a l l that sacrifice, life and loss in the first world war
a l l that sacrifice, life and loss in the first world war
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All that fall: Sacrifice, life and loss in the First World War 27 March to 28 June 2015
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isbn 978-0-9751030-4-3 ÂŠ National Portrait Gallery 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical (including photocopying, recording or any information storage and retrieval system), without permission from the publisher. Publications Coordinator: Alistair McGhie Edit: Laura Murray Cree Design: Brett Wiencke Print: Imago
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. . . . pat jalland
australians and the first world war . . . . raimond gaita
all that fall: reflections on war and truth . . . . lee grant
requiem in pacĂŠ . . . . christopher chapman
holy things: a portrait of self-sacrifice . . . . anne sanders
australians and the first world war pat jalland
The First World War was a turning point in the social and cultural history of death and bereavement in Australia. Christian faith declined from the 1880s to be slowly replaced by a more secular society which tended to privatise grieving and reduce mourning rituals. Between 1880 and 1920 there was a continuous decline in mortality, improved death rates for infants and children, and increased life expectancy at birth. Old age replaced infancy as the most likely time of death from 1900.1 The mass slaughter of young men and the interminable sorrow of so many families helped to create a new model of suppressed and privatised grieving which deeply constrained the next two generations. During and after the First World War a deep social and cultural change occurred which lasted until the 1970s. Emotional and expressive grieving became less common than in the nineteenth century, mourning ritual was minimised and sorrow became a private matter. The war itself was a powerful catalyst for change, especially as the traditional Christian culture of acceptance of death was in decline.2 1
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The Australian correspondent of the Manchester Guardian wrote on 27 December 1915: ‘In the graves of Gallipoli lie the seeds of Australia’s immortality.’3 Anzac soldiers proved their courage at Gallipoli in 1915, where they created the seeds of an enduring national legend which converted appalling military disaster into moral victory. The soldiers who sacrificed their lives became national heroes who provided Australia with a powerful image of the formation of national identity through war. However, this public model of military heroism created strains for some grieving soldiers and families during and after the war. sol d iers’ experien c e s o f d e at h, gr i e f and shell sh o c k About 60,000 Australian soldiers were killed in the First World War; one in five of those who left home for the war did not return (compared with one in eight in Britain). Ken Inglis calculated that two out of every three Australians in uniform were killed or wounded, and every second Australian family was bereaved.4 The trauma suffered by bereaved families was intensified because they could neither say a last farewell to their sons’ bodies in Europe nor attend their funerals, nor visit their distant graves as part of the mourning process. While there has been a major emphasis on the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 by many Australian military historians, the worst years of the war for casualties were between 1916 and 1918. As Joan Beaumont has recently noted, ‘In the seven weeks after 19 July , the AIF 2
lost at least 23,000 casualties, of whom more than a quarter were killed or died of their wounds. At Gallipoli, it had taken some eight months to incur 26,111 casualties, including 8,141 deaths.’5 The casualty rate was even higher in 1917, when over 76,000 Australians were killed, wounded or missing on the Western Front. It seemed that there was a ‘lost generation’ of dead and missing young soldiers. Bill Gammage suggests that Australian soldiers were initially encouraged to share romantic ideals of fighting for country, glory and freedom. But by 1917, if not earlier, their experiences of mass war and mass death meant they primarily fought for survival, for the sake of their mates and from a sense of duty. By 1917 the huge Australian casualty lists underlined the soldiers’ daily struggle simply to stay alive, lacking energy for extended sorrow. Silent grief and stoicism were the soldiers’ instinctive responses to the hideous deaths of mates and the constant fear of their own deaths. The military culture and the demands of war required that soldiers behave with courage and restraint, however terrible their experiences and their traumatic memories. 6 The death of mates elicited minimal comment in soldiers’ letters home and provided a model for the grieving behaviour of parents when their sons in turn were killed. The implicit message was that individual grief experienced by bereaved families must be restrained because it was self-indulgent when compared with the enormity of mass deaths in war. Letters from the battlefield revealed to parents how their loved sons faced 3
