We’ve received many compliments about the musical accompaniment to our 2016 Remembrance Day video. Some of our supporters have also asked about the story behind the very profoundly moving song, “As If He Knows.”
We asked the writer, Eric Bogle about Banjo – did he actually exist?
“Yes, Banjo did exist, he was the horse of a soldier called Elijah Conn, a mounted trooper in the Australian 7th Light Horse who fought in Palestine. At the end of the WWI the soldiers were ordered to get rid of their horses by any means, they were not allowed to be sent back to Australia because of quarantine regulations, i.e. fears they might bring back tuberculosis or anthrax or whatever to infect the country’s herds of livestock. Many of the horses were sold of course, but the Light Horsemen serving in Palestine did not want to leave or sell their horses to the Arab population of Palestine because they thought the Arabs were very cruel to their animals. A case of double standards really, as they’d just put their horses through the horrors of modern warfare where many were killed and maimed. How cruel was that?
Anyway, rather than leave their horses in Palestine, the majority of the Light Horsemen chose to shoot them. Generally speaking you didn’t shoot your own horse, your best mate did, and vice versa.
Elija was doing an interview on Anzac day for a local paper in Australia when he was asked about his experiences in Palestine in WW1. When he spoke about his
horse Banjo, tears welled up in his eyes, and when the reporter asked him why he felt so strongly about his horse after 70 odd years, Elijah said “ Well, Banjo saved my life twice…how could I forget him?” He went on to say that on the night before they shot their horses the men went along the tethered lines of the horses giving them a last treat, a sugar cube, a bit of fruit, etc. etc. Then he said ” The horses usually took a wee bit of time to settle down at night, but this night they were very quiet and subdued right from the start. They’d obviously caught the mood of the men, and it was as if they knew what was going to happen to them the next day”. When I read that quote, I know where to go in writing the song…”
Here are the lyrics:
AS IF HE KNOWS
It’s as if he knows
He’s standing close to me
His breath warm on my sleeve
His head hung low
It’s as if he knows
What the dawn will bring
The end of everything
For my old Banjo
And all along the picket lines beneath the desert sky
The Light Horsemen move amongst their mates to say one last goodbye
And the horses stand so quietly
Row on silent row
It’s as if they know
Time after time
We rode through shot and shell
We rode in and out of Hell
On their strong backs
Time after time
They brought us safely through
By their swift sure hooves
And their brave hearts
Tomorrow we will form up ranks and march down to the quay
And sail back to our loved ones in that dear land across the sea
While our loyal and true companions
Who asked so little and gave so much
Will lie dead in the dust.
For the orders came
No horses to return
We were to abandon them
To be slaves
After all we’d shared
And all that we’d been through
A Nation’s gratitude
Was a dusty grave
For we can’t leave them to the people here, we’d rather see them dead
So each man will take his best mate’s horse with a bullet through the head
For the people here are like their land
Wild and cruel and hard
So Banjo, here’s your reward.
It’s as if he knows, he standing close to me,
His breath warm on my sleeve, his head hung low.
As if he knew.
Copyright Eric Bogle July 2001