Peacekeeper Corporal Aaron Horrell risked his life to bring safety and sanctuary to others through two tours of East Timor and two of Afghanistan with the New Zealand army.
Providing comfort to the brave Kiwi trooper were the haunting words of a poem he carried with him constantly through the strife-torn lands.
Horrell was a teen when he first read Fallen Youth, in the Gore Public Library. The tribute to those who died heartbreakingly young protecting their homelands was written by an unknown World War I Anzac soldier.
Lyrics include the lines: “I was running back, when I heard him call, and as I turned . . . I watched him fall. His body froze, in disbelief, (and) it fell to the earth, like a falling leaf. I lay my hand upon his brow, it felt so cold . . . I wondered how . . . He stared at me through faded eyes, this is how a young man dies.”
Horrell wrote down the words of Fallen Youth and carried them with him for 20 years. It provided solace when he, too, was confronted with the tragedy of war. “The poem is very special to me,” Horrell said. “Many times the words have rung true from times when I have lost comrades. The words will continue to ring true in the years to come.”
During Horrell’s 2012 tour of Afghanistan, five New Zealand soldiers died. Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone were killed in a firefight. Corporal Luke Tamatea, medic Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris died when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb.
Horrell had been transferred from the patrol of the area in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province just weeks before it was hit by the roadside bomb which claimed Tamatea, Baker and Harris’s lives.
Singer Jackie Bristow
The Kiwi peacekeeper is now able to share the words which consoled him with the world. His childhood friend, internationally acclaimed US-based Kiwi singer Jackie Bristow, has released the single Fallen Youth to mark the Gallipoli centenary. The video of her moving song features lyrics from the poem laid over evocative images from the historic theatre of war, including a field of crosses marking the deaths of the young heroes.
Horrell told Bristow about the poem, and his carrying of it through the years, when they met up back in New Zealand.
“We grew up together and I followed her career,” Horrell says. “We got back in touch via Facebook and we managed to catch up in Gore when she was touring her Freedom album.
“I had just got back from a tour of Afghanistan and was talking to her about how patriotic the Americans were and suggested she write a military song. She liked the idea and asked me if I had any stories I could tell her.”
He told her about Fallen Youth.
“I gave her the poem and we went to the top of the Hokonui hills and within an hour she had pretty much written the song. I’ve got the very first demo she did of it.”
Bristow – whose songs have featured in New Zealand and Australian film and TV shows including Go Girls, The Secret Life Of Us, Home And Away, Outrageous Fortune and Shortland Street – was moved by Fallen Youth.
“I love writing songs and especially when it has a potent message, so it was actually easy for me to put the melody and music to the poem as it was so well written and so meaningful,” she said.
“I wrote the song in the Hokonui Hills where it is so beautiful and quiet, and I really had the peace and quiet to grasp the feeling in the poem and turn it into a song.
“I have been performing this song as part of my live set in the US, and people from the audience have thanked me for writing the song and singing the story of a real soldier.”
Bristow hopes to be able to come back to New Zealand and perform Fallen Youth at an Anzac Day service.
Taken from an editorial by Mike Alexander 29 March 2015