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Monday, April 20, 2015

An English Anzac on Religion & Politics from John Tognolini's Brothers Part One: Gallipoli 1915

He was scared to go to sleep. When he had slept in the hospital bed at Lemnos, he was often woken up by vivid nightmares about what had become known as “The Landing” the eight days of bitter fighting from April 25th to May 3rd, and about the charge of the Turks on May 19. He saw the faces of some of the men he had killed with his bayonet or rifle butt, and the face of a Turkish officer he had strangled with his bare hands in no-man’s-land while scouting with Harris. The officer’s face haunted his sleep. His memories of Lone Pine had joined his nightmares too. Like everyone else, he’d had to walk on the dead, trying not to stand on their faces. No one could tell after a while if some of the dead were Australians or Turks, such was the savage nature of close fighting and the massive death toll in the trenches there.

Thomas wasn’t a religious man, but he had spoken to a chaplain at the hospital about his nightmares. The chaplain told him that God was on their side, and that the enemy were Muslims and heathens so he shouldn’t feel guilty about those he killed because they didn’t have souls. He wondered if the chaplain had the same low opinion of the Muslim Indian soldiers and their Hindu and Sikh countrymen who fought and died, along with the Gurkhas under the Union Jack. He thought about the vicar’s words and remembered the line from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, “The devil can quote scripture for his own purpose”. After what he had seen at Gallipoli, he no longer believed in God and thought that religion was a lie.

He considered his brother’s words in a letter to him: “A bayonet is a weapon with a worker on both ends of it”. His brother, Daniel, opposed the war. They had been to sea together before he went to university and came to Australia to teach. He was now a coalminer and had long held socialist views. It had been a long time since he was back in England. He missed his brother and mother, his father died in a mine cave-in when he was young. 

Like the other English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh soldiers amongst the Australian force, he was saddened by their diversion from the Western Front to Turkey. They had missed a chance to get back home. He’d known many who would never return there because they were killed or died from disease at Gallipoli.

Click on the link to order John Tognolini'sBrothers Part One: Gallipoli 1915  

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