Kenneth Slessor’s reaction to seeing two Australian graves in Lebanon was critical to the composition of perhaps his finest poem, Beach Burial.

Kenneth Slessor wrote (25 November 1941):  ‘Driving back along the coast I stopped at a smashed police post not far from the Litani River [just north of Tyre] and stood for a few moments at a little cluster of Australian graves. They were huddled together, as if taking cover on a slope of a hill. Behind them a ripple of young maize came to life in the wind, still defiant of the shells, which had ploughed it.

The crosses were the simple sides of packing cases nailed at right angles and the inscriptions, written with careful clumsiness in indelible pencil, had been smeared violet by the rain. The two comrades lay side by side facing the white beach and the blue sea, so piercing blue that it might have been stolen from their South Australian coast.

It was not their relationship nor the fact that both had been killed on the same day that held me there so much as the tragic irony of their names …

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