Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I am the Light and the Horse

This Sunday a commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the charge at the Nek, one of the most outstanding fuckups of a pretty fucked Gallipoli campaign. The battle honours of the Victorian Light Horse regiments, including grandfather’s 8th, are to be laid up at the Shrine.

Grey day with occasional outbreaks of umbrella. Probably a lovely day in Gallipoli, this time of year.

Lots of Army – soldiers, officers, colourbearers. Apparently the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s (how did that little poon get in there? Why doesn’t he stick to the prestige jam market?) Light Horse is the successor in title to, among others, the 8th, which was dissolved in the 1920s. Lots of marching and attenhuts.

Service starts with an invocation to almighty and gracious god. We atheists grump quietly. Then a reading from the bible – even worse. “In you, O Lord my God, have I trusted, let my enemies not triumph over me.” Well, ninety years too late for that one.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Ninety-one years too late.

Then a talk by a colonel of some sort who says that they do things very differently now, not attrition but manoeuvre, and basically that you shouldn’t let the Nek dissuade you from joining up.

And then the cream of the crop, one of the triumphs of western music; the Army hymn “Soldiers of Australia”, sung to the tune of Waltzing Matilda;

Soldiers of Australia gathered now to worship god

Under the badge of the Rising Sun

Giving thanks for our country, our families and freedom

Let hearts and voices arise as one.

God of salvation, pride of our nation

You give us strength to follow your ways

With the cross raised so high (oog) shining bright across our southern skies

We’ll serve Australia through all our days.

And who would have thought of setting Binyon to WM? Next verse:

Soldiers of Australia have brought our freedom with their lives,

They grow not old as we grow old

At the setting of the sun and also in the mo-o-orning

We shall remember her deeds so bold..

God of salvation, pride of our nation

You give us strength to follow your ways

With the cross raised so high (double oog) shining bright across our southern skies

We’ll serve Australia through all our days.

Repeat chorus. An almost unequalled combination of immetricality, meretriciousness, and mediocrity. See if Cath wants to learn to sing it.

We pray that the offering of their lives may not have been in vain. Sorry, 90 years too late for that, too.

Light horse prayer. Lord’s prayer (Anglican version). Onward Christian soldiers. A theme seems to be emerging.

Laying of wreaths. Ode to the fallen, this time not to Waltzing Matilda. Last post.

Benediction.

The band starts up the national anthem. About halfway through the first verse the audience realise they’re supposed to be joining in.

For those that dwell across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share. Sorry, ten years too late for that one....

And then me, Manu, Rohini, Jan, Sally and little Chris go off for yum cha at West Lake.

I write a letter to the Age;

My grandfather was one of the rare survivors of the charge at the Nek, and on Sunday I was among the descendants of Light Horsemen at the Shrine of Remembrance to commemorate the 90th anniversary of that disaster. The tragedy of Gallipoli isn’t just a nostalgic family heirloom, of course -- it’s a saga out of Homer where all who fought were united by their courage and endurance under overwhelming but meaningless trials. Because of that, I’d have to say that I would have been happier if some Turks had been asked to join us there, if only because the Turkish troops had made that same astoundingly brave and appallingly stupid charge across that same narrow ridge a month earlier in the other direction, losing even more men than we did, and deserve a share in whatever glory is going.

Similarly, I don’t know that it was appropriate to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. Grandfather was a good Presbyterian, but he fought alongside Jewish troopers and Indian Moslem artillerymen and certainly didn’t see himself as any kind of crusader. If I’d been a Moslem contemplating joining the armed forces, I can’t say I would have been encouraged. Now, more than ever, the Australian army has to avoid incorporating exclusionary religious rituals into its vital regimental pride.

Rather too soft, but I don’t want to be blackballed by the Light Horse Association.



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