Preacher: The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor 

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

One First World War historian wrote the following about Gallipoli:

“The first to go ashore that day were the Anzacs.  For reasons not finally established, they were put ashore at the wrong place: on a beach that, instead of being a mile in length, amounted to only a few hundred yards, and that opened not on to a sandbank but on to almost sheer scrub-bestrewn cliffs.  The covering force that landed just before dawn – and, so as to facilitate surprise, without artillery support – pushed inland with great initiative.  But the nature of the terrain broke up the attackers into small pockets of men incapable of consistent advance and hampered their rate of progress decisively.  So although the Turks assigned to defend this area were not well placed, their faulty disposition was more than counter-balanced by the hindrances that geography presented to the invaders.  And as the day wore on, no adequate support of men or material was reaching the Anzac covering force.  Thousands of fresh troops were being ferried into the cramped space on which the landing had been made, but none knew where they were, where they ought to be, or what was occurring beyond the beach-head.  By the time a forward move was being organized, the advance guard were either falling back to avoid being outflanked or were being forced back by mounting Turkish pressure.  Such high points as the Anzacs had captured were gradually wrested from them, and they found themselves being driven towards the sea.

By nightfall the situation at “Anzac Cove”, as the place where fate or ill-fortune had landed them was henceforth to be known, seemed perilous.  The divisional commanders were seriously contemplating evacuation, and prevailed on a reluctant Birdwood (commander of the Anzac Corps) to seek consent for this course from the Commander-in-Chief.  Hamilton rejected the proposal:  “there is nothing for it”, he replied, “but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out”.  In a postscript he reaffirmed:  “You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe.”[1] End of quote.

Dig, dig, dig until you are safe … or maybe not.

We have heard the words of the poet Wilfred Owen:

“What passing bells for those who die as cattle …”

There is a great poignancy in hearing this “anthem for doomed youth” read in a cathedral, for it is here that each Sunday night we hear our own anthems sung. Anthems that seem always to point to our not being doomed, to hope even in places where there seems to be little hope, to something of the love of the one who created us, and redeemed us, who made all things and holds them in the palm of his hands. Somehow these anthems, Wilfred Owen’s anthem and the anthems we hear sung, stand alongside one another, are sung, read, not the one to overwhelm the other but to look at one another if you like and say, these are the truths of human life.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

 Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

What passing bells …

That youth can be doomed … that human life, created life seems to have within it the capacity to reduce us to men, women sent into impossible places and left to that digging until safety comes … or so often does not.

And then the anthems of hope. That even where there seems no hope, love can be, and may transform. The love of the poet who saw and wrote as boldly as he could the truth of what he lived and knew, the calling of the historians who strive to dig, themselves, through vast documents to analyse and understand, the struggle of those who survive to survive well …and then there is Christ.

‘No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Jesus said. (John 14:13) Speaking at his final supper with the disciples as he faced his passion and death. John’s account of this meal shows Jesus speaking at length with those disciples telling them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” when troubled their hearts surely were, assuring them that he would be with them, his spirit would be sent to them, whatever they faced he would have faced it too. ‘No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ He said, as he was about to do just that.

Christ who became the one sent into an impossible place where there was only courage and love and forgiveness – his digging …digging deep into his faith in God, in the great love of God, to find there, even in his dying, the strength to love and forgive.

Tomorrow, on Anzac Day we remember those who went to war, gave their lives in war, mourned those they loved who did not return from war. And we know that these wars continue. The dig, dig, digging goes on. The brave and frightened attempts -in fighting now so different and still so inhuman, … and so human – go on.

And so we turn again to historians to try to help us understand, and we turn to poets to speak a truth born of a life that has known war, and we allow our anthems to be sung and sung again in the hope that the voice of the God of love will one day gather in and hold in safety all the voices of war.

[1] Trevor Wilson The Myriad Faces of War p134.