After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels were standing round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God. (Revelation 7:9-11)
It’s an image of the Kingdom of God – the fulfilment of human history – and it’s a depiction of all humanity coming together in worship and in peace, and it seems like a very fitting passage for us to read together on ANZAC Day.
All tribes and peoples and tongues are seen as coming together – people who had never previously understood each other and people who had even been at war with each other – here they are coming together as one in worship.
And I appreciate of course that the vision here is of something more than an Armistice Day gathering, and I appreciate that there are excellent reasons for not spiritualising the horrors of war, and yet it is difficult to envision these saints gathered around the throne without seeing a goodly number of ANZACS mingled amongst them, just as it is difficult to get through ANZAC Day without thinking of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1) who share our sacred space with us, here in Dulwich Hill. For indeed, you can’t spend too much time in our church building without beginning to see how the Great War shaped the very stones that arch over us here!
Our church building was built during the Great War of 1914 to 1918. Indeed, while a significant percentage of the funds were raised before the start of the war, the foundation stone to this building was not laid until June 19th, 1915.
And the impact of the war goes well beyond the stones themselves. With the effect of the war on the economy, the congregation had to work out how to furnish this building themselves, which is why you’ll find that almost every item in our church building has a plaque on it, telling you which parishioner it came from, and moreover, most of these furnishings were built by the parishioners themselves!
According to Nancy Sibtain’s biography of George Chambers (the rector at the time) there were some skilled craftsmen in our congregation in those days and some very successful classes in wood-carving were held in the church, resulting in what parishioners now sit and lean on!
And then of course there is the honour roll, recorded on five boards, each of a daunting size that grace the back wall of the building. And those boards tell a story, though I’m conscious of the fact that it is an incomplete story, or rather, one I am not able to complete.
I looked over these boards recently with greater scrutiny than I think I have ever given them before. I even counted the names – 298 according to my calculations – and yet I have a feeling that th,ese rolls are incomplete.
One thing most people do notice about the boards is that the top of each board has the date of the war as dating from 1914 to (whatever)! According to these boards the war never finished! And my feeling is that the whole honour-board project was never finished as I’m pretty sure that there were a lot more than 298 of our former fellow parishioners who fought in that war!
What makes me think that? Two things:
The fact that there is no space left on any of the existing boards. I think it would be just too much of a coincidence that the exact number who enlisted was equal to the number of spaces on the boards.
I know when some of these last names were added to the honour boards.
I have a copy of the Parish Messenger from March 1916 that I recovered last night from one of the old cupboards underneath the organ. It’s a fascinating read, and indeed, the first notice in the Messenger is of a performance of sacred music by the community choir, scheduled for just before Easter. Some things change but others never change!
One thing though that we find in the March 1916 edition of the Messenger that has no parallel in our current congregational life is the notice regarding the number of parishioners who enlisted to join the war effort this month. The March edition of the Messenger lists 5 men: Robert Henry Pollett, Thomas Burridge, William George Bragg, Rupert Sainsbury and Harol Goddard. The church newsletter lists their names and adds, ‘May God protect and guard them wherever they go.’
Of course when I say ‘men’, these five may well have only just turned 18 and qualified for enlistment. Most likely they were boys who had grown up as members of the parish, had technically reached adulthood, and so were heading off to war, as indeed they were encouraged to do by the church!
The Archbishop of Sydney had written to the rectors of all the parishes at that time, saying ‘The time has come when we as a Church should, I believe, do our utmost to stir up the young men of our communion to offer themselves as soldiers in defence of the Empire.’ Ours is a faith that can make the best of soldiers. We teach the solemn call of duty as the Voice of God ‘I ask you to take such steps as you think best to bring home to your people the true significance and urgency of this call to arms.’
This was published in the July 1915 edition of the Messenger, to which the rector added, ‘Those who remain at home should be working for the community and sacrificing themselves as much as those who are risking their lives in other lands for s, and yet 28,000 were at the football match last Saturday at the Cricket Ground.’
