29th/30th April 2017
Chaplain Michael McKernan, when writing about Australians in Gallipoli and France observed that ‘ the battlefield is a strange place for a Christian Minister, dedicated to a message of peace’. Further adding ‘if men are to die or suffer, tradition decrees, their ministers should be with them to help in the best way they can!’ Australian clergymen rallied to the call. Australia’s war history proudly writes that although we as a young nation were a small faith community, a significant number of the churches ministers acted as military chaplains. Indeed 414 Clergymen answered the call, knowing their role would be non- combative and their lines of responsibility would be determined on the battlefields – perhaps somewhat blurred – but certainly it was not in taking up arms, but in doing whatever would be necessary to honour their commitment to the troops. The Chaplains served in the campaigns of Gallipoli, Sinai, Palestine and on the Western Front. As we know troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula with the purpose of dismantling the forts and artillery that threatened the passage of the Royal Navy through the Dardanelles. Around 4.30am, on April 25, 1915 the first wave of the All Australian 3rd brigade, under cover of darkness moved towards the Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula, known famously – as ANZAC COVE. Only one chaplain went ashore that first day because of the orders given that all available space be given initially to combatants. He a Roman Catholic Padre John Fahey disregarded the orders declaring his duty was to accompany the men. Needing organisation the Chaplains structure was carefully planned under four leaders who served as CHAPLAINS-GENERAL. These were the head Chaplains nominated by the largest denominations of the day according to the 1911 census, these denominations being ANGLICAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC, PRESBYTERIAN AND METHODIST. The Salvation Army came into their own with wonderful service given in WORLD WAR ONE. The Chaplains work proved to be simply awesome, with compassion, they supported the soldiers, wrote letters to their families, organised entertainment, worked tirelessly staying long hours with the wounded and the dying in makeshift hospitals – remaining ever attentive to the aid stations and front line, they acted as stretcher bearers and were part of the burial party, digging graves. Padre Pitt- Owens’ letters and sermons and newspaper accounts recorded the making of 143 graves for brave boys who had gone down in an array of bullets. Desperately he exclaimed ‘ OH GOD! SHALL WE EVER FORGET THIS WORK.in remembering the centenary years of our war dead, we proudly recall the efforts of CHAPLAINS OF all denominations WWI who assisted without any regard for their personal safety, giving their very lives in their gift of service
Think on it – theirs were the last words those soldiers would hear, the soldiers were comforted in the final prayer and blessing and anointing administered with compassion care and love. The Chaplains to the best of their ability delivered their dictated letters carrying words of love to their families. Yes, those CHAPLAINS honoured those they served admirably, maintained their dignity, and strengthened their faith. They stretchered them, carried them to field hospitals, shared jokes and smokes and humour in a miserable field of sorrow. With unimaginable sorrow in their hearts – and prayers on their lips they buried them on foreign soil.
All wars beget heroes! TO MY MIND CHAPLAINS OF WWI – are among our many men and women who NUMBER AMONG OUR HEROES.
Let us all call on the words of St Francis – Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt faith. Where there is despair hope. Where there is darkness light. Where there is sadness, joy. Oh Divine Master, grant that I may seek not so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving, we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying, that we are born to eternal life.
Sadly, the happenings of yesteryear are being repeated, humankind has not learnt its lesson may we adopt these words Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me! Love peace and