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death and, by clear implication, how they hoped their families would grieve if they died. When Sergeant Jack Baillie, serving in France, lost his brother and brotherin-law to the war, he told his girlfriend in Newcastle in 1917 that ‘we shall only have to keep a stiff upper lip and bear up ... I don’t want to be sad in this letter’. Like his fellow soldiers, Baillie suppressed his deep feelings of grief on his brother’s death in writing home, while admitting that it ‘hit him hard’.7 Two of the four sons of the Fergusson family in Enoggera in Queensland were killed in the First World War, and the family believed that intense grief was ‘responsible for poor Mater’s death’ in 1917. Two brave sons had sacrificed their lives, which required an equivalent courage by a grieving father. All four brothers were strongly influenced by the soldier’s code of silence, which taught them to bear sorrow privately. Malcolm Fergusson wrote to his father that quiet stoicism was the necessary response to the ‘terrible hard knocks’ of wartime: ‘just “stick” it, like you always have in all your troubles.’8 Soldiers rarely shared their sorrow on the death of comrades with their families, who sometimes seemed to them to inhabit a different universe. Soldiers were overwhelmed by death and loss while denied the opportunity to grieve. Many soldiers couldn’t endure the prolonged artillery bombardments from 1916, and the associated loss of so many comrades. Even the toughest soldiers could crack during the appalling campaigns of attrition. By 1916, 40 per cent of casualties in combat zones were officially attributed to shell 4
shock or neurasthenia, with major symptoms including severe depression, hysteria and delirium. By the end of the war there were 1624 Australian cases, with most in 1917. Officers were more likely to be diagnosed, though the symptoms were initially seen as evidence of cowardice. Military doctors such as Dr John Springthorpe and psychologists like WH Rivers encouraged treatment of neurasthenia through talk and listening, but such discussion of emotions and grief contravened the war ethos of ‘militarism and masculinity’.9 m ourning the de ad an d t he mi s s i n g – fa mily re sponse s The stoic response of soldiers to grief became entrenched as a widely disseminated emotional norm. However, ‘In Memoriam’ notices in the Australian press during the First World War did enable grieving relatives to express their individual sorrow in public. These notices were a uniquely Australian form of commemoration of the dead with broad appeal. They were a largely secular phenomenon, starting slowly from the 1880s, and becoming popular during the First World War in response to massive losses in campaigns like Gallipoli, the Somme, and Passchendaele. In Memoriam columns expressed loss in verse rather than prose, often selected from past newspaper Rolls of Honour with an amended word or line. One of the most common verses was: ‘Silence is no certain token / That no hidden grief is there / Sorrow that is never spoken / Is the hardest grief to bear.’ 5
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The In Memoriam to Private Charles Whitaker, killed at Gallipoli, lamented: ‘Tis just three years; we dare not mourn or weep / Twould grieve him so, to know us all so weak’. On Anzac Day 1917, the O’Loughlin family of West Brunswick, Victoria, had two sons to mourn—George was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 and Harry in France in 1917. The grieving parents prepared sorrowful verses for publication in the Argus newspaper, emphasising the consolation of links with their dead sons through their letters and photographs: I thought I must die as I read them through, and cry as I laid them there, For I could not see a spark of hope through the stupor of my despair; I could only know my boys had gone, and I knew as the evening came I might solace seek from their letters, from their photos in their frames.10 Some families found ways of coping with intense grief. The Hughes family of Sydney was a prominent Irish Catholic family who found consolation in their Christian faith on the death of their son Roger, killed in December 1916. Many more found some comfort in the memory of their dead son or husband, a powerful traditional source of consolation.11 But there are numerous passing references to the anguish—or even the deaths—of parents caused by the wartime death of sons, where grief could not be relieved. Jack Baillie recalled that the shock and grief of his brother’s death in 1917 ‘utterly broke dad up’. When 6
Private Reginald Gluyas died in France at the end of the war, aged nineteen, his father committed suicide. We know this from a handwritten note inside the cover of a ‘thanks for sympathy’ card held in the Australian War Memorial.12 Thousands of soldiers had no known burial place. The archives of the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau reveal the care taken by soldiers to give their mates a decent burial if possible. Parents’ searches for burial information sometimes lasted for years, as they tried to ensure that the last resting place of their dead sons was known and honoured.13 Forty-two per cent of the 60,000 Australian dead could only be commemorated on memorials to the missing like Lone Pine at Gallipoli, which was erected in 1923–24 and included the names of 4,228 Australians with no known