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Reflections of Anzac Day... by The Rev'd Canon Jenny Chalmers

Revelation 21: 1-4


The New Heaven and the New Earth


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’


There is a Jewish saying that goes: God made man because he loved stories.


For many of us, the wars that we remember on ANZAC day are remembered through family stories. These stories tell of bravery, of ingenuity, and the resilience that they describe flesh out and make personal what is and has to be, an impersonal undertaking.


Here are a couple of stories from my family.


My great uncle, Private John Glen, died at Gallipoli, ‘missing in action’. He’s remembered at Twelve Tree Copse. His letters, his exotic gift of a box of attar of roses sent to my grandmother from Egypt, where he trained, was one of her greatest treasures. His brothers-in-law, my grandfather’s brothers, and cousins were also killed in the Great war, but John Glen’s death was the greater sadness.


It is the next war that had the greatest effect on my family.

My first parents-in-law lived in Malaya where my father-in-law was a mining engineer. He was seconded from the British Army to the Singapore army, fighting the Japanese. 


As the Japanese army moved down the Singapore peninsula, my mother-in-law moved with the Australians, just ahead of the Japanese. She and her eighteen-month-old baby, were evacuated from Singapore and landed in Darwin, where she learned her husband had been taken prisoner and was being held at Changi.


In time, my mother-in-law, returned unhappily to her family home in Dunedin, where she waited out the war, not knowing whether her husband was alive or dead.


Harold survived and came home to New Zealand weighing seven stone and very ill. He had taken part in building the Burma railway and as an engineer, had helped construct the bridge over the Kwai river. He admired the engineering ingenuity of the people that designed and built the bridge.

Later the family returned to live in Malaya where amongst other things Harold took part in gathering intelligence for the British during the Malaysian emergency.


Like many returned servicemen, Harold rarely spoke of the war and his internment. He travelled on occasion to Japan for work related reasons, and once remarked that the Japanese guards in the camps loved children. When they became popular, Harold drove Japanese cars.


Harold spoke a couple of times of being tortured, of the methods of torture used on him, but without bitterness. He seemed more affected by his early enforced retirement, when Malaya became independent, than by the awfulness of the war.


These are very brief, edited stories from my family. They are important intimate family stories, and wider culture shaping stories. War has to be impersonal, because it essentially means the death and injury of someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, wife or husband, father or mother. Our family stories help explain some of the unseen psychological damage that families experience.


Tomorrow many of us will take part in ANZAC parades. We’ll watch the various services place wreathes on cenotaphs. We’ll hear and perhaps give speeches about the wars of last century. The contribution New Zealanders made to those wars were by and large contributions to  protect other people’s freedoms. For example, the reason only two thirds of Europe’s Jews were exterminated was because we chose to fight to free, in very sense of the word, those who were left. 


We probably won’t hear much about the Land wars, or the wars of this century. And yet we should.


The people who fight and die and wait at home (in all wars) do so in the belief that this is a war that will end all wars and that at the end of the war, there will be a new heaven and a new earth.      


John Glen’s death caused my family to become pacifists. They understood, as I do, that this is the centre of Jesus teachings, his life and death.  This understanding has a long line of reasoning, but one thing is for sure, a new heaven and a new earth, where death will be no more (and) mourning and crying and pain will be no more, will not come through war.  





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