The Cross of Anzac, by Tom Johnstone

The Cross of Anzac, by Tom Johnstone

Mark Posa

by Tom Johnstone
(Church Archivists Press, 2001, 359pp, $29.95. Available from AD Books)

In his foreword to this book, Bishop Geoffrey F. Mayne, Catholic Military Ordinary of Australia, describes it thusly: "It is a record of the ministry and dedication of all Chaplains - of ecumenical co-operation and treasured fellowship. Called initially to the vocation of total service to a loving God, each has added to that the call to serve the men and women whose vocation is to strive to preserve truth, justice and freedom in the land we love, even unto death if so called. Most chaplains very soon realise that they are not only in love with God, but also developing a very special love and admiration for those they are privileged to serve. Once experienced, no true Chaplain can ever forget it."

The Cross of Anzac is written more as a documentary than a story. One can open it at any page and read an account, either of the work of a particular chaplain or of a famous battle in which Australian servicemen were involved - and the accounts go back to the first settlement. For anyone who may be interested in the battles in which Australians were involved from the Boer War until the present day, the book is an invaluable resource and would be a worthy addition to any school library. I say this because, although the book is primarily concerned with the life of chaplains, the description of the ordinary soldiers in wars gives a wonderful insight into the Australian character.

Although the book has been written basically to tell the story of Catholic chaplains in the Armed Forces, it goes out of its way to show the wonderful understanding which developed between chaplains of all faiths, and the way they co-operated with each other, particularly on the battlefield. One classic instance of this is given when a Fr Cosgriff went into a hospital which had received a direct hit during a bombardment: "There had been about 60 blokes there. Thank God that morning I had been around and heard the confessions of the Catholics. There was an Anglican Chaplain with me ... He said to me 'What are you going to do?' And I said, 'I'm going to anoint the Catholics of course.' This was his reply, 'I'll give you a hand'."

Father Cosgriff asked how he proposed to do this and was surprised by the Anglican priest's reply: "I'll go ahead of you, pick out the Catholics, so you will not have to waste time identifying them". He did his job perfectly.

The book documents the bravery of chaplains on the battlefield and particularly in prisoner of war camps. It tells the story of the friendship and respect which developed between Weary Dunlop, a non-Catholic, and Fr Gerard Bourke.

One could go on quoting incidents which are on each page of this remarkable book. There is no doubt it needed to be written as very little has been publicly said of the work of chaplains in our Armed forces. One hopes it will receive the recognition it deserves.

Mark Posa is a former South Australian State Officer of the National Civic Council who lives in Adelaide.

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