graves.14 Normal grieving was impossible for those families whose sons were reported as missing, and for those whose bodies were never found. Bereaved families often suffered continuing anguish by imagining the possible horrors of their sons’ deaths. Many families found it impossible to come to terms with these deaths without a corpse or an identified grave. Many grieved for the remainder of their lives. An extreme example is that of the war veteran Marcel Caux, who took eighty years to admit that he had fought in the First World War; his son only learnt the truth in 1998. Caux first joined an Anzac Day march in 2001. He was one of many soldiers so distressed by traumatic memories that he destroyed his records and photographs in an effort to forget. Roy Grant, a Gallipoli veteran, also tried to forget his 7
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wartime experiences, especially those relating to ‘brave mates who were killed and I helped to bury them’.15 pub l ic commemorat i o n an d col l ectiv e mourni n g Public displays of commemoration and collective mourning for the Australian war dead were seen as essential to honour those who sacrificed their lives for the nation— especially because so few bereaved families could ever visit the graves so far away in Europe. A significant public memorial overseas which drew the early attention of Australians as a vital mourning site was the Menin Gate Memorial on the outskirts of Ypres, erected in 1927 by the British. The walls of the huge arch were inscribed with the names of 54,896 Allied soldiers lost in the Ypres salient before 15 August 1917, including Australians. Photographs of Menin Gate and copies of Will Longstaff’s painting, Menin Gate at Midnight (initially known as Ghosts of Menin Gate), were widely distributed among grieving Australian families. Longstaff’s painting was exhibited across Australia in 1928, and attracted large crowds who could never visit the Menin Gate Memorial in person. The painting represents the spirits of the dead marching silently across the battlefield. It connected, for many, with the spiritualist movement of the 1920s, which tried to communicate with the ‘spirit soldiers’. Even Anzac Day speakers referred to the ‘phantom army’ of the dead.16 Large civic war memorials in Australia were constructed too late ‘to serve most bereaved people as sites of healing meditation’, since only two Australian capitals 8
had built them by 1930. Their chief aim was not to mitigate individual grief: ‘they were public declarations, acts of formal homage … honouring the sacrifice of the dead and the service of the survivors’.17 Many bereaved families preferred the simpler and smaller war memorials erected in Australian cities and towns from 1915. But public commemoration of the dead helped some bereaved families and ex-soldiers more than others. Anzac Day and the War Memorials honoured those who died for their country, and also allowed the bereaved to mourn their dead. But it was not always possible to achieve both.18 b e reavement an d mo u rn i n g af t e r 1 9 1 8 After the First World War there was a marked tendency to privatise the subject of death and to minimise the expression of grief and the rituals of mourning. In the circumstances of war and its aftermath individual displays of funeral pageantry for civilians seemed an unnecessary indulgence. Women moved closer to male patterns of silent grieving in the fifty years or more after the First World War. Thus the gender gap diminished, because women began to internalise their sorrow much as men had done in the previous century and often continued to do. The generation which grew to adulthood in the interwar years was overwhelmed by the obsessive grief of two decades: they saw countless photographs of dead soldiers on mantelpieces and they felt their parents’ omnipresent sorrow. They had learned to suppress open emotional responses to loss in favour of the stoical ‘stiff 9
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upper lipâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, which continued into the interwar years and beyond. The new model of suppressed, privatised grieving influenced Australians deeply across the next half century. The Second World War reinforced the First in increasing chronic and unresolved grief, especially among the desolate families of dead airmen and prisoners of war of the Japanese.19 Broader changes in the Australian cultural, intellectual and social climate from the 1970s encouraged more liberal attitudes and greater freedom of emotional expression. There was a slow reaction against the dominant culture of death denial. Another generation had grown up free from the constraints on mourning imposed by war. Waves of migration from southern Europe and Asia encouraged a growing diversity in death rituals and behaviour, which helped to spread the view that open expression of grief could be healing.20 The changing emotional culture relating to death and bereavement can also be seen today in Australia in the remarkable renewed enthusiasm for the commemoration of Anzac Day. Anzac Day seemed in decline thirty years ago with the passing of most original Anzac servicemen, but since the 1980s the climate has altered. Public discussion of death and emotional expressions of grief in war and disasters have become more acceptable, even encouraged. Record crowds in recent years remember the courage and sacrifice of the Anzacs at the Gallipoli dawn services, which year by year focus our thoughts on the First World War. Multiple stories of the heroism of individual soldiers make up the Anzac legend. 10
