The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.
By Janet Mathewson
"Our ship, the “Glenart Castle” is a hospital ship, and I am one of the crew. We pick up wounded or ill soldiers who need to be evacuated from France and Egypt and transport them back to England, so they can be treated in proper hospitals instead of field casualty units or clearing stations. Many are too badly injured to be left in these temporary units. As well as my ship duties, I also act as a medic on board.
I am sitting here quietly with a young soldier, James Charles Martin, holding his hand so he knows he is not alone. He is such a very young lad, only 14 years old, and my heart is sad as I know that he will not survive the night. He is very sick and his heart will not beat for much longer. I have sat and talked with him several times on our journey to England and, even though it is hard to spare time from my ship’s duties, he is so very young and needs someone to talk to of home and family. He knows that he won’t return home to Tocumwal and see them all again, and it makes him weep. I sit and let him talk to me about them, so he knows that there is someone who cares about him and what happens to him.
James wanted to go to help his country in its time of war, and of course have an adventure while he was there. His parents wanted to keep him at home where they knew he would be safe. They only agreed to let him go after he made it very clear that he would enlist under a different name and would never write to them if they did not consent. How difficult that decision must have been for them, weighing one consideration against another. But they reluctantly let him go, not knowing that they would never see him again.
When he enlisted he swore that he was 18 years of age, but he was actually only 14 years and 3 months. He was transported to Gallipoli, and the big adventure almost finished before it even began. The ship was torpedoed by a German submarine before it arrived at Gallipoli. James spent hours in the cold water before being finally rescued.
James was then part of the living nightmare of Gallipoli, one which he had not imagined in his wildest dreams of adventure. With the cold temperatures and heavy rainfall, James contracted enteric fever. He refused treatment for about two weeks until it was too late to do anything to help him.
He is so quiet now, slipping into unconsciousness. I can feel his heartbeat and breathing slowing down, almost in time to the slight rolling of the ship on the waves. Other men in the ward are crying or calling out for their families. Some others will not make it back home either.
James’ heart now stops, with a final slight hitch to signal his last breath. He is only 14 years and 9 months old, so very young to lose a life that had held so much potential.
I look at that young face and wonder how many more young faces I will have to tend to before this horrible war is over. I close his eyes and he now looks at peace.
I add James Martin’s name to the list in my book of those soldiers whom we bury at sea. It helps me to remember how lucky I’ve been to have survived this war so far. The names in my book are of families lost loved ones, and this is my way of honouring their sacrifice. As I slip the book back into my pocket, I move along the row of wounded men to the next one who needs my help, and perhaps comforting in his final hours.
I’ll go to the captain then and make arrangements to bury James at sea. I wish we could have buried him on land, so his family knew his final resting place, but in times of war this is often not possible. His body will slip silently below the waves, and the sea will hold her secrets close in her black depths."