Saluting the Walking Wounded, safe behind the wire

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.


I liked this story very much, even though it saddened me greatly.

Australian out of home advertising specialist Oh! Media has launched an advertising campaign spotlighting the plight of returning soldiers in Australia.

Let me tell you about that plight. Let me tell you about the dangers of being a soldier who has supposedly made it home safely from active duty. According to oOh!, 46 Aussie soldiers have died in active service since 1999, a bad enough figure. But get this,  a startling 239 have taken their own life since returning.


Walking Wounded CEO and Founder Brian Freeman said the tragic levels of incarceration, family break-ups, homelessness and suicide among soldiers as a result of what they witnessed while at war is not widely known within the community. “Walking Wounded knows that if we can mobilise the community and provide returning soldiers with mentoring and counselling, we can change all this,” Freeman said.

While reading this story, written by my colleague Colleen Morgan, I was reminded of a magnificent song by Aussie singer-songwriter John Schumann, formerly of Redgum fame. Schumann writes profoundly good lyrics and music (listen to The Last Frontier, I was only 19, The Diamantina Drover, If I close my eyes, For the Children) but I think he never did anything better than ‘Safe behind the wire’, about Philip Thompson, a former President of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, who took his own life in November 1986. Its devastating lyric, “Non-commissioned Officer Thompson learned that the war wasn’t over yet” goes straight to the heart of the trauma faced by many veterans.

I salute Oh! Media and Walking Wounded, just as those soliders – and Philip Thompson – used to salute their superiors. What better way to close out then that with the music and words of John Schumann and the hope that more Walking Wounded will be safe behind the wire.

Safe behind the wire - by John Schumann

When the bodies were bagged and the telegrams sent
And the very last chopper had gone
And you looked out the window of the 707 on the airfield in Saigon
Some of us thought that the war was over, some of us couldn’t care less;
But you came home and threw a stay-behind party to try to clear up the mess.

And I don’t know where you are tonight,
I’m down here in a fire-fight
But wherever you are, I hope you’re safe behind the wire.

We were fighting for freedom in South East Asia – that’s how the story ran
Windy speeches about a domino falling from China into Vietnam.
But look back in sickness and anger,
Australia didn’t honour her debt;
And non-commissioned Officer Thompson learned that the war wasn’t over yet.

Living on your nerves, living on the phone
Sleeping in airports far from home
Dusted off now and safe behind the wire.

Well, he gave and he gave and he kept on giving, till he just couldn’t give anymore;
And he gave it away one morning in Sydney in a rust-red Commodore
And I remember Phill best talking on the phone,
With a cheeky grin on his face
‘Cause Royal Commissioners and Knights of the Realm
Thought that Phill didn’t know his place.

And they’re still bagging bodies, Phill, though fourteen years have gone;
And the mums and the dads and the wives and the kids still have to soldier on.

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