This weekend, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, coincides with ANZAC Day. This Sunday is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, which is obvious when you listen to this weekend’s Gospel. Yet while our focus is naturally on the Risen Christ and the powerful imagery of the Good Shepherd, the story of ANZAC and the ultimate price paid by so many of our young Australians cannot be ignored.
It all took place 106 years ago, a blink of an eyelid in the big scheme of things. The Honour Rolls on the big city cenotaphs or small country memorials remind us that the Dardanelles Campaign and World War I touched every family and affected every community in Australia. Accompanying our young men as they left our shores for distant lands were countless other Australians needed to support the troops: doctors and nurses, cooks and stretcher bearers. Also accompanying the troops were chaplains. During the week I came across the biography of the West Australian priest, Fr John Fahey, and it reminded me that World War I left a lasting legacy at every level of society.
John Fahey was born in Ireland on 3 October 1883. He was ordained in 1907 and not long after this, he arrived in Perth.
Shortly after the declaration of war, like so many others, he joined the Australian Imperial Force on 8 September 1914.
He was assigned to the 11th Battalion and was the first chaplain to go ashore at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, disregarding the order to stay on the ship, asserting his duty to go with his men.
His work, consoling the wounded, burying the dead and encouraging the living, was widely appreciated and he became a very popular figure.
He was evacuated, due to illness in November 1915, but re-joined the battalion in Egypt before being transferred to France in 1916. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the “Distinguished Service Order” for “gallantry under fire”.
About the soldiers he ministered to, he reflected that,
“the more I knew them, the more I loved them ….. their bravery has been written in deeds that will live to the end of the world”.
Fr Fahey was the longest serving front-line chaplain of any denomination.
He returned to Australia in March 1918 where he resumed pastoral duties in various Perth parishes until his death in 1959. He was a faithful pastor, kept up his AIF contacts and occupied a number of minor diocesan positions. He died at the St John of God Hospital in Subiaco on 28 April 1959 and is buried in Karrakatta cemetery. About 2000 people attended his funeral.
106 years later we remember the landing on the rocky, narrow beaches of Gallipoli and we stand in awe at the courage and sacrifices made by all our fellow Australians who volunteered and served in the First Australian Imperial Force. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, Lest we forget.