Today is ANZAC day and what better way to mark it than with these poignant words from a special guest blogger. In the first of an occasional series my Sister Down Under writes about a unique island.
A Very Humble Monument by Kate Doswell
Some thoughts for ANZAC day 25th April, 2018.
I’m not sure what it’s like in other Commonwealth countries, but in Australia we take our war memorials very seriously, and rightly so. “Lest We Forget” is inscribed on most of them, and as we read down the long, alphabetical lists of names, we are reminded of the truly terrible cost of war. Even in tiny outback towns, the list seems far too long, far too many of the youngest and strongest of the community taken from those that are left behind to carry on.
Most of these monuments are made of stone, imposing obelisks in bluestone or limestone or granite, depending on where they are situated. They are usually in the centre of town. Running around the monument and integral to its form is a ledge wide enough to sit on. People may sit and contemplate awhile, or simply pass by on their daily business or as a visitor to the town. How many, I wonder, stop and read the names and wonder at the fate of these lost men? Do the locals become so used to it that they just pass by?
However, not all monuments are as striking or as prominent, and last week I found one that was truly humdrum. It was on the Island of Rottnest, 20 km from the West Australian Port of Fremantle. For many years this Island has functioned as a much loved holiday playground for the people of Western Australia, and the tourists who come to our isolated part of the world. It has a rather grand Roman Catholic church high on a hill, but the Anglican church is represented by a much older, but more modest chapel of limestone and whitewashed render.
I visited the chapel late in the day, as there were other tourist activities that had claimed my attention. The door was stiff to open, and the interior gathering the gloom of the impending sunset, so the first thing I noticed was the distinctive smell of very old (to our European Australian eyes) limestone buildings from the early settlement era. Above the altar, I could see a simple, but attractive stained glass window depicting The Annunciation. Turning from there I looked at the pews, some thought to have been made by the Aboriginal Prisoners for whom this Island acted as a prison for 60 years. There were brass plaques on the wall in memory of various European families who had played important roles in the Island’s history, but the one that caught my eye was one on the door of a storage cupboard at the back of the chapel. It looked relatively new – certainly not crafted by the Aboriginal men in the 18th century – and I guessed it had been built and installed after the chapel was reconsecrated in 1965. It was utilitarian – capacious and solidly built but without ornament or distinctive features. Except for the plaque. A simple paper notice, its words carefully handwritten in Old English script, and framed with a plain wooden frame, so small it could be covered by two hands.
“This cabinet is dedicated to the memory of those Rottnest Islanders who served their country in times of war and peace.”
I have never seen such a monument before, if I can even use the word monument. Is this the only place in the Commonwealth to have such a homely reminder of the dead?
I didn’t open the cupboard, I had no business to do so, but I imagined it containing vestments for the visiting priest, the chalice and paten, hymn books and orders of service, all the paraphernalia of a functioning chapel. I thought of those remembered by this most humble of monuments, and wondered if they would have been disappointed, aggrieved, or even angry that they had nothing grander built in their memory? But then again, maybe they would have been pleased that, having it placed on an object that was in regular use for the worshipers, they would readily and frequently come to people’s minds. These people, no doubt, would have attended this chapel, maybe some even came in the week before they left to sail away to war. Now, each time someone opens the cupboard and sees that little plaque, they are back here again. Back home to stay.
Observed on 25 April each year, Anzac Day was originally to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. It is one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.