We pray for a lasting peace in the world and for friendship to continue with Turkey and all the other nations with whom we were in conflict.
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall Dean of Westminster
Thursday, 25th April 2019 at 12:00 PM
On 11th November last year, we marked the centenary of the end of the First World War. This was a special day in many ways and, at least in part, since it fell on a Sunday. In the morning, in the usual way, The Queen and Members of the Royal Family, together with leading politicians and statesmen and women, and the leaders of the armed services and civilian services, together with the High Commissioners of the countries of the Commonwealth, gathered at the Cenotaph in Whitehall to mark our annual remembrance of the wars of the past century and more. In the Abbey, as usual, we held our annual remembrance service.
That evening, The Queen and The President of Germany attended here in the Abbey a service to mark the centenary of the Armistice. The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, together with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and other Members of the Royal Family, attended the service, as did a full Abbey of guests.
There were fresh flowers around the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, where The Queen and the German President also laid flowers.
The Prince of Wales read from St John’s Gospel and the German President read from St John’s first epistle in German. The Prime Minister read a lesson and the Archbishop of Canterbury gave the address.
In his address, the archbishop said, ‘The battlefields of the world on 11th November 1918 were images of destruction and despair. Millions of soldiers had fallen, the vast majority young men. Many more millions bore the scars of war, psychological and physical. Empires had been destroyed, the old order of things had ceased to be. The great cry was of a war to end all wars, of building a nation fit for heroes.’ He also said, ‘We remember in order to act. We see that conflict has been transformed and enemies have reconciled. And that is hope for the world.’
Now that the four years of the Great War centenary have passed, it is time to take stock more widely, not just of the Gallipoli campaign, but of the role of Australian and New Zealand forces in the First World War and its aftermath.
Here I have relied on official Australian and New Zealand websites. Following the Gallipoli campaign, Australian forces fought campaigns on the Western Front and in the Middle East. Throughout 1916 and 1917 losses on the Western Front were heavy and gains were small. In 1918 the Australians reached the peak of their fighting performance in the battle of Hamel on 4 July. From 8 August they then took part in a series of decisive advances until they were relieved in early October. The Middle East campaign began in 1916 with Australian troops taking part in the defence of the Suez Canal and the allied re-conquest of the Sinai Desert. In the following year Australian and other allied troops advanced into Palestine and captured Gaza and Jerusalem; by 1918 they had occupied Lebanon and Syria and on 30th October 1918 Turkey sued for peace. For Australia, the First World War remains the costliest conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.
The war took approximately 100,000 New Zealanders overseas, many for the first time. The total population of New Zealand in 1914 was approximately 1.1 million, of whom almost 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). More than 2,200 Māori and around 500 Pacific Islanders served overseas with the New Zealand forces. Around 18,000 New Zealanders died in the war or as a result of the war, and there were 41,000 instances of wounding or illness; 2,779 died at Gallipoli and more than 12,000 on the Western Front.
Hope in the 1920s and 1930s was in short supply. It is salutary to remind ourselves that, only twenty years after the end of the so-called Great War, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was in Munich hoping to negotiate with Adolf Hitler a means of keeping the peace. It was not to be. Hitler’s territorial ambitions did not end with the German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Later this year, we shall mark the 75th anniversary of the D Day landings in Normandy that began the process of bringing to an end the Second World War.
New Zealand was involved for all but three of the 2,179 days of the Second World War, a commitment on a par only with Britain and Australia. It was a war in which New Zealanders gave their greatest national effort and a war that New Zealanders fought globally, from Egypt, Italy and Greece to Japan and the Pacific. The population of New Zealand in 1940 was about 1,600,000. About 140,000 New Zealand men and women served. Fatal casualties during the conflict numbered 11,928.
Australia was equally committed in the Second World War. Out of a population of seven million people, nearly one million Australian men and women served. They fought in campaigns against the Axis powers across Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa. In 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbour and advanced into South East Asia. During this period, the Australian mainland came under direct enemy attack for the first time in history, with Japanese bombing attacks on Northern Australia and an attack on Sydney Harbour by Japanese midget submarines. At the time of German defeat and Japanese surrender, 39,000 Australians had lost their lives and another 30,000 had been taken prisoner.
For many of us it is hard or impossible to imagine the effect of having taken part in four or six years of a world war. The suffering must have been intense. For many of those returning from war, the physical scars were all too obvious; the mental scars in those days were more hidden but equally damaging and no doubt had a long-lasting effect. Our collection today for Combat Stress reinforces our sense of that hidden suffering.
Our minds turn in this context to the recent suffering of Christchurch in New Zealand, a city that, when I was a boy, seemed to me to epitomise the closeness between New Zealand and England. To the destructive earthquakes there eight years ago, ripping the heart out of the centre of the city, has now been added the violent assault on two mosques last month causing the death of 46 men and four women, and the injury of another fifty or more people. This solitary act of aggression bringing horror and death to a country at peace must not drive apart the close friendships and association between those of different religious faiths. It is good to know that The Duke of Cambridge is representing The Queen there at this time.
The ties that bound Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in those two terrible wars remain strong today, and perhaps will renew their strength in coming years as the Commonwealth grows again in importance, certainly in this land. Amongst the nations of the Commonwealth, our historic ties with Canada and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, that became self-governing dominions in imperial days rather than colonies, are amongst the strongest. My personal view is that the United Kingdom Government must use all endeavours to build up again all possible practical links with these faithful allies and friends for our mutual benefit.
Marking Anzac Day once again with thanksgiving and pride, we pray for a lasting peace in the world and for friendship to continue with Turkey and all the other nations with whom we were in conflict. In this Easter week, above all, we pray for the blessing of the risen Christ on all our endeavours.