One hundred years ago, the Anzacs caught-up in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign were preparing to celebrate their first Christmas away from home and their loved ones. It was miserable. They’d gone willingly, believing it would be over by Christmas. It was four devastating years of blood and mud before they came, at last, to the end of the long, long trail, and out of the darkness and into the crystal-clear light of a new – but some would say not necessarily – a better world.
The battlefields of the Western Front were stained, and the beaches of Gallipoli ran red, with the blood of the men and women who’d fallen in action. There was no 40-day war; no triumphant march into Paris – only 10-million dead, and another 20-million or so who died through the hardship. The Anzac soldiers at Gallipoli didn’t know that in a few days they’d be out of that hell-hole and facing death on the western front. One of three brothers fighting in the Turkish campaign, wrote home to their parents in western Australia.
“We all thought about you on Christmas Day. I hope your dinner was better than ours. The ottomans shelled us in the middle of a carol service and killed one of the padres.” But in the midst of the horror and carnage of Gallipoli there were acts of awe-inspiring humanity. One of those moments proves – irrefutably – that colour, creed or race is no barrier if we truly want to reach out to each other – one soul to another and straddle the chasm of suspicion and prejudice. My late mother was one of those remarkable people who didn’t notice the colour of someone’s skin – and whatever she had – which in the early days wasn’t much was there to be shared.
The true encounter of a Turkish and an allied officer in the field of battle should be an example for all of us, as the world struggles with the problem of asylum seekers. A Turkish soldier, looking through the sights of his gun, spotted an allied soldier lying in no man’s land. He was still alive. The Turk wanted to shoot him. His commanding officer refused to give the order.
Instead, the Turkish officer picked up a piece of white cloth and tied it to the bayonet of his rifle. He raised it into the air and waved it as a truce flag.
The allied commanding office told his men to hold their fire and see what they were up-to.
The Turkish officer stood-up. Drove the bayonet of his rifle into the ground. Put his hands in the air in surrender, and started to move forward, slowly.
The allied soldiers were suspicious but held their fire. The Turkish officer walked into no–man’s land and bent down to the wounded soldier, who pleaded for help to save his life. “Johnny. Ben yardim için gelin var.” (I’ve come to help.)
Whereupon the Turkish officer picked-up the wounded soldier and carried him in his arms towards the allied trench. The allied officer took out a white handkerchief and waved it as he climbed out and went to meet the enemy. They stood facing each other in no-man’s land. The Turk placed the wounded soldier into the arms of the other man. They stood staring at each other for a moment. Neither of them moving. The Turkish officer touched the head of the wounded man, saluted his fellow officer, then turned and strode back to his trench. The allied officer watched him for a moment, then turned and carried the wounded soldier back to his trench.
In recent times we have been overwhelmed by images of people in Syria and the middle east looking to escape persecution and death, in the same way that Mary and Joseph were forced to flee the murdering madness of King Herod, and so many other displaced people have been forced to flee their homeland and look to Australia for protection. The problem with fundamentalism – be it Christian, Jewish or Muslim – is that there is no room for another opinion. The determination of one group to impose their will on another. It’s be going on for the 2000 years since the birth of Christ – and before.
The war we’re fighting today is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It’s a war of the people, of all the people, and it must be fought not only on the battlefield, but in the home, and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom.
The words of the American carol – It Came Upon The Midnight Clear – which was written in 1849 were never more relevant than they are today.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
Oh cease the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30 with Edwin Cowlishaw.