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‘On Dangerous Ground’, by Bruce Scates

Hannah Gordon reads from Bruce Scates’ ‘On Dangerous Ground’.
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SPEAKER: An extract from On Dangerous Ground– A Gallipoli Story by Bruce Scates.
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“In the second week of August 1915, Sister Elsie Forest sat in the far corner of the Isolation Ward at Lemnos. At last the hospital was silent. In the hour before dawn the moans of the wounded had given way to oblivion. Elsie watched as a padre administered the last rites to bed 19. Bed 19– GSW., Post Op., No Fluids. Normally, she would know a dying soldier’s name; in the fitful hours between the dressing and the morphine she would gather enough details to write consolingly and convincingly home to Australia. But Bed 19 seemed to slip away– too far gone to say anything. The dying man was unaware of all the formalities breaking out above him.
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He saw nothing of the padre’s hands sketching the sign of the cross, felt no finger on his forehead, heard no silken clatter of the rosary. Elsie wondered if he caught a single syllable of that final prayer. Wondered if, in that last glimmer of life, that poor boy really understood anything. She was not sure she understood anything herself now. Bed 19 could not have been as many years. And in a few hours’ time they would take that young body and cover it with the sandy soil of Lemnos. ‘Waste’ was an understatement. The shabby walls of the Isolation Hut witnessed the passing of a generation.
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The orderlies walked briskly by her, a stretcher slung by their side. Quickly, quietly, with no fuss and less ceremony, they laid out the body for the mortuary. It was their ninetieth trip for that day. Of the last boatload that came in, they had lost almost everyone. Nor was it just the wounds that killed them. From the ridges at Lone Pine to the beach at Mudros it was at least an eighty-hour journey. Men were left to bake in the sun, the last drop of moisture leaching from their bodies. In a way, Bed 19 was one of the lucky ones– unable to feel the pain or heat or thirst, incapable of reckoning his own slight chances of survival.
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It was the men who struggled who found it the hardest, Elsie thought. Those who swam against the tide. Their own will to live made the act of dying so much more difficult.
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Elsie ruled a neat line through the case notes.
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Life extinct– 4:05 AM, Cardiac Arrest. Again, she wondered why they bothered. What good could such details possibly do anyone? Elsie drew a sheet of paper from the drawer of the desk and began the inevitable letter home to Australia– ‘It is with deep regret that I write.’ She glanced up to the corner of the case notes; Bed 19 had a name after all.”

Watch a reading from Bruce Scates’ book ‘On Dangerous Ground – A Gallipoli Story’, by Monash University student Hannah Gordon.

Talking point

Within the Comments, consider sharing with other learners your thoughts on the book or reading. You may wish to talk about the way Scates’ combines historical fact and fiction to tell about the Gallipoli campaign.

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