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FB Smith, ‘The first health transition in Australia, 1880–1910’ in GW Jones, RM Douglas, JC Caldwell & RM D’Souza (eds), The Continuing Demographic Transition, OUP, Oxford, 1997, p. 31. Pat Jalland, Changing Ways of Death in Twentieth-century Australia: War, Medicine and the Funeral Business, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2006, passim. Manchester Guardian, 27 December 1915. Ken Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 1998, pp. 91–2, 97. Joan Beaumont, Broken Nation. Australians in the Great War, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2013, pp. 231, 389, 548–9. Bill Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War, ANU Press, Canberra, 1974, pp. 84, 254–6, 260, 263. Sgt Jack Baillie to Nell, 20 July, 30 September 1917, 16 June 1918, Australian War Memorial [awm] pr00621. Malcolm Fergusson to father, 26 October 1917, n.d., 30 October 1917, awm pr00005, folders 4, 2. Joy Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes. A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2005, pp. 37–9; Beaumont, Broken Nation, pp. 213–5, 527. Argus, 25 April 1917. Pat Jalland, Australian Ways of Death: A Social and Cultural History 1840–1918, OUP, South Melbourne, 2002, pp. 312–14. Sgt Jack Baillie to Nell, 30 September 1917, awm pr00621; Printed card on death of Reginald Gluyas, awm pr83/179. Jalland, Changing Ways, pp. 59–64, 80–81. Beaumont, Broken Nation, pp. 132–3. Canberra Times, 24 April 2004; Alistair Thomson, Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend, OUP, Melbourne, 1994, pp. 203–5. Jalland, Changing Ways, pp. 80–83; Beaumont, Broken Nation, pp. 390–92. Inglis, Sacred Places, pp. 223, 280–81. Thomson, Anzac Memories, p. 130. Jalland, Changing Ways, chapters 6–8. ibid., chapter 16; Pat Jalland, Death in War and Peace. A History of Loss and Grief in England, 1914–1970, OUP, Oxford, 2010.
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all that fall: reflections on war and truth raimond gaita
In his Introduction to The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, George Walter laments the ethical simplification of the widely accepted claim that the important poets of that war move from na誰ve, nationalist adventurism to a bitter understanding of the reality of war. The latter have been widely praised as antiwar poets, implying that that anyone who is fully aware of the horror of war would be a pacifist or at least seriously inclined to be one. To believe that, Walters says, is to ignore the poetry that lies between Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen and that speaks in voices different from theirs. More importantly, he believes that to claim that only pacifists draw the right lesson from war realistically perceived is to dishonour those who died in war, including those who believed that criminally incompetent Allied politicians and military commanders sacrificed the lives of millions of young men. Walters is particularly critical of the way Siegfried Sassoon and Owens were taken up in the 1960s. He does not comment on the fact that most people of that gener13
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ation who celebrated ‘antiwar’ art, expressed in poetry, novel and film, also knew that there was no moral option other than to fight Hitler’s Germany, and would have believed this even if the fire-bombing of German cities had been foreseen at the outset. Nor does he mention that many of the ‘antiwar’ activists who opposed American and Australian involvement in the Vietnam War became seduced by the romance of war as it was waged by guerrilla fighters in Vietnam and Central and Latin America. No one who agrees with Walters could justifiably register the same complaint against All that fall: Sacrifice, life and loss in the First World War. True, most people who see the exhibition will already know more or less how many millions were killed. They will know about the trenches, the mud, the rats, the gas and the rotting corpses. They will know that thousands died in a single day, gaining a few yards then losing them. Again and again it was like that. Some estimates have it that 88,000 Allied soldiers died for every mile gained in advance. So when we see the poster calling on men to enlist because Britain needs 50,000 more victims, our blood runs cold. A few steps later we see the posters of women handing white feathers to men they denounce as cowards and traitors to their nation and to their comrades. The intent of those posters is to shame men to their parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and, perhaps most of all, their women. It is hard not to feel anger and even contempt. When we have seen the entire exhibition, however, provoked to many and conflicting emotions—incredulity, scorn, disdain outrage and more—sorrow settles 14
