Thursday, April 24, 2014


Remembering all those who sacrificed

This year's ANZAC Day marks the 99th Anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Over the nine-month campaign 85,000 Turkish people died defending their homeland together with 8,500 Australians. It was also on 25 April, in 1918, that Australians recaptured the area around Villers-Bretonneux, France. In the playground of a local school, named Victoria, is a sign with the words 'Never forget Australia'.

Some 400,000 enlisted in World War I. Approximately 60,000 died and 200,000 were injured. Most of these casualties were on the Western Front, where 46,000 lost their lives and 130,000 were wounded between 1916 and 1918. Some 23,000 died at Pozières alone, in a six-week period in 1916. In 1915 Australia’s population was 3.5 million. Last year it passed 23 million.

Together with Australia’s armed forces there were others who sacrificed much as a result of Australia’s involvement in the War: those who remained at home and looked after the country, and those who cared for the soldiers who returned changed as a result of the trauma they experienced.

I recently visited the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park. It was a moving experience. Our volunteer guide explained the symbolism in the design of the memorial that expressed the grief, loss and gratitude felt by the people of NSW for those who served in World War I. The memorial contains no names, but 120,000 stars in the ceiling dome represent those from NSW who served. Several commemorative plaques, erected by dignitaries, are attributed humbly – A Citizen, A Soldier – in a way that unites us all irrespective of rank or prestige. Just as war is no respecter of persons, those who make it right are all, and any, of us. The architect, Bruce Dellit said,

'There is no pomp, no vainglory, no glamour in this group; rather there is dark tragedy, grim reality and bitter truth. But it is the truth which tells not only of the brutality of war and of the suffering it engenders, but of that noblest of all human qualities – self-sacrifice for duty.'

As you look down into the Hall of Silence, its design causes you to bow respectfully. The main focus of the interior is Rayner Hoff’s bronze sculpture Sacrifice. It is of a dead, naked male soldier, held aloft on his shield by his grieving mother, sister and wife with child. They represent the givers of life, weighed down by death.

Having fought in WWI, Hoff emigrated from England in 1923. As an outstanding public sculptor, he was commissioned to create a set of sculptures for the Sydney ANZAC memorial. His sculptures had powerful interpretations of sacrifice through war, including women bearing its burden.

Outside on the eastern and western faces of the ANZAC Memorial are two empty stone pedestals beneath large stained-glass windows. Two other statues using the image of the Crucifixion were carved by Hoff to portray both the start of the war - The Crucifixion of Civilisation 1914 - and its conclusion - Victory after Sacrifice 1918. As ANZAC Day often occurs just after Easter, the statues would have been powerful images for a Christian audience.

The Crucifixion of Civilisation depicted a stripped, tortured and wounded female figure on a cross atop a pyramid of broken soldiers, corpses, weapons, helmets and the debris of battle.Victory after Sacrifice was similar in design although the central female figure was partially clothed and partway liberated from the cross. They were never installed due to protests by church figures including the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Michael Sheehan.
The ANZAC Memorial Shrine was officially opened in 1934 at the south end of the park. The Archibald Fountain, unveiled two years earlier at the north end, has nude figures in its design. However, viewed as Greek mythological figures, the nakedness was acceptable. But a naked female form on the cross was another matter.

Following the protest, the statues were stored in the vaults of the Commonwealth Bank in Martin Place. In 1965 the trustees of the ANZAC Memorial asked then Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Norman Gilroy, if the statues could be installed to complete the design. He indicated the church's position remained unchanged.

Sometime later the statues were given to East Sydney Technical College - now the National Art School. Hoff had been principal there from 1937 until his death in 1939, aged 44. Around that time, they disappeared. They may have fallen apart, or they may have been broken up because they were surplus to requirements.

Christ's crucifixion is indeed a powerful symbol and one about which religious figures are sensitive. In the 1970s, I read My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. It describes a young Jewish artist struggling with his faith and family. In his quest for meaning, he paints The Brooklyn Crucifixion. The painting causes dissention between Asher and his father's devotion to his Hasidic beliefs and community. For Asher's father it was disturbing that his son should use a Christian figure to describe suffering humanity.

Hoff's use of a woman on the cross in the 1930s was shocking. Such a powerful symbol, no doubt, would create debate even today. One irony is that artistic works that were designed to help people reflect about war and sacrifice caused such bitterness and controversy.

Hoff's works are a reminder of the role that women play in our society. The shrine helps us remember those who made such sacrifices in the field of war, but it also helps us remember the women - mothers, sisters, wives, daughters - who sacrificed so much to hold their families together.

By Fr Peter Hosking SJ.

Pictured: (Top) ANZAC Memorial, image by Ricardo Martins. (Middle) Hoff's Crucifixion of Civilisation, image by Ellis Taylor.

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