The Army Mules

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The Army Mules  (1918) 
by Banjo Paterson

Oh the airman's game is a showman's game, for we all of us watch him go
With his roaring soaring aeroplane and his bombs for the blokes below,
Over the railways and over the dumps, over the Hun and the Turk,
You'll hear him mutter, "What ho, she bumps," when the Archies get to work.
But not of him is the song I sing, though he follow the eagle's flight,
And with shrapnel holes in his splintered wing comes home to his roost at night.
He may silver his wings on the shining stars, he may look from the throne on high,
He may follow the flight of the wheeling kite in the blue Egyptian sky,
But he's only a hero built to plan, turned out by the Army schools,
And I sing of the rankless, thankless man who hustles the Army mules.

Now where he comes from and where he lives is a mystery dark and dim,
And it's rarely indeed that the General gives a D.S.O. to him.
The stolid infantry digs its way like a mole in a ruined wall;
The cavalry lends a tone, they say, to what were else but a brawl;
The Brigadier of the Mounted Fut like a cavalry Colonel swanks
When he goeth abroad like a gilded nut to receive the General's thanks;
The Ordnance man is a son of a gun and his lists are a standing joke;
You order, "Choke arti Jerusalem one" for Jerusalem artichoke.
The Medicals shine with a number nine, and the men of the great R.E.,
Their Colonels are Methodist, married or mad, and some of them all the three;
In all these units the road to fame is taught by the Army schools,
But a man has got to be born to the game when he tackles the Army mules.

For if you go where the depots are as the dawn is breaking grey,
By the waning light of the morning star as the dust cloud clears away,
You'll see a vision among the dust like a man and a mule combined --
It's the kind of thing you must take on trust for its outlines aren't defined,
A thing that whirls like a spinning top and props like a three legged stool,
And you find its a long-legged Queensland boy convincing an Army mule.
And the rider sticks to the hybrid's hide like paper sticks to a wall,
For a "magnoon" Waler is next to ride with every chance of a fall,
It's a rough-house game and a thankless game, and it isn't a game for a fool,
For an army's fate and a nation's fame may turn on an Army mule.

And if you go to the front-line camp where the sleepless outposts lie,
At the dead of night you can hear the tramp of the mule train toiling by.
The rattle and clink of a leading-chain, the creak of the lurching load,
As the patient, plodding creatures strain at their task in the shell-torn road,
Through the dark and the dust you may watch them go till the dawn is grey in the sky,
And only the watchful pickets know when the "All-night Corps" goes by.
And far away as the silence falls when the last of the train has gone,
A weary voice through the darkness: "Get on there, men, get on!"
It isn't a hero, built to plan, turned out by the modern schools,
It's only the Army Service man a-driving his Army mules.

This work is is in the public domain because it was created in Australia and the term of copyright has expired.

See Australian Copyright Council - Duration of Copyright (February 2012).