The Vault

The A.I.F in Palestine (Anzac Day, 1940)

The following is an excerpt from a letter from Padre F. 0. Hulme-Moir, 2nd A.I.F. abroad, written on ANZAC DAY 1940 and published in The Australian Church Record September 12, 1940. It shows one chaplain grappling to understand the spiritual significance of ANZAC DAY in the thick of World War II.

This is a fitting day to be writing home. One’s thoughts are drawn irresistibly to Australia and what Australia means in the Empire. It is the day when we remember those brave men who, despite fears and misgivings and fearful odds, redeemed themselves in a mighty battle, writing their name and that of their Country in letters of crimson on the scroll of the Empire’s honour. I don’t think I shall ever forget this day while I live. It began at 2.45 this morning. We were to take part in a Dawn Ceremony at the Gaza War Cemetery, some 25 miles away, where we should honour our fallen comrades of a decade ago who were sleeping their long sleep in this country where every inch of ground is hallowed by the memory of One Who gave His Life that mankind might live a fuller and more perfect life. It was dark outside the tent, yet curiously luminous with the peculiar brilliancy of star-lit Eastern sky. One was conscious of the stir in the camp; from all quarters came the sound of men on the move, and yet, somehow, this rising in the breathless hours before the dawn was not quite like any other expedition we had undertaken since our coming to this country. It was as though the hush of the night had permeated our consciousness, together with the realisation of that other dawn, when men of our own kith and kind had taken up the challenge of the hour and willingly offered their all in the cause of their Country and their King.

It was 3.15 a.m., when we finally moved off, and we soon became part of a large convoy of troops which gathered volume as we wound our way along the dusty road through large, open fields of grain. It was still dark, but we could follow the direction of the road from the twinkling red tail-lights of the motorised column which extended a mile or more in front of us and some distance behind. From time to time we passed quiet groups of muffled Arabs, mounted on donkeys or camels, on their way through the cool, early morning air to their distant fields to commence another day. As we drew abreast of them they would halt their beasts, and their motionless forms, silhouetted against the lightening sky, seemed as sentinels of antiquity, inscrutable, unchanging, part of the romance which is Palestine. It is harvesting time, and the air was filled with the scent of freshly-cut hay. It was still dark when we arrived at the Cemetery. Tall eucalyptus trees lined and overshadowed the winding road as we approached the end of our journey and threw a lacey pattern across the road in the silver radiance of the high, white moon. Even as we alighted from the lorries and fell into rank the Eastern sky began to show the first faint tinge of the palest blue which was to herald the approaching dawn, but the canopy above me seemed to darken to indigo, and the blazing stars shine brighter and nearer. In absolute silence the troops began to move along the road between the rows of poplars, and just as silently took their places rank upon rank about the Stone of Remembrance.

Receiving the Torch.

Suddenly through the stillness a bugle sounded “Reveille,” and as at a given signal the blue of the Eastern sky gave place to gold and crimson of a perfect Eastern Dawn. The growing light revealed the ranks of khakiclad men, standing like monuments of bronze, the bugler facing the East, immediately under the large stone Cross. Quietly and with great reverence a wreath was laid at the foot of the Cross. Now there came a whisper of sound as hands came to the salute, and in that solemn hour the high, clear notes of the “Last Post” sounded across the stillness. Immediately the troops began to file past, rank upon rank, until, ere the shadows had left the far end of the Cemetery, the last man had passed. It was all very beautiful. Around us five thousand men lay in their last, long slumber, awaiting the coming of the Day. Every headstone told a story—even those bearing only a cross and the words, “An Unknown Soldier.” It is a very fragrant place; the flowers are growing in ordered profusion, carnations, geraniums, and red, red roses. I am sure that every man present was conscious, perhaps for the first time, just what we have undertaken—that we have been called to take up the torch which those other men laid down; that to us is committed the sacred cause for which they fought and died, and that we, too, may yet be called upon to offer our lives as theirs was offered, that truth and righteousness shall be exalted, and men shall walk before God in humility and Godly fear.

[The Padre goes on to describe the next remembrance service, held at Beersheba War Cemetery]

Some found relatives—uncles, fathers—names well known in Australia a quarter of a century ago. One read in the brief inscriptions tales of courage and endurance which made one proud to be a Britisher, proud of one’s Australian blood, and very conscious of the heritage which that blood gives—a heritage of faith, high courage, tenacity, fearlessness and honour-a heritage of which one must do one’s utmost to be worthy. Before leaving we signed the visitors’ book and at the request of the authorities, noted on a full page a detailed record of the 25th Anniversary Service—one which is unique as being the first Anzac Day Anniversary Service to be conducted in the presence of the A.I.F. on Active Service. One could not help being struck at both Cemeteries by the loving care evidenced in the upkeep of the gardens by the Arab gardeners.

“The Coming Day.”

Our regimental colours are brown and red and green. That is the Reconnaissance Regiment, to which I am now attached. The thought behind the colours being “through mud and blood to pastures green.” As I write, the camp is very quiet. Most of the men are asleep, for it has been a long day, but I still have with me the thought of the “Coming Day”. Dawn! The dawn is always beautiful, for it means fresh opportunity, fresh hope, a new beginning. Surely a Day is coming when all these things shall have passed away and there will be “a new Heaven and a new earth.” We seem to be passing through the shadows now, but we are marching- breast forward, towards the light and darkness of our night, which is made brilliant by the Bright and Morning Star—Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. “Through mud and blood to pastures green!” Words from the Book of Isaiah are echoing and re-echoing in my mind —”and in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes . . – and an Highway shall be there and a Way, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness . . . and it shall be for those, the war-faring men . . . and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Thank God for the Dawn! Thank God for the “green pastures!” Do you recall the words of the Marching Song of the American Army?

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coining of the Lord;

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.

He hath loosed the fatal lightning of His terrible, swift sword;

His truth is marching on!

He hath sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;

0m be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet;

Our God is marching on!

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;

They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,

His Day is marching on!

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born, across the sea,

With the glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,

While God is marching on!

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