Anzac Day Reflections

Editorial Introduction by Martin Stewart

Recently I purchased a collection of poems and photographs from World War One A Corner of a Foreign Field.  The Daily Mail collection of photographs are haunting, and the poems are from the frontline and the backline, including the perspective of the women in the munitions factories and the women barely married receiving the dreaded visit and letter.

I remember studying poems by Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brook, and Siegfried Sassoon at high school.  It was refreshing as a youngster with pacifist tendencies to be made aware that there were dissenting voices in the system of the time of the Great War.  I am grateful for this, many years on, that the education system in the 1970’s was mature enough to allow those voices ongoing airtime in the minds of the impressionable boys in my school.  And so we should continue to tell stories!  Just under ten percent of the New Zealand population of 1.1 million served overseas in the Great War, and around 18,000 died.  That story should not be forgotten, especially the degree of folly associated with that event.

The General by Siegfried Sassoon stands out:
“Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

With Anzac Day looming, Candour is hoping for some engagement from people in our circle as they prepare words for Sunday or for Anzac Services they may be participating in.  Allister Lane’s study of Very Rev James Gibb’s change of heart (following) highlights for us that there were all kinds of conflicts within the conflict of the Great War.  It seems to me that the behind the scenes conflicts still continue.  An anti-war sentiment from one will lead to a justification statement from someone else.  Both will attempt to attend to their positions with theological rigour.  The mind of God may be clear to each but the actual mind of God is not necessarily in their respective camps!

I want to encourage people to engage in a respectful conversation this Anzac season.  It seems to me that there are tensions that we need to talk about, particularly as we lead our communities in times of reflection in a time when Anzac observance is increasing in New Zealand, and there seems to be a great deal of mythmaking going on.  Dare the church say anything that challenges the nation’s mythmaking?  Is our national identity able to be forged by more than references to a misguided and bloody campaign in the Dardanelles?  Surely!  But who dares to say it?

The Veteran by Margaret Postgate Cole

We came upon him sitting in the sun
Blinded by war, and left. And past the fence
There came young soldiers from the Hand and Flower,
Asking advice of his experience.

And he said this, and that, and told them tales,
And all the nightmares of each empty head
Blew into air; then, hearing us beside,
“Poor chaps, how’d they know what it’s like?” he said.

We stood there, and watched him as he sat,
Turning his sockets where they went away,
Until it came to one of us to ask “And you’re-how old?”
“Nineteen, the third of May.”

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