Peter Jones

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

I sometimes still hear their soft voices in my dreams – “Hey, Balranald, tell us again about the flat, dry country where you came from!”

The voices are shaky, tense with nerves, and the fear of knowing of the horror that is to come. Waiting in the cold, wet, stinking trenches of France; waiting for the signal to go over the top into murderous German gunfire. Knowing for certain that some of them will not be returning, and praying that it is not their time to die.

I was a carrier in the trenches, delivering water, ammunition, mail and anything else that needed to get to the front lines during the Somme offensive. Because I was a runner it was almost certain I would be able to survive and return home after the war, even though the danger was just as real for me as the other soldiers, as the trenches would collapse and provide no cover for me when I was making a run with deliveries. This hope for survival was not as certain for the poor, unfortunate diggers who waited to go over the top. I tried my hardest to make their lives a little easier, and ease their nerves, with some funny stories and banter while they waited nervously for the signal to attack.

For some of these men, my voice was the last one they heard before death captured their bodies. My memories always bring back one soldier who cried silent tears as he shook my hand and thanked me for my service to him and his mates. When I returned to the line the next day with more fresh water, I found out that he had died that day during the attack on the German lines. It is a very sad thing to carry in your heart, but also comforting to know that my actions had helped to ease someone’s journey towards death, even if just a little.

To try and relieve the tension and fear, it was always my middle name of “Balranald” that would cause them all to laugh, a little shakily, as they would be thinking also of what was to come all too soon.

My name is Peter Balranald Jones and I was born in Balranald. My parents loved the town so much that they named me for it. My mates would tease me about how different it was in the trenches amid what had once been beautiful French countryside compared to the flat, dry land of New South Wales land on which I was born.

But the French countryside around the Somme was now in ruins, just a mess of muddy foxholes and craters, barbed wire and rotting carcases of horses and men. This sight also invades my dreams, many years later, and sometimes I awake with the stench still in my nose.

But it is the men who mostly capture my dreams and thoughts, as I still hear them, even now - “Hey, Balranald, tell us again about the flat, dry country where you came from!”