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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

The Man Who went to sleep

The Man Who went to sleep.

They saddled up together when the sky was blushing red,
They mounted in the twilight and the Corporal rode ahead;
Four horsemen paused a moment at the barbed and tangled wire
That fenced a line unharassed by the storm of foeman fire,
And through the ever guarded gate they ambled close abreast,
And darkness hurried back and blotted out the lurid west.

A league towards the east they rode, a league into the night—
The Corporal was a youth who seemed a stranger to delight;
Long Watson was all devilment, and held aloof from care;
Young Dawson had a golden heart, and ever laid it bare;
But Denver was a thoughtless man whose sense was smothered deep
In wasted hours of respite that he always spent in sleep.

In darkness raven-deep, with seeming despair close at hand,
They halted neath a barren ridge that topped a waste of sand;
Then, as their horses munched the corn, a hat was passed, and they
Drew each a turn of sentry-go, to watch till break of day;
The Corporal drew the early shift (an easy watch to keep)—
The last fell to the conscience of the man who went to sleep.

Jack Denver was a man whose sense of principle was lost—
Ah, Denver was a wretched man to take a shift on post.
If man betrays his sleeping mates, nor guards them as he should,
And drowses on his vigil—well, he isn't any good!
Some broken, yearning women have a bitter cause to weep,
Since all his mates were done to death, when Denver went to sleep.

A cloth of mist crept overhead, the stars were blotted out—
Such gloom would tax the vision of the very keenest scout.
Deep hushed with tense expectancy, and hemmed around with fright,
The list'ning horses surely scented treachery that night.
Some watchers take it serious, while others take it cheap,
But none can act as rotten as a man who goes to sleep!

When Denver grudgingly arose the moon was in the sky,
Said Watson, " You've a wondrous lamp to watch the desert by,"
But Denver took a blanket up and wrapped himself around,
And when his mate was covered up, he sprawled upon the ground;
He never strove to keep awake—he never meant to keep
His watch, because he only seemed to live that he might sleep.

The desert is an empty place, where wind and sun have sway;
The sand is wet and cold at night, and burning hot to day.
Whenever Turks came west to raid, they mostly played the game,
But if they took an outpost—well, the sentry was to blame!
That night they stole across the waste, the horses heard them creep,
And pounce upon the comrades of the man who went to sleep.

Long Watson was the first to wake—he never reached his horse—
And Watson slumbers where he fell, beneath a wooden cross.
And Dawson and the Corporal where vultures swoop and hive;
Ah! fate is fickle unto all, for Denver's still alive;
Young Dawson's startled chestnut mare went forward with a leap,
When spurred beneath the burden of the man who went to sleep.

The shots awakened Denver, and he sprang astride the beast,
And like a demon out of hell he galloped from the east!
Oh! Denver rode the chestnut mare to save his wretched skin—
The mare that Dawson brought from home and put his trust within—
The mare that stopped a sentry's shot and fell, a woeful heap,
Ere to the guarded gate she brought the man who went to sleep.

They succored Jack, that he might live to learn this, sure and fell:
" The shot that smashed his arm was aimed by one who knew him well."
Jack Denver, and the man who fired to get him, only know
The reason why three horsemen sleep where desert breezes blow;
And somewhere out of uniform, Jack prays that he may keep
The soul-corroding secret of the man who went to sleep.