Rev Dr Lynn Arnold AO

Evensong Sermon

 11 November 2018



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be worthy in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I was nearly twelve when we arrived in this country and spent the last term of my primary schooling at Paringa Park Primary, near Somerton. It was there I was fortunate enough to have one of those exceptional teachers whom one never forgets. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I’m guessing it was near November 11 that Mr Webb chose to tell all us pupils to pay special attention for something at the following year’s ANZAC parade. He told us to look for buses that would be part of the parade; and said that they would be carrying returned soldiers who were resident at the Repatriation Hospital at Daw Park. Those invalided soldiers, too weak to march, had fought in the Great War and been victims of gas attacks that had left them so devastatingly injured for the rest of their lives that they had had to be permanently hospitalised upon their return.

I was told this in 1960 and was both horrified and deeply moved to think of these men who had been hospitalised over forty years as a result of warfare. As I say I was nearly twelve at the time; what Mr Webb had told us had a profound impact upon me and indeed it would significantly influence my views about war and peace as I grew into adulthood. Here were men who had gone off to fight for their country and for freedom; men who had grown old by the time I knew of them. Here they were, invalids in buses; the intervening years since they had heroically manned the trenches had given them nothing but decades of impaired living that surely demanded as much courage and fortitude every moment of their peace-time lives until death would finally release them from their daily suffering.

Today is Remembrance Day, November 11. Originally called Armistice Day, it is a day of especial commemoration that has its historical roots in that day exactly one hundred years ago today when the guns fell silent at 11am GMT on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The Armistice was the day of the laying down of arms bringing to a kind of end, the War to end all Wars; though it would be another eight months before that ending would be formalised by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

But war didn’t end on 11/11/1918 nor on 28/6/1919; for there have been both major and minor conflagrations ever since. World War II, the Korean War, the VietNam War, the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to name just those that saw service by soldiers from Australia and New Zealand let alone other conflicts in other parts of the world where we were not involved. So now it is called Remembrance Day.

And each year on this day, just as on ANZAC Day, we recite the last verse of Lawrence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen”:

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.

What is it we remember? What should we remember? If you take a copy of my sermon notes this evening, you will see an insert inside of two paintings. In reality, the two images are of one painting at two different times. A dear friend and mentor of mine back in the nineteen seventies, Fred Whitney, had first shown me these images from a book he had about art and literature created as a result of the Great War.

Sir William Orpen [1878-1931], official painter at the Versailles Peace Conference, was commissioned to do three paintings. One of these was entitled “To an unknown British soldier in France”. He completed the painting in 1923. In the painting there is a coffin in the centre, this is a representation of the coffin which is located in the Hall of Peace at the Palace of Versailles; behind which is the Hall of Mirrors which leads, through a small doorway to the Hall of War. Most importantly, in this original version of the painting, two spectres stand on either side of the coffin. These spectral beings were two emaciated soldiers carrying rifles and clad only in loin cloths of tattered blankets and helmets.

While the work was well received by the public upon its first exhibiting, the Imperial War Museum, which had commissioned the work, refused to accept it arguing that it had not met the terms of the original commission. So in 1927, Orpen removed the spectral images creating the second image on the insert. The spectral figures having been airbrushed out, the artist donated the painting to the  Museum, which now accepted the work. In making his donation, Orpen indicated that he did so as a tribute to Field Marshall Douglas Haig [1861-1928].  There was a deep sardonic irony in this attribution for it had been Haig who had masterminded the policy of sending wave after wave of young men into bloody battle with resulting horrendous death tolls. Paul Ham, in his excellent work Passchendaele refers to the policy of ‘normal wastage.’ [p152]

“We will remember them”

Who do we remember? The Imperial War Museum did not want inconvenient truths remembered and so insisted that the spectral images be removed. Its curators of war history had wanted to forget the dark side of the war, the dreadful slaughter that had taken place. I am sure that we all know stories of those who died in that war. Let me tell you one that I know. Arthur Ernest Gray Grimwood had enlisted in the 1/10 Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and been sent to the Middle East. In August 1917, two weeks before he was to turn twenty five, he went missing in Basra. His mother, a great-aunt of my mother, then suffered the terrible double grief not only of death but of death unproven for his body was never found. The pain of this double grief finally overwhelmed her and in 1939 she took her own life.

Melina Grimwood’s pain was not just one story of millions of others who grieved the loss of sons, brothers, husbands and fathers. But as Mr Webb told us students all those years ago, the remembrance was due also to those who had survived the war, just. For there were many,  whose life after the war would never be the same again.

