Frank Brennan. ANZAC Centenary Homily.

 ANZAC Centenary Homily

Harvard Memorial Church

25 April 2015

Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO

Homily

This Memorial Church here at Harvard was dedicated on Armistice Day 1932 in memory of those who died in World War I.  The inscription over the south entrance to the memorial room reads, ‘In grateful memory of the Harvard men who died in the World War we have built this Church.’

It is fitting that we, Australians, New Zealanders, Turks and Americans should gather in this place to mark the centenary of Anzac Day, the day on which Australians and New Zealanders landed in the stillness of the early dawn on the Turkish shoreline wanting to assist with the Allies’ advance on Constantinople, now Istanbul, the day on which the Turks commenced a successful, eight month campaign to defend their homeland against the assault.

Nineteen years after the ANZAC landings, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Founder and first President of the modern Republic of Turkey, who had been Commander in Chief of the Turkish forces in Gallipoli, graciously responded to an Australian journalist’s request and wrote, ‘The landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, and the fighting which took place on the peninsula will never be forgotten. They showed to the world the heroism of all those who shed their blood there. How heartrending for their nations were the losses that this struggle caused.’  A century on, we, the people of both sides of that deadly struggle can gather, people of all faiths and none; we gather in peace, espousing the virtues of all who fought and daring to pray together for peace and reconciliation between us and amongst all peoples.  We gather together helping each other to repair the heartrending and to prosper as best we can from the tragic, irreparable losses.

We remember the 130,000 who were killed on that blood-soaked peninsula during the Gallipoli campaign, and the other quarter of a million who were wounded.  A century on, we have gathered more inclusively and not just to pray for the 44,000 Allies who died, but also for the 86,000 Turks who perished in their trenches opposite them.  Being ANZAC Day, we particularly call to mind the 8709 Australians and 2779 Kiwis who died.  A handful at the time were honoured by name for particular military feats, ‘but of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; but these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; their descendants stand by the covenants; and their glory will never be blotted out’. (Ecclesiasticus 44:8-14)

We recall the innocence of the soldiers – many aged the same as many of those who today study here at Harvard – and the human values that they embodied of courage and mateship. We recall too the reality, routine and relentlessness of their fighting, their sufferings, and their deaths.  We also recall the idealism, the hope, and perhaps even the naivety of empire which motivated and sustained them and those who sent them to battle.  The ANZACs had sailed from Albany in Western Australia on All Saints Day, 1 November 1914.  They waited in Egypt and then joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force of 75,000.  They landed early morning, and in the wrong place. Because of navigational errors the ANZACs landed about 2 km north of the intended site. Instead of a flat stretch of coastline, the boats carrying the 1500 men who would make the first landing came ashore at what is now named appropriately Anzac Cove, a narrow beach overlooked by steep hills and ridgelines.  Thus began an eight month campaign of combat in muddied trenches infested by lice, swarmed by flies, and putrified by faeces.

Back home, their political masters were sustained both by the pride of selfless colonial service to empire and by the hope of imminent military success.  At 3pm on 29 April 1915, Australian Prime Minister Andrew Fisher rose in the House of Representatives and proudly declared:[1]

Some days ago the Australian War Expeditionary Forces were transferred from Egypt to the Dardanelles. They have since landed, and have been in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula. News reaches us that the action is proceeding satisfactorily. I am pleased to be able to read the following cablegram received to-day from the Secretary of State for the Colonies: — 

His Majesty’s Government desire me to offer you their warmest congratulations on the splendid gallantry and magnificent achievement of your contingent in the successful progress of the operations at the Dardanelles. 

To this the following reply has been despatched through His Excellency the Governor-General: — 

The Government and people of Australia are deeply gratified to learn that their troops have won distinction in their first encounter with the enemy. We are confident that they will carry the King’s colours to further victory.’ 

Next day Fisher read to the House a telegram from King George dated 29 April 1915:[2]

I heartily congratulate you upon the splendid conduct and bravery displayed by the Australian troops in the operations at the Dardanelles, who have indeed proved themselves worthy sons of the Empire.

On 5 May 1915, ten days after the Gallipoli landing, Australian members of parliament were agitated that the Melbourne press were carrying details of New Zealand casualties but there were still no public details available of Australian casualties.  A question was put to the Assistant Minister for Defence:

In view of the many messages of congratulation that we have received regarding the bravery of our troops in action in the Dardanelle, is the Assistant Minister of Defence in a position to tell the House with what result the bravery of our men has been attended?

The answer was a simple, haunting three words: I am not.[3]

Gradually, the political masters and then the people became apprised of the more gruesome reality on the other side of the globe.  A century on, we balance the idealism of service to empire, the reality of death in the trenches, and the prospect of reconciliation with former enemies in scales which only grace and forgiveness can hold. ‘Their bodies are buried in peace, but their names live on generation after generation.  The assembly declares their wisdom, and the congregation proclaims their praise’. (Ecclesiasticus 44:14-15)

Over the generations, we have reached out across those trenches that divided us.  We have embraced a more sustaining myth, a more noble ideal: the brotherhood of man, the dignity of our shared humanity.  We have appropriated the words attributed to Ataturk at the 1934 dawn service which will be recited for us by His Excellency Omur Budak, the Consul General of Turkey: ‘There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours….After having lost their lives on this land they are now our sons as well.’

Despite the instability and the intractable conflicts on Turkey’s borders today, we dare to gather in prayer dreaming of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ in which the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes’ so that ‘mourning and crying and pain will be no more’. (Revelation 21:4) We hear the word of Revelation proclaimed to all people of good will, to all peacemakers including those who have fought, those who are fighting,  and those who will fight so that there might be no more war: ‘I will be their God and they will be my children’.  (Revelation 21:7)

Today, lest we forget.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

May the Aussies, the Kiwis and the Turks amongst us this morning go forth into Harvard Yard carrying and sharing the memories of those who encountered each other for the first time across trenches a century ago, committing ourselves afresh to transforming our heartrending and our losses into heartmending and tangible dividends of peace for our world.

Prayer 

Let’s all pray in silence, each in their own way.

I will now offer a Christian prayer:

Lord Our God, on this day, 100 years ago, the Australian  and New Zealand Army Corps, at Gallipoli, made immortal the name of Anzac and established an imperishable tradition of  selfless service, of devotion to duty, and of fighting for all that is  best in human relationships.

O Lord, we who are gathered here today from both sides of that conflict remember with gratitude the men and women who have given, and are still giving all that is theirs to give, in order that the world may be a nobler place in which to live.

And with them, Lord, we remember those left behind to bear  the sorrow of their loss.

We dedicate ourselves to taking up the burdens of the fallen and, with the same high courage and steadfastness with which they went into battle, to setting our hands to the tasks they left unfinished. Lord, we dedicate ourselves to the service of the ideals for which they died.  With your help, O God, might we give our utmost to make the world what they would have wished it to be, a better and happier place for all of its people, through whatever means are open to us.

We make this prayer through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

[1] Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 29 April 1915, p. 2724

[2] Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 30 April 1915, p. 2814

[3] Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 5 May 1915, p. 2832

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