Academic journal article Antipodes

Roll out the Barrel

Academic journal article Antipodes

Roll out the Barrel

Article excerpt

For my mother's brother Len

when my uncle returned, a prisoner

of war from Changi,

he had to be carried from the troopship

at Port Melbourne-no burden,

less than half his fighting weight,

his photo a front-page grab

for a big city daily next morning

when he was released from rehab,

friends and family met at the church hall

to welcome him home-a hero

just as a survivor: flaky, remote,

not the boy he'd once been-

yet they knew a tune that would lift him

when they played "The Beer Barrel Polka"-

the happiest song of the war-

he exploded like a land mine,

nearly heaving

the gramophone out the window

when he visited our home twenty years on-

terse as ever at the laughter of cousins-

Mum sprinted the length of the house to silence

a wireless which played that brightest of songs

when Singapore fell, Australian soldiers

had been put into pairs, then made to lie

in rows on their backs, heads facing

outwards, feet between thighs,

best mates opposite each other

when their captors gunned one row to death,

each survivor was forced-at bayonet point-

to behead his best friend with a samurai sword

and stuff his remains in a drum,

rolling it down the ravine to the river

to the sound of wartime's happiest tune. …

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