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The Anzacs and the True Spirit of Fatherhood

We celebrate Anzac Day on the 25 April to celebrate and honour the sacrifice of those who have fought for our country and those who still do.  But what has this got to do with being a father in the 21st century? Well I believe Anzac Day and in particular the story of Gallipoli is significant for us as fathers for many reasons. Let me share just four reasons why it is important for us to celebrate Anzac day with our children.

  • Anzac Day is a key part of our cultural heritage as a nation. Many historians  would argue our national identity and our Australian Values were born in the midst of the blood and fire of Gallipoli.  Our children need to see our celebration of Anzac day as fathers. Only then will they discover their own. We need to help our children understand the sacrifice that there great grandfathers and forebears made for the freedoms we hold so dear today. If we don’t tell them who will?
  • Our children need to hear these selfless  stories of  courage by our past heroes, as it gives them hope in an otherwise hopeless world.
  • Self-sacrifice is the core characteristic of successful fathers. This then is the true spirit of fatherhood and that’s why we need to celebrate Anzac Day just as much as our children do.
  •  Anzac day has deep spiritual roots and in in our current spirit less society these deep truths need to be held dear. We must not forget that we are spirits in a material world as Sting so famously pointed out. Without transcendence we live in a meaningless world. Anzac day does not give us our meaning but the Christian faith that created the celebration of the day in the first place does. Lest we forget.

Talking about heroes. Australia has produced some amazing war heroes but none so remarkable, or popular, as Fighting McKenzie from World War 1.

William McKenzie served in both Gallipoli and France and was said to have been recommended for a Victoria Cross three times. Unfortunately, the recommending officers were killed in action before they could file their reports.

Known as ‘Fighting Mac’ William McKenzie enlisted as an Anzac chaplain, being a commissioned officer with the Salvation Army. He preached against booze, brothels, betting and bad language, but was Australia’s most popular soldier after World War 1.

On a country by country basis, Australia had more troops at war per head of population and suffered higher death rates and casualty rates, than any other country that fought in the first World War.

 It was Easter Sunday 1915 when the Anzacs embarked for the Dardanelles. They landed at dawn on 25 April for what many of them thought was to be a great adventure. The ‘great adventure’ became Australia’s greatest military defeat. The horror of the Gallipoli campaign claimed 2 out of 3 dead or wounded, such was the price they paid, and all arguably for nothing.

Fighting Mac wrote of those memorable days:

“I don’t know what the Australian papers say about these brave boys, but I want to tell you they accomplished a well-nigh impossible task…

My heart is full of one big sob for the loss of so many, hundreds of whom I knew so well…

Our brigadier and major are both gone, with so many other brave officers and men…

When I think of the anguish of the mothers I can only weep and pray for them. May God comfort them!” Anzac Padre, p.36.

Fighting Mac personally buried hundreds of young Anzacs, often in the middle of a hail of bullets. During this period, he developed a life-long hatred for war. He wrote:

“Many of the bravest and the best are gone…War is nothing short of insensitive folly. It is inconclusive in its results and devastating in its ultimate consequences.”

Other soldiers described the duty and demeanour of this humble but courageous chaplain:

 “Among the duties of this Anzac chaplain – dubbed ‘Anzac Mac’ or ‘Fighting Mac’ by the men who had grown to love and respect him – was searching for the wounded and dead, as well as identifying bodies and giving them a decent burial and advising relatives by letter. Although officially forbidden from remaining in the front lines or from taking part in battles, Mac had no intention of standing idly by while, ‘my boys fight’. Fighting Mac Page 1

Col Stringer, in his book ‘Fighting McKenzie Anzac Chaplain – Tribute to a Hero’ tells the story of the Battle of Lone Pine:

This was a day that has gone down in the annals of the young nation’s history as one of our blackest. Some of Australia’s finest young men were needlessly sacrificed. It was shocking decisions such as this that must have torn at the heart of Chaplain William McKenzie. The men pleaded with Mac not to put his life in danger, but to stay behind in the safety of the trenches. After all, as a non-combatant, he was not even supposed to be in the front lines and on numerous occasions he had been ordered to the rear. But Mac responded to a higher call, his boys needed him now. He replied, a quote that is now famous in the annals of Anzac:

 “Boys I have lived with you, I’ve preached to you and I’ve prayed with you. Do you think I’m now afraid to die with you?”

 Fighting Mac’s great heart and love for his men just could not be contained any further. Snatching up a trenching shovel he climbed over the parapet and charged straight at the Turkish trenches. McKenzie was prepared to fight for the lives of his ‘brave boys’. Obviously thinking that a shovel got around the regulations of international rules of war which stated that chaplains could not be armed.

 Fighting McKenzie went on to serve with distinction in France. The mateship, self-sacrifice and bravery, in the face of impossible odds, shown in the battlefields of World War I shown by men like Fighting McKenzie, exemplifies the values that have made Australia great.

When he returned home the Melbourne Age wrote: “No soldier of the Australian Army could ever wish for a finer welcome home” After the Great War, everywhere Fighting Mac went, he was mobbed by adoring soldiers, their families and bereaved family members.

One might ask why such an outpouring of appreciation?

Perhaps it is summed up in the words from the bible describing Jesus’ sacrifice that are repeated at every Anzac Dawn Service across Australia on 25 April every year, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend”.

Mateship, self-sacrifice and bravery are the values Australian’s hold dear. These deeply spiritual values underpin the Anzac spirit exemplified by ‘Fighting Mac’. Lest we forget.

Lovework

The true spirit of Fatherhood is found in the Anzac story. Celebrate Anzac Day with your children and tell them the story of Fighting McKensie. You will be inspired and they will too!

Yours for the true spirit of Fatherhood

Warwick Marsh

PS: Read the full story of Fighting McKensie at  my blog. Check out the information on the Dads4Kids Train the Trainer Summit, 26 – 28 May in News and Info if you have a passion to help Australia’s fathers.

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