Sunday, 11 November 2007

Remembrance Day 2007: Lest We Forget.

It’s rained everyday this past week. We need the rain, but the two dogs who’ve missed their walks are of a different opinion. Since it’s clearing today we’ve seized this opportunity to get out, and because the dog park doesn’t become a leash-free zone until 5pm we’re in our local church yard: an old and very overgrown cemetery surrounding a pseudo-gothic Victorian fantasy. It’s an interesting place for both dogs and humans alike, they dig holes, chase lizards and wonder, while we read the tombstones, tap our blogs on laptops, and wonder.

The church itself is somewhere I know well; long ago, in what seems like a previous lifetime, I served here as Catechist. It was my final year of study prior to Ordination, and my Rector was a brilliant Priest; a God-sent antidote to the bravura of my fellow Ordinands and our lecturers during the rest of the week. Do I need to mention he also no longer serves in Sydney?

On the vestry wall there is, or was – it’s been many years since I was inside – a picture of the 1912 parish cricket team. Undefeated at the end of the season, the players grin with the confidence of young men who, having proved themselves unbeatable at their favourite sport, are now certain of victory in everything else life may offer.

Further inside the church, on the bare sandstone walls (this is a Sydney church, after all), in a dark and forgotten corner (ditto) is a simple war memorial, erected in 1919. Made in wrought iron at one of local foundries then dominating the suburb, it lists those parishioners who enlisted in the Great War. Nearly all of the cricket team is named: three quarters were killed, and several more wounded. Only a few appear to have returned home unharmed, but who knows what screams ravished their minds in the night? Post-traumatic stress disorder was a diagnosis more than half a century away, and shattered men-boys were urged to simply “put the past behind them and get on with things.”

Perhaps some did, but facilties at a nearby psychiatric hospital were massively expanded during the 1920s to house the appalling number of returned volunteers whose minds were no longer their own.

The horror that was the “War to End all Wars” is something I can’t even begin to comprehend, but how those survivors felt when they saw the world plunge into conflict time and again during the decades which followed is incomprehensible. Kipling rightly worried that it rendered his own son’s death meaningless, but then Kipling was a man who learned the truth in the bitterest of ways possible, and then had the courage to admit his errors:

“If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied”

If only today's leaders were as honest.

Private Joseph Henry Miller, 56th Battallion of Newtown, New South Wales.
A groom prior to his enlistment on 19 October 1915, he embarked from Sydney on board HMAT Runic on 20 November 1916 and returned to Australia on 23 July 1919.

The Homecoming
by Joseph Lee

When this blast is over-blown,
And the beacon fires shall burn
And in the street
Is the sound of feet -
They also shall return.

When the bells shall rock and ring,
When the flags shall flutter free,
And the choirs shall sing, -
"God save our King"
They shall be there to see.

When the brazen bands shall play,
And the silver trumpets blow,
And the soldiers come
To the tuck of drum -
They shall be there also.

When that which was lost is found;
When each shall have claimed his kin,
Fear not they shall miss
Mother's clasp, maiden's kiss -
For no strange soil might hold them in.

When Te Deums seek the skies,
When the Organ shakes the Dome,
A dead man shall stand
At each live man's hand -
For they also have come home.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

I loved this post, though it made me sad to think about all those young men. You would think that we, as as species, would have learned the wastefulness and futility of war...

But as long as those who promulgate war are not required to serve in it (and are allowed to exempt their own children from service), I'm afraid we are stuck.

As the mother of young children, that grieves me greatly. I am not rearing my children to be cannon fodder to appease the blood/power lust of some politician who doesn't have the guts to lead the troops from the front...