I do not usually attend dawn service for ANZAC day. Today I woke, restless, at 5am but had already missed the local service which happens at an early 4:30am, presumably so folk can get home to catch the Canberra Service on TV. I have taken to listening to the ABC streaming of the Canberra service. After the bugle call and the raising of the flag which tapping of the halyard was heard clearly on the broadcast, the poem “In Flander’s Field” was read. I had heard the poem before but knew nothing of the author. It so happens the author, John McCrae, died in 1918 during the war, of pneumonia. His story and “In Flander’s Fields” is in wikepedia.
The Kookaburras have started to come back into the neighbourhood at this time of year, and their morning call has heralded the dawn here just a little after 6am. A flock of parrots has just flown by, chattering.
Here is “In Flander’s Field” and a poem I wrote over a decade ago now, while I was sitting in a MacDonald’s restuarant following the ANZAC day parade in an Australian city. In my poem below, I have tried to form a meld of the forms of people and their movement as I saw it at that parade with the recognition that this has become the singularly most important intergenerational family, cultural and nation building event on the Australian calendar. It brings together soldiers from all 20th Century theatres of war, although I think there are now no more WWI veterans alive. So ANZAC day has become a significant day for people to think of peace, of loving families, of the damage war brings to the survivors, and the grief that is felt across the generations. I can think of no other culture that so deeply commemorates a lost battle, but in so commemorating, Australians have formed a strong bond with the Turkish peoples who won the battle with even greater losses of life than the ANZACs and the British.
Yet ANZAC Day parades have a certain complacency with them, some celebratory enthusiasm with a lot of flag waving. This is a paradox of sorts. And I remember standing in the crowd at the parade with all its subtle large group movements, and later sitting in the restaurant watching the families and friends coming and going like the blood coursing through its arteries, and reflecting on the blood ties, remembering the muslim Turks on the other side and the surih of the qu’ran that describes Muhammed first meeting with the angel Gabriel, called “Clots of Blood”. And turning my thoughts to that more heroic event of WWI in the middle east, the taking of Palestine by the Australian Light Horse.
This has great significance to the Baha’i Faith. During WWI, Abdu’l-Baha, the son of the Founder and head of the Baha’i Faith was under great threat from the Turkish Commander of the region. Abdu’l-Baha had been in exile with his father, Baha’u’llah, from Persia to Akka, since he was a young man. In October 1917 the Australian Light Horse won a miraculously rapid victory over Bersheeba in the south and helped General Allenby take over Jerusalem by Decmbr 1917 far aea of expectations. In 1918 Abdu’l-Baha’s life was under serious threat. Major Tudor Pole, a Baha’i who was also in the British Military Intelleigence based in Egypt, received intimations that Abdu’l-Baha’s life was in imminent danger. He telephoned a prominent Baha’i in the UK, Lady Sarah Blomfield. Blomfield went to Lord Lamington who wrote a letter to Lord Balfour of the Foreign Office. Balfour sent a telegram that evening to General Allenby “extend every protection to Abdu’l-Baha … when the British march on Haifa”. Allenby took Haifa on 23rd September 1918 and telegramed London, “Have taken Palestine. Notify the world that Abdu’l-Baha is safe”. Abdu’l-Baha was later knighted for His services that prevented famine in the Akka region during WWI. He also encouraged Lady Blomfield to support the development of the “Save the Children Fund’ in Europe. So I would recommend all Baha’is to read a little about the battles of WWI.
Politically WWI changed the middle east in ways that it had seen only rarely before, perhaps at the height of the Persian and Alexandrian empires and the onslaught of Genghis Khan. We are still seeing the fallout of the political machination that lead to WWI and the political factions that were created in response to the post WWI order. Nonetheless, the Baha’i Faith is now, on a global scale, what it was then the Ottoman and Persian empires, an assertive, patient force for reform of religion and society. The global presence of the Baha’i Faith today is in no small way due to the advancement of the Australian Light horse in 1917 and the taking of Haifa in 1918. Thus Baha’is will never forget 1918.
In Flanders Field
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
by Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp officer, Dr. John MacRae [1872-1918]
Afterwards, at MacDonalds,
the people returned to normal.
Clots of blood
and old friends
stretch into long chains
by white chargers
heralding the live
big of belly, more secure
than drawn out clots of blood.
The chains twang,
A drum beat
inspires a swallow,
moving the youth, the leaders
and the undead along.
sadness, anger, despair
‘Lest we forget”