Somme to Kokoda
My 08.00 taxi arrived at 07.45. Stimulating conversation en route to Brisbane airport includes discussion on origin of the universe. ‘Big Bang’ and ‘Cosmic Egg’ theories come from the driver’s side. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ come from the passenger’s side. Why don’t people simply take God at His Word? Rebellion! For man our war with God began in the Garden of Eden with the devil saying to Eve: ‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree in the garden?”’ Genesis 3:1b. All conflict begins here – doubting God’s Word.
The flight to the Army Chaplain’s Conference is pleasant. Green tea and a blueberry muffin. The plane begins to slow. Like a farmer’s tractor passing through a flock of sheep stubborn clouds part slowly to reveal red-tiled Sydney rooftops rising up to greet us. The hour and a half flight passed quickly with nose buried in ‘Somme Mud.’ A few years ago, while my father was still alive, I enquired as to the names of the two youthful people in an old photo on the mantelpiece of his Scottish home. ‘That’s my mother and her brother.’ ‘What happened to my great uncle?’ I enquired. ‘He’s buried in the Somme Mud, son.’ Aussie ‘Digger’ EPF Lynch, who was there, relates some of the horrors of the Great War among the trenches: ‘Dead men are lying in rough rows in the snow near the big burial ground, lying waiting for all that’s to come to them now. And for what do they wait? A few short prayers spoken by a strange padre and a grave in the Somme mud… I land the padre at the cemetery where a long row of shallow graves are dug. Near each open grave lies the body of an Australian soldier. A few are sewn up in grey blankets. Others just lie there in their muddy uniforms, waiting to go to their muddy beds. Into each grave a body is lowered. The men nearby stand to attention. A few of them remove their steel helmets and the padre says a brief burial service and passes on to the next, whilst the wet mud is showered in upon the body of an Australian lad.’ (Somme Mud, pp. 70-71). Perhaps some of these lads met my Scottish great uncle before they all died. So young. So brave.
The Vietnamese driver deposits me at my barracks’ destination. The ‘Padre’ conference included an afternoon trip to the ‘Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway.’ With ten or so other camouflage uniformed ‘padres’ we were guided along the track by two ‘diggers,’ Don and Norm, who actually had fought along the Kokoda Track in the South Pacific in WWII. Under manned and ill-equipped for jungle warfare they had contributed to repelling the Japanese forces who wanted to, as Norm said, ‘Take Australia from us.’ As we contemplate the terrors experienced by these and the men who died a party of Japanese tourists passes by, all smiles and waving to us. We smile back. Peace! We hear also about the gallantry of the native ‘Fuzzie Wuzzies,’ who carried wounded Australian soldiers out of the jungle to safety. ‘Angels,’ Don called them. Indeed – and sent by God! Don had ‘celebrated’ his nineteenth birthday on that gruelling jungle trail. So young. So brave.
Upon hearing I was becoming an Army Chaplain my eldest brother remarked, ‘God’s army is invading the Australian army!’ Then he reminded me of the following verses, ‘Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil… Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…’ Ephesians 6:11-18. Referring to my new role as army chaplain my brother wrote, ‘God bless you brother. Every step of the way. Interesting, isn’t it, that there in the midst of Paul’s extended martial uniform metaphor in Ephesians 6 he should include the image “Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of PEACE”?’
Because of the Prince of Peace, we’re able to say with Scripture, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ 1 Corinthians 15:54-55.