in bringing with it a pity that transforms all that went before. If one is Australian, especially if one loves this country, one will understand anew or more deeply why the people of a young nation came together, across the land, in a fellowship of grief so profound that it became an essential part of what it means to be Australian. It was foolish, we then realise, to condescend to the crudity of the propaganda. Worse, in doing so we offend against its victims. Who can claim with justified confidence that in the clamour of great upheavals they will retain an ear for what rings false. ‘Hold onto your reason’, someone will say. And, of course, we must because, as everyone knows, emotion can cast it aside; can cause us to ignore or deny facts and arguments that are not congenial to beliefs to which we are emotionally committed. That is usually what people have in mind when they tell us to ‘stop being so emotional’. But there is a danger that threatens our capacity, indeed our desire, to see things as they are rather than as propaganda, for example, makes them appear, and against which we seldom protect ourselves or even notice the need to do so. That is because we often oppose reason to emotion in a way that makes us insensible to, or uneducated in, a form of understanding in which thought and feeling and form and content are inseparable. It’s sometimes called an understanding of the heart. Art and narrative, including narrative in history are the forms that most often deliver it. Sentimentality, a disposition to pathos, a failure to register what rings true, a tin ear for irony—these undermine it more often and surely than when emotion usurps reason, 15
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if reason is conceived as separate from and unfriendly to emotion, fearful that it will be swept away by it. They are not emotions that cause cognitive failures as being drunk or distracted might cause a factual or logical error; they are a distinctive form of cognitive failure. In a famously scathing judgment on Owen, whom he called ‘a revered sandwich board Man of the revolution’, Yeats said: ‘He is all blood, dirt & sucked sugar stick (look at the selection in Faber’s Anthology— he calls poets “bards”, a girl a “maid”, & talks about “Titanic wars”). There is every excuse for him but none for those who like him.’ Was Yeats right? It matters that we have an opinion, that we have some justification to trust the kind of judgment he made. This is not just an aesthetic matter. Walters was right to say that we owe it to the historical record to represent the many and varied poets who wrote during the First World War, but that cannot relieve us of the need to judge the quality of their poetry. Sentimental art cannot take us to anything that might rightly be called ‘the reality of war’ or to the reality of anything else. When we are moved to believe something by art, or by what someone has said or done, or by a charismatic personality—by anything whose understanding requires thought and feeling to be inseparable—critical reflection must eventually yield to trust that we have been rightly moved. Only a sensibility nourished by attention to what can show up sentimentality and other forms of the false that are intrinsic to the understanding of the heart can justify the trust. Reason cannot— 16
not alone, at any rate. Usually it is not because emotion defeated reason that we affirm beliefs that we regret holding and having acted upon when we become morally clear sighted. It is because we were bereft of a sensibility, educated and disciplined, that would have enabled us to detect the sometimes crude, sometimes sophisticated, sentimentality, pathos and so on in the propaganda that seduced us. It is sadly uncontroversial that TS Eliot was right so say that â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;human kind cannot stand much realityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. Against that, however, it is important to remember how deep the distinction between appearance and reality goes in the very constitution of the concepts that mark the forms of our inner life. We would not call something love if it were not answerable to the distinction between love and its many false semblances. That is true of love in all its forms, including love of country. For reasons that are many and well known we seldom love truly. But can we imagine anyone who does not care whether they have mistaken infatuation for love, jingoism for love of country, maudlin self-indulgence for grief, servility for humility or mere recklessness for courage? We all care, I am sure, but we usually assume that we love and grieve truly, and that we are courageous. No one wants to live without love or without being able to love. Loveâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s false semblances, its counterfeits, are not forms of love. That is one reason why truth is a need of the soul. I must now add something that might appear to be a qualification so great of what I have just said that it deprives it of all substance, or even contradicts it. 17
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Scepticism about truth in art and narrative so defines the intellectual temperament of our times that I want to prevent misunderstanding of what I have said about truth. No one who was humbled by the exhibition and repented of their condescension to the recruitment posters will justifiably claim that they now understand the reality of war—not because there is much more to understand, though of course there is—but because they will be suspicious of anything cast in that singular form. Anything that the expression ‘the ethical reality of war’ can seriously mean is inseparable from the fact that historically the Western conversation about war has been constituted by ethically divergent and sometimes irreconcilable voices, a fact that is intrinsic to the content of the conversation. Often those conflicting voices speak to our uncertainties because we are heirs to a complex tradition. The historically deep sources of our sense of what matters most to us are often opaque. Anyone who has some knowledge of history and other cultures and who has an imaginative sense of human possibilities must realise that there are many ways of living a decent life. In a memorable phrase, the philosopher Stuart Hampshire remarked in Morality and Conflict that ‘we all go lopsided to the grave’. * * * All that fall reminds us that perhaps Australians never mourned so deeply as they did in the later years of the First World War and its aftermath. Because bodies were 18
not returned to their homes for burial, the grief was sometimes bitter and desperate enough to drive people mad. We would now say it was hard for them to reach closure, but the concept of closure is inadequate because nothing can ever fully reconcile us to the death of those we love; nothing can abate the mystery that a human personality has disappeared. The mystery of death is inseparable from our affirmation that human beings are irreplaceable and preciousâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;precious to some particular people, of course, but also precious, period. That, I suspect, rather than fear of death, is the deepest impulse to believe in an afterlife. Nonetheless though it does so inadequately, the idea of closure gestures towards our need to be able to consent to our grief without resentment or bitterness that would poison our souls. Simone Weil said that prolonged sorrow is a form of madness. She meant that it takes us away from reality because it drains us of the energy we need to respond to the world, including to the independent reality of others. Misanthropy may then become tempting. Mourning that does not seek false consolation can restore us to the world and the world to us and, if we are blessed, reveal its wonder and beauty. Iris Murdoch said that to see the reality of another person is an act of love, justice and pity. That is as true of the dead as it is of the living. The dead exist by virtue of our obligations to them and the many things we do for their sakeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;quite ordinary things like tending their graves, ensuring that lies are not spread about them, or loving their children. Most people know this but 19
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are inclined to dilute it when, under the pressure of reflection, they think that nothing can, strictly speaking, be owed to the dead unless they have survived death, perhaps as an immaterial soul. If we don’t believe in life after death, this thought continues; what we do ostensibly for the dead we do to console ourselves. We don’t love the dead; we love the memory of them. Perhaps we pretend they are the real objects of our love because we cannot bear that such a powerful emotion, one that partly defines who we are, should have its object torn away. And so on. There are many variations on this theme. When Charlie Chaplin’s body was stolen from his grave, many people pitied him. Poor Charlie Chaplin, they said. Some believed that reflection compelled them to say that they pitied his widow whose sorrow was manifest. But no account of why we pity her would be complete unless it acknowledges that her pity was for him, Charlie Chaplin, dead, and his body stolen from his grave; just as Priam pitied his dead son whose body Achilles dragged behind his chariot around the walls of Troy, and Antigone pitied her dead brother whose body was thrown to the wolves outside the city walls. That our obligations, loves, fears and pity are, irreducibly, for the dead is part of the grammar of grief. It is therefore for the sake of dead soldiers that we should remember them truthfully. Jingoistic lies dishonour them. No one wants to die in cloud cuckoo land and no one with self-respect wants to mourn there. Truth is one of the most precious gifts we can offer dead soldiers. It is how we honour the dignity of their humanity. 20
To trust that truth is never alien to anything precious is, I think, essential to understanding, in our bones, that we are mortal creatures. If, therefore a truthful narrative of our dead soldiers conflicts with comfort for the living, respect for the dead requires that we be truthful and gently turn aside protests that half-truths will allow them to rest in peace. But I am speaking now of truthfulness as it concerns a narrative of war, truthful to soldiers considered as soldiers, not simply as individual human beings whose psychological particularity we must take into account. * * * Many of the more repugnant posters in the exhibition attempt to shame young men who had not enlisted with their friends, some of whom had died and all of whom were in mortal danger. The posters relied on the natural desire people have to be with their loved ones when they are in danger. I detest the posters, but I fully understand the need they exploited. When I was in my twenties I went to England where I lived for much of my life for at least half of each year. After some years there, I considered acquiring a British passport, because it would be convenient, but also because I had unexpectedly fallen in love with England and wanted to share more fully in its political life. I discovered that to do this I would have to renounce my Australian citizenship. (This is no longer the case). That was inconceivable to me. I thought it would be an 21
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expression of ingratitude for what Australia had given me as an immigrant child and, more importantly, for the generosity shown to my European parents. To try to understand what it meant for me to be Australian I conducted many thought experiments. The most dramatic centred on what I would do if Australia were attacked. I knew I would return to fight, obliged by loyalty and gratitude, but also—and this surprised me—because I realised I could not bear to be apart from my friends if they were fighting. I realised I would return to fight even if I had reservations about the justice of Australia’s cause and about the means deployed to fight it. Thinking about the Second World War led me to conclude that one cannot enlist for war on condition that only just means are used to prosecute it. Should all decent soldiers have lain down their arms or become conscientious objectors when they learned about the fire-bombing of Dresden? One friend came often to mind, partly because he was dear to me, but more relevantly because he loved Australia with a purity that confirmed there could be love of country without a trace of jingoism. His example moved me because, of course, it is rare. More often than not attachment to country is the kind of love we call nationalistic, intending the pejorative connotations of that word. Sometimes it does not deserve to be called ‘corrupted love’ because it is no love at all. Earlier I said that it is a humbling lesson of All that fall that when we come to the end of the exhibition we realise that we have little right to condescend to the crude propaganda we saw at its beginning and no right 22
to condescend to its victims. Who does not have reason to fear that they might one day yield to jingoistic propaganda and to dehumanising images? We have often been told that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. That is also the price of our humanity. Our capacity to lose sight of the humanity of others, especially of other peoples and nations, seems almost ineradicable. Looking at the world with a fearful eye I find it impossible to believe that war is over for us. Deepening political instability in many regions of the earth may cause even more people to be uprooted than were uprooted last century. Strong nations are likely to protect themselves, as we have done, in ways that become increasingly brutal, testing the relevance and the authority of international law. In such circumstances nationalism turns ugly. We see its terrible consequences in history and we see them now in many parts of the world where people are murdered in the name of nationhood. Good people defend the slaughter because of their national or religious allegiances. True to the same allegiances, others fall silent when they should protest. Many have observed that the First World War introduced weapons that hollowed out some of our ethical concepts, denying them a creative place in our language. Chivalry is such a concept: our loss of it is one of themes of Renoirâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s remarkable film, The Grand Illusion, made in 1937. Some time after the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;softening upâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; operations that bombed tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers into the desert sands in 1991 and made an obscenity of that aspect of Operation Desert Storm, Colin Powell, who ordered 23
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the bombardment, was reported to be deeply troubled by the extent of the killing. ‘It was like shooting fish in a barrel’, one pilot said. Powell called it ‘unchivalrous’. Even to someone who insists that the rules of war should be applied stringently, that must have sounded anachronistic. It was therefore striking that Powell did not realise that the bombing that made him morally uneasy could no longer be called unchivalrous. The bombing made craters in what was left of the ground in which that concept was rooted. Certain ways of thinking about honour and respect for the enemy were uprooted with it. The conditions of modern warfare, especially of what we call ‘asymmetrical warfare’, make it harder for us to acknowledge that we share a common humanity with our enemies; demonstrated, for example, when Allied and German soldiers shook hands to establish a truce at Christmas in 1914 so that the dead could be buried; and when Anzac and Turkish forces buried their dead together at Gallipoli. If we are not to sleepwalk to the next war we must determine and then try to create the conditions that enable the humanity of our enemies in war to remain visible to us, even as we fight fiercely knowing that we have no option but to kill them. Propaganda that radically dehumanises the enemy should be regarded as a crime against humanity because it intentionally destroys those conditions. Sometimes it undermines our capacity even to find intelligible that shooting enemy prisoners or killing women and children of the enemy are crimes. 24
