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Anzac, archives and the bullshit detector

On Saturday 25 April, the annual dawn Anzac commemoration will take place at Grangegorman Military Cemetery, Dublin. It is the centenary of the failed Anzac engagement at Gallipoli. Six Jesuits, five of them Irish-born, served with the Australian Imperial Forces in the First World War. Frs Joseph Hearn and Michael Bergin both served at Gallipoli. Many past pupils of Jesuit schools in Limerick, Galway, Kildare and Dublin served at Gallipoli with the Australian and British forces. Belvederians William McGarry (Royal Dublin Fusiliers) and Kevin O’Duffy (Royal Munster Fusiliers) were twenty-years old when killed at Sulva Bay. Clongownians John Dunn and Micheal Fitzgibbon both were killed on August 15 1915. Mungret College past pupils John Brazil and Robert Cussen both from Limerick were killed serving with the Royal Munster Fusiliers.

Fr Bergin describes Gallipoli in 1915: “There are times here when you would think this was the most peaceful corner of the earth – peaceful sea, peaceful men, peaceful place; then, any minute the scene may change – bullets whistling, shells bursting. One never knows. It is not always when fighting that the men are killed – some are caught in their dug-outs, some carrying water. We know not the day or the hour. One gets callous to the sight of death. You pass a dead man as you’d pass a piece of wood. And when a high explosive catches a man, you do see wounds”.

I have written about the chaplains who served with the Australian forces and met with their relatives. Last year, I accompanied Irish Jesuits to visit Fr Bergin’s grave in Belgium. However, reading Michael Mullins article on Eureka Street entitled ‘The last Anzac’s bullshit detector’ has made me assess my scruples. I am a biased archivist, but my gut feeling is to question the narratives regarding war commemoration and especially Anzackery: “the destructive and even abusive effects of the jingoism associated with Anzac Day”. Last September, while waiting in queue to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate, Ypres, I chatted to two schoolchildren from a rural town in New South Wales, Australia. They travelled over with a parent, to commemorate the men of their town who died in the First World War. So, in that spirit, I will go to Grangegorman and mourn the dead, not to celebrate ‘the nation…born [apparently] on the cliffs of Gallipoli’.