In fields where the names of the dead are written on the wind dead

Milestone commemorations often see people checking family records in the hope that they can find a link to family members who were part of the event.

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

It happened with the Bicentenary celebrations in 1988 when many people became enthusiastic about finding their own special convict transported through the early years of European settlement, despite the mood a century earlier when it was considered undesirable to have such connections.

So it is through the coming week as we mark 100 years since the landing at Gallipoli gave birth to the Anzac legend.

Links to battles a century ago have a special focus for those who can point to family links to deceased veterans from those times but collectively we farewelled our last Anzac, Alec Campbell, in May 2002. He was 102.

Like so many men who served in World War I, he had put his age up.

Checking on personal details didn’t seem as thorough then as it is today so he left his Tasmanian home to serve the nation when he was just 16 years old.

“I joined for adventure,” he said during the closing years of his life, reflecting on what had been only a brief campaign which saw him given the nickname “the kid” before receiving a minor wound at Gallipoli and being evacuated home as a veteran – all before his 18th birthday.

Adventure was a spirit very much alive through those war years, when the communication media that we take for granted today weren’t available to bring home the grim realities of conflict.

Thousands of men were attracted to enlist as marches wound their ways through towns large and small extending from the bush to key recruitment offices.

Names like Kangaroos, Waratahs, Wallabies, Kurrajongs, Dungarees and Boomerangs were affixed to parades gathering would-be service personnel.

One of the most famous was the Coo-ee March from Gilgandra to Sydney in October-November 1915, which attracted 263 men.

Corporal Bill Hitchen, who came to be known as “Captain Bill”, was called the grand old man of that march and, like Alec Campbell, his military career was a short one.

He never made it to the front line, taking ill and dying in an English hospital in September 1916, aged 44.

Despite the bravery of those recruiting drives, final farewells proved to be taxing.

“On the wharf women were screaming, crying and collapsing everywhere,” recorded Coo-ee veteran Les Greenleaf as he headed off to war. “I found it so distressing that at last I went below and stayed there until we sailed.”

Stories of happenings a century ago are set to fill many pages of newspaper space and create viewing opportunities through electronic media outlets as we reflect on how the world reached the situation it did in 1914 – and again between 1939 and 1945.

For the causes, perhaps we need look no further than breakdowns in adhering to the Commandments: a coveting of property; killing; and a rejection of the authority of God by those making leadership decisions in countries that first took their people into battle.

Pope Leo XIII was 93 when he died soon after the outbreak of the Great War, but he left us with a prayer for peace, asking the Lord: “Under your favour and inspiration may men return to due order, and having overthrown the rule of greed, bring back again as ought to be, the love of God, justice, charity toward neighbour, temperance in all desires.”

More recently, Pope Francis told a gathering of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders: “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare … to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.”

Different words yet the connections arguably may be stronger than those between us and our lost veterans, as both of these Church leaders echoed the words of the hymn and prayer attributed to – yet not written by – St Francis, asking of God: “Make me a channel of your peace.”