And so hundreds of men and boys from this congregation joined up – all of them volunteers (as two referendums on conscription had been defeated by that stage) and the five lads recorded in the March 1916 edition of the Messenger are some of the last names recorded on our boards.
That’s March 1916 – less than half way through the war. Do you think any more boys joined up after March 1916? I’m sure they did. And I don’t know why their names aren’t recorded, just as I don’t know why the final date of the war isn’t recorded on the top of these honour boards, but I do know that lots of guys from this parish volunteered to serve, probably most of the eligible men and boys in this parish volunteered to serve, and no doubt many of them died.
Now again, that’s another aspect of the incompleteness of our honour boards, for only one of our boards actually lists the number of enlisted men from this parish who were actually killed. It’s only the St Aiden’s board (which was our small branch church by Dulwich Hill station) where there are 28 names listed, 9 of which are listed as killed. That’s about a third of those enlisted, which is horribly extreme in terms of the average death rate for Australian soldiers, even at that time!
For those unfamiliar with the overall numbers, from a population of fewer than 5 million, 416,809 Aussie men enlisted (almost 10% of the total population) of which over 60,000 were killed and 155,000 wounded, meaning that more than half of the guys who went off to war were either coming back wounded (often without limbs or otherwise seriously disabled) or weren’t coming back at all, and the 5 who enlisted in March 1916 must have known that.
Those guys must have known that many of the lads they used to worship with here with were already dead, as their names would have been listed in the Parish Messenger too, just as it must have been a regular part of the announcements each week in those days to mention reverently those who had been killed this week, yet those five enlisted anyway, and no doubt many others followed them!
And one of those dead that those boys certainly would have known about was the formerly flamboyant Reverend Everard Digges La Touche – a much loved ecclesiastical personality who is remembered in a window in the side wall of our church building, and who we see from the inscription was killed in the Dardenelles (in Gallipoli) in August 1915, aged 32.
He was never parish priest here, but evidently had a fond relationship with members of this parish. At the outbreak of war he tried first to as a chaplain and when that failed he tried to enlist in the ranks of the 2nd Battalion, Australian Infantry, but was rejected on account of severe varicose veins. He immediately went and had an operation, but.this meant that he was too late to join the 2nd. Battalion, but as soon as he was well he joined the 13th.
You might wonder why this popular cleric, who was not in great physical condition, and with the responsibility of a wife and two young sons, was so keen to go off and fight. One of his men summed him up, saying “he convinced us of the righteousness of our cause and likened this present struggle for liberty to a Holy Crusade, so when we finally sang ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, we meant it”.
He was commissioned as a 2nd. Lt in the 2nd. Battalion when an officer was needed to take reinforcements from Alexandria to Gallipoli, for the August attack. On the morning of the 6th, August 1915, he landed his men at Anzac Cove. As a Reinforcement Officer he could then have chosen to go back to Alexandria, but apparently he begged leave to join the attack at Lone Pine. At 5.30, he went over the parapet with the first rush, only to fall within a few seconds with machine-gun bullets in his intestines.
Apparently he was lying wounded in no-mans land and would have been moved to safety for his own sake and for the sake of making room for other troops to get through, but his friend, Captain Jacobs, knew that moving men shot through the intestines could prove fatal for them, so ordered that he should not be moved. But Digges apparently insisted that he must be cleared out of the way. ‘It’s not me you must consider,’ he urged, ‘but the position.’ He was moved, and died shortly afterwards. (Bean V2 p532, 532n).
Digges La Touche – one of many who enlisted from this parish, one of many who died – some at the Dardenelles, some in the First World War, some in the Second, some in other wars – all fellow members of our Christian community, all fellow worshippers around the throne.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’
Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:13-17)
And I know that not every fallen warrior is a Christian martyr just as I know that not every war is a holy crusade (if indeed any war is) and yet it seems that there is a special place in Heaven for those who lay down their lives for others.
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.
Lest we forget.
First Preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill.