This Anzac Day, we are reminded of the need to remember those who served even after the guns fall silent, writes David Goodwin.
For Australians, Anzac Day is one of the most significant days of the year. It has become a time for Australians from all walks of life to pause to reflect on the cost of war, and acknowledge those who have served in our armed forces and paid that price for us.
The Salvation Army has a long history of trying to limit the damage of war. While never wavering in the call for peace, they have been there to try and deal with its absence. As well as helping non-combatants caught up in the conflict, they’ve also been there for those who are on the front lines. This isn’t the same as condoning war, it’s a recognition that there is nowhere out of the reach of God’s love, even a battlefield.
From ‘Fighting Mac’ McKenzie, the Salvo chaplain who stood alongside Anzac forces even as they faced machine gun fire, to the men and women who provided weary soldiers with a welcome cuppa and snack—often being already set up and waiting at the front lines for them—or care packages that contained welcome reminders of home, the Salvos have been there for Australians in times of war.
It is important to remember that it’s not simply enough to support those who serve during times of war, but to be there for them in times of peace as well. In Australia, the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) provides support to those serving, and those who have served, in our armed forces.
The Salvation Army has also been there in times of peace, its chaplains coming alongside men and women of the defence forces and providing spiritual and material support. It has also worked alongside the RSL to provide ongoing support for former defence personnel, and one such partnership spanned half a century and touched countless lives.
In the presence of the then territorial commander, Commissioner Hubert Scotney, the Red Shield Branch of the RSL first met on 27 August 1964. Sir William Hall, state president of the RSL in Victoria, presented the first branch president, Colonel John Hocking, with their charter—launching a ministry that would change lives for more than half a century.
The branch was initially born of the desire to provide a meeting place where Salvationist ex-service personnel could gather, sharing the bond of having been soldiers both of God and their countries. Members were drawn from every branch of the services, and from a number of wars and conflicts. There were also those who had served in the armed forces of allied nations, such as Great Britain.
Their experiences of the horrors of war represented the full range of the conflicts in which this nation has found itself. There were First World War veterans of the terrible fighting on the beaches of Gallipoli and in the trenches of France, and survivors of the Second World War, from ‘Rats of Tobruk’ to those who had walked the Kokoda Trail with guns in hand.
There were those who had served as chaplains or welfare officers, and those who drove ambulances, often risking as much as those on the front line. And, as time passed, those returning from later wars found a home there, too.
The branch ensured that those who did not return were not forgotten and, over the years, a number of memorials were dedicated to their memory. Among these was one created for the members of the Brunswick Salvation Army brass band, of whom 23 had enlisted together in World War Two, only to become prisoners of war and lose their lives almost to a man when their transport ship was sunk.
But the branch was about more than remembering the past. It was a place of fellowship and enduring friendships, and provided a support network not only for those who had served but also for their families. Over the years, the branch arranged hospital visits to members, as well as a newsletter that kept them up to date with important events.
The work of the branch did not stop at its doors. Members were active in fundraising efforts to support the wider work of the RSL and contribute to the ongoing programs to assist returning service personnel to readjust to civilian life. The branch also raised money for a number of hospitals, therapy centres and nursing homes.
Like many branches across Australia, time’s onward march saw a dwindling in numbers. As members grew older, or moved on to a well-earned rest, the decision was eventually made to close the branch. Secretary Patricia Keech’s ongoing work over the final years of the branch had ensured that its history would be preserved and existing members would find a home at other branches.
At the final meeting in February 2018, RSL state secretary Brigadier Michael Annett CSC spoke on behalf of the RSL, and outlined some of the contributions the branch had made over the years. He noted that even at the end they continued their service to others, thanking them for the decision to roll over funds to the RSL’s welfare programs. In his words, the branch’s 54 years was an “honourable story with an honourable close”.
While the branch’s story has come to an end, its legacy lives on in the lives it has changed and the memories of friendship and support they found within its walls. They refused to let the horrors of war define them, but instead worked to repair its damage and share their faith in a better world.
As we pause to reflect on Anzac Day, we can be inspired to follow their example and ensure that our support of our service men and women goes beyond one or two days a year, and that, as we work towards a world without war, we continue to do the best we can for those who have felt its impact.