My mother has no memory of her father, Cyril Lewis Jackson. He had served in the Royal Navy in the Great War and contracted malaria along the way. He had been fortunate to have survived the war, get married and start a family. But then opportunistic tuberculosis would take advantage of his compromised health and he would die in the midst of the Great Depression leaving a widow and five surviving children to fend through difficult times.

“We will remember them”

Who do we remember? The National War Memorial on North Terrace was the first to be approved for erection in any state capital, with the State Government authorising its construction in 1919, though it would not be finally completed until 1931. It is also known as a cenotaph. The meaning of the word ‘cenotaph’ is ‘empty tomb’ for no bodies are buried in such places. Yet, in this memorial, while there are no bodies entombed within it, there are names. For in the heart of the monument is the Record Room which records the names of those who served in World War I.

The Cenotaph is angled off the square at 45 degrees from North Terrace. It was so designed for two reasons: the first to maximise the effect of dawn’s rising light upon it; symbolic of the dawning of hope following the night of sacrifice. The second reason was to align it parallel with the Cross of Sacrifice and with St Peter’s Cathedral.

Which brings us to where we are tonight, here in a place of worship of our God who so loved us that he sent his only Son to be a sacrifice for us. And as we worship in this place, we are conscious of the flags that lie to the right of the altar; flags of regiments of men who have served in war.

So what should we make of Remembrance Day? It seems to me that three Bible verses are worthy of consideration here:

John 15:13 –  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Mark 12: 17 – Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

Matthew 20:28 – even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Here are messages of love, mateship, loyalty, duty and sacrifice. Here are the core elements to be remembered as we reflect each Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day. But they should not be cheap acts of remembrance, words easily prated as the world does, but considered with sacred significance if the sacrifice of those who died in war as well as those who suffered long after is to mean anything at all.

The word ‘sacrifice’ literally means ‘sacred doing’ or ‘holy doing’. This is quite different from  deeds of unholy doing, those we call ‘profane’- things done pro fanum, or outside the temple.

An act of remembrance would be profane if all that we remembered was the glory of war; the deaths of those who died in or because of the war would likewise be made profane if they were considered to be no more than ‘normal wastage’. When we call monuments war memorials there is the danger that some may think they are memorials to war itself and therefore glorify war as having some supposed divine purpose; when, in point of fact, their purpose should be the opposite. Those who went off to fight did so motivated by belief in a cause – in the case of the ANZACS and so many others, the cause of freedom, an inheritance they have left us to cherish. But in doing so, they went to fight against others not unlike them, on the other side of the trenches who had likewise been motivated to a cause. Just read Eric Remarque’s harrowing book All Quiet on the Western Front, to encounter a story of youthful idealism for a sacred vision that was itself profanely abused the other side of the trenches of the First World War.

When we read stories of soldiers, sailors and airmen who died, we read of people who gave their lives unto Caesar but laid down their lives for their mates. The gave their lives out of duty but sacrificed them out of love. If the word ‘sacrifice’ is to mean anything, those who died did sacrifice their lives but, importantly, they were not a sacrifice. Pastor Brian Zahnd, from the Word of Life Church, St Joseph, Missouri,  has written:

When Abraham laid down his knife on Mount Moria, he inaugurated Israel’s long journey to discover that God is a Father, not a receiver of sacrifices.

In other words, the battlefield is not some pagan altar where the blood of victims is poured out to satisfy some divine blood lust. However, while it may not be an altar, the battlefield is sadly an ongoing reality of the world – a place where blood has been, is being and will continue to be poured out. Today we often recite that mantra of the Great War – “the war to end all wars”. It had first been said with earnest intent but now it has become dark and brutally sarcastic. Yet within that dark humour lies a truth that here, of all places, we should never forget.

In John 14:27, we read Christ saying:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

In these words Christ reminded us that the world can never give lasting peace. From brokenness wholeness cannot be made save from some external intervention. So it is with our broken world, only external intervention is able to bring lasting peace – and this Jesus promised us.

I have shared two family stories of war tonight, I could have added that of Hugh Arnold, of the Northampton Fusiliers, who died at Gallipoli three days after landing there; or of Arthur James Balfour Elliott, of the Royal Air Force, who landed in Singapore only days before the Japanese arrived on 8 February 1942 and who would then spend the rest of the war as a prisoner of war. You will have your own stories of family and friends. Today at least is a day to remember them for they will have grown old if we have forgotten them. And we will have forgotten them if we have glorified war rather than the fallen. It will have been as if we were to have erased their stories from our lives as the spectral images were erased from Orpen’s painting.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.