Acts of Truth Behind Battlefield Sacrifice
This comic narrative poem by Banjo Paterson satirizes the complex motives behind acts of wartime gallantry. Through ironic humor, Paterson provides social commentary on war heroism and human nature.
The poem describes a wounded soldier lying safely concealed while his comrade offers to heroically carry him back, hoping to earn acclaim and the Victoria Cross medal.
However, the hidden soldier pragmatically refuses, preferring to avoid additional injury over gaining the rescuer any glory. Paterson’s irony exposes the rescuer’s self-interest, more concerned with the medal than his mate’s well-being.
When the first soldier declines being moved into danger only to enable the second’s bravado, his would-be savior creepily returns to the front line feeling thwarted rather than relieved his comrade is unharmed.
Paterson humorously critiques the paradoxes of war heroism – selfishness and genuine concern becoming intertwined, courage emerging from fear or opportunism rather than noble ideals.
‘That V.C.‘ is a humorous exaggeration, but Paterson’s poem conveys genuine truths around war honors – tensions over motives, controversy over merit, and the mix of courage, calculation and chance in acts of battlefield sacrifice. His satire contains insights into human nature and moral heroism versus self-interest.
- The Victoria Cross was the highest award for gallantry in the British military. Paterson satirizes someone angling to earn it for personal glory.
- There were occasional controversies over whether recipients of high honors like the V.C. were truly deserving, or just lucky bystanders.
- The V.C.’s annual pension would have been a strong motivation, as Paterson suggests. Receiving such an award led to fame and rewards.
- Soldiers did sometimes have to make difficult choices between self-preservation and attempting to rescue comrades under fire. Not all were willing to take suicidal risks.
- Accounts of medals being wrongly awarded caused tensions, as many did make selfless sacrifices without recognition.
- Paterson’s poke at a soldier creeping away unharmed after being denied his chance at glory hints at how some fabricated or exaggerated stories of courage.
By revealing the interior motivations and arguments behind an act of battlefield sacrifice, Paterson adds moral complexity. His satire suggests that selfless heroism is nuanced, and true character shows when there is little personal gain. With wit and irony, he unpacks the multifaceted human impulses behind battlefield bravery or cowardice.
’Twas in the days of front attack,
This glorious truth we’d yet to learn it—
That every “front” had got a back,
And French was just the man to turn it.
A wounded soldier on the ground
Was lying hid behind a hummock;
He proved the good old proverb sound—
An army travels on its stomach.
He lay as flat as any fish,
His nose had worn a little furrow;
He only had one frantic wish,
That like an ant-bear he could burrow.
The bullets whistled into space,
The pom-pom gun kept up its braying,
The four-point-seven supplied the bass—
You’d think the devil’s band was playing.
A valiant comrade crawling near
Observed his most supine behaviour,
And crept towards him, “Hey! what cheer?
Buck up,” said he, “I’ve come to save yer.
“You get up on my shoulders, mate,
And if we live beyond the firing,
I’ll get the V.C. sure as fate,
Because our blokes is all retiring.
“It’s fifty pounds a year,” says he,
“I’ll stand you lots of beer and whisky.”
“No,” says the wounded man, “not me,
I’ll not be saved—it’s far too risky.
“I’m fairly safe behind this mound,
I’ve worn a hole that seems to fit me;
But if you lift me off the ground,
It’s fifty pounds to one they’ll hit me.”
So back towards the firing line
Our friend crept slowly to the rear oh!
Remarking “What a selfish swine!
He might have let me be a hero.”