|In the Anzac Cove, Lone Pine Cemetery lays the grave of an Australian Soldier who didn’t make it to the Western Front. He fell into the mud with his boots on, with his face to the foe amid the ridges of Gallipoli. His epitaph reads:-
I have fought in the Great War, the War to end all Wars. If there are to be more Wars then I have died in vain.
The soldier was right and he was wrong. The Great War where Australians had the greatest number of fatalities did not end the bloodshed. But the soldier’s death was not in vain. 20 years later boys came from all over Australia, particularly from outback areas to go to WW11.
They didn’t know how to fire a rifle let alone the complex history of Poland. They were joined by boys whose ancestors came to Australia in the 1850’s from the century and half of European partitions and the Napoleonic Wars. I personally have 2 great uncles who served in WW11. The Australian soldiers came to Poland’s aid in the spirit of Service and Sacrifice so intimately linked with their Christian ideals. They came on behalf of all Australians to stand up and defend the cause of Poland and her allies.
During the Anzac Centenary in Australia over the next 4 years, from 2014-2018 one of the themes that we will be looking at is the Australian /Polish Brotherhood-in Arms legacy. Only after dispersing the nightmare of the cold war did historians and archaeologists reveal aspects of an Australian/Polish Brotherhood in arms. This relationship was evident in many episodes of WW11, truly hidden treasures of camaraderie, sacrifice and heroism. Australian Airmen came to the aid of besieged, very young soldiers in the Warsaw Uprising by dropping food supplies. We see further evidence of co-operation between the British/Australian Airmen and the Polish Kosciusko Squadron Fighter Pilots in the Battle of Britain. On the desert of Libya where Rommel’s North African Campaign finally halted, we see a poignant image of the Australian soldiers handing over their position to the Polish Soldiers, among the many images of Tobruk, in the Australian War Memorial.
Another theme for the descendents of Polish Ex-Servicemen worthy of exploration is the charting of this 100yr history of Australia and Poland in both nation’s fight to preserve their freedom. Australian’s Nationhood was forged on the shores of Gallipoli. In parallel, Poland in 1918 won Independence after 123 yrs of oppressive Partition Regimes. Australians defended their shores from Japanese Imperialism and also came to the aid of the Vietnam and Korean Nations in the fights against tyranny of Communism. Unfortunately during Poland’s 23 yrs of Independence after 1918, the threat of tyranny was ever present. In the ‘ Black Book of Communism’ pub. 1977, we have evidence of Polish Soldiers in pre-war Russia being as the first race to be rounded up and executed by the Russians . This lead into the shocking atrocities of the murder of 22.000 Polish Military and elite in Katyn, and the transportation of civilians from the Kresy/Siberia region to Siberia.
In the end of the WW11 Polish soldiers and their allies delivered on the promise of a free world to the West, but sadly did not reap the benefits in their own country. Many decades later the Polish nation’s demands for Human Dignity was severely challenged with the state of appalling conditions of the Gdansk Ship-yard Workers. It was the rise of this Free Trade Union Movement , Solidarity, that became the catalyst for the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Any nation that has been to war, worries about whether there will be another war on the world stage, and indeed what may be the reasons for such a war. In the first
Constitutions of the World; the American Constitution around the time of American Independence, and the Polish Constitution of 1791 - wars were fought on the basis of challenging ideas of Golden Liberty or superiority of a class of people. The Polish Constitution was designed to redress the system of Golden Liberty which conferred disproportional rights to nobility.
Kosciuszko, the Polish American hero stands up for the rights of European serfs, American Indians and disenfranchised groups. Kosciuszko was the freedom fighter who fought in the American war of Independence and later struggled for freedom of Poland leading the 1794 Kosciusko Uprising against Imperialist Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia. Roughly 100 yrs on in US we see Abraham Lincoln as the embattled president with the Civil War raging. He tries to push through the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which would abolish Slavery. But through these leaders of wars, before and after Lincoln, on either continents, we see the harsh reality – the realisation that grand reforms take decades sometimes centuries to enact. In a poignant moment in the film Lincoln his chief advisor states:- “Abolition of Slavery and Confederate Peace are two different ideals; you can’t have both.” This was borne out in history because it took another 100 yrs before the dawning of equal rights for Black people in the U.S, after the assassination of the black rights leader, Martin Luther King.
Well will there be a WW111 and how will it be fought? The new Pope urges leaders and those responsible for economic, political and social life to STANDFIRM in the face of death, destruction and threats to Human Dignity; any forces that wreck havoc and mar the countenance of men. It’s perhaps prophetic that the New Bishop of Rome was chosen from the Americas and that he chose Francis as his name. In the last hours of the Conclave when the votes had reached 2/3rds, a new Pope had been elected. One of the cardinals said “Don’t forget the poor.” Then right away thinking of the poor the Pope said he thought of Francis of Assisi. “Then I thought of all the Wars, he said as the votes were still being counted. Francis is the man of peace, a man of poverty. How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor.”
Maybe future struggles will be around issues addressing, poverty in the world, where thousands of children die each year from not being able to drink a glass of clear water. A war against economic injustice, the lack of egalitarianism, against displacement against the terrorism of the 21st Century of children dying from water-borne diseases and being permanently stunted with grain silos full of grain just a few km away. An economic war where the future of G8 Summits and UN Institutions may hang in the balance.
I’ll leave you with reflection upon Pope Francis Papal Motto recalling the homily of St Bede. St Bede being the 8th Century English Christian writer and Doctor of the Church. In Latin the Papal motto translates to - ‘Because he, Jesus saw him, Matthew through the eyes of mercy and chose him, or more simply – having mercy he called him.’ Jesus called his disciples to exercise the authentic power of Service and Sacrifice. ST Bede explained in his homily, Jesus saw Mathew not in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.
Lest We Forget