.
Black, D., Red dust: an Australian trooper in Palestine, London, 1931.
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