There is, however, an important challenge to what I have said. It is not doubt that such conditions can be created. It is the belief that they are almost certainly not desirable. When civilians risk their lives for the sake of others, we call them heroes. Soldiers are expected to do it as a matter of course, for their comrades, their nation or for a cause. What can enable them to do that? Can we ask them to be lucid about what it means to go to war; should we encourage denial that death will stalk them? Must we partially dehumanise them so that they can kill? (Many soldiers do not shoot to kill.) Must we dehumanise the enemy so that our soldiers are more ready to kill them? Is it not irresponsible and, indeed stupid, to send soldiers into battle who are psychologically unable to kill without hesitation, to kill before they are killed? I do not know the answers to these questions. Part of any answer, however, must be that we should, as a sacred national duty, do all in our power to become, individually and as a nation, resistant to the romance of war, to become people who would never joyously go to war, who would go only as a last resort, having honestly exhausted all other possibilities, providing that doing so did not render us incapable of winning when we acknowledge the necessityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the real necessityâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;to fight. That last qualification registers the fact that nations must sometimes ignore well intentioned but futile efforts to prevent conflict, by the United Nations for example. Another part of the answer derives from the imperative to think hard about patriotism, collective guilt and shame, and the place of international law. 25
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Love of country is always a mixture of gratitude, pain, joy, sorrow, pride, shame and sometimes guilt. In the circumstances that make them appropriate, each can be a form of love of country, just as severe criticism of oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s country can be a form of loyalty to it, and the desire to love without shame and without lies a form of concern for its welfare. The task therefore is not to disparage the very idea of love of country, as some who have been understandably shell-shocked by the murderous consequences of belligerent nationalism do, but to find ways to block the many paths that love finds to jingoism and to open paths on which jingoism can find its way to love. Love of country, Simone Weil argued in The Need for Roots, has a chance of resisting corruption if it is nourished by appreciation of what is beautiful and vulnerable in oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s country and its history rather than always by what is grand and noble. When it is properly focused on the right objects, she says, such love of country can provide the energy needed for soldiers to fight as fiercely as German soldiers in the Second World War who were inspired by dreams of heroic grandeur that had been celebrated in European history since the time of the Roman Empire. There are paths more prosaic. In Crimes Against Humanity Geoffrey Robertson said that last century saw the acceptance of the idea of international law and that this century would see its increased enforcement. The first part of that is true. It is now impossible for nations to profess that the pursuit of their national interests should be entirely unconstrained by international law. 26
The task for the nations of the world is to ensure that the second part of Robertsonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s statement becomes true. Love of country that is clear-sighted acknowledges that other peoples love their countries and that they will fight and die for them, nearly always believing that their cause is just. To try to ensure that the world becomes a community of nationsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;constituted as a community because each nation freely renders itself answerable to international criminal lawâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;is the best expression of that acknowledgment. Such acknowledgment does not constrain the right of states to pursue their national interests. Rather, it as an enlargement of the concept of the national interest to include the realisation that citizens desire to love their country without the shame that would follow if it were to act in ways that would justly bring it before an international criminal court. That does not mean we should wish to become citizens of the world ruled by a world government. It is best that we remain citizens of particular nations that are part of a community of nations and who find in that community the realisation that all the peoples of the earth share a common humanity. That is one of the ways that jingoism can find its way to love.
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requiem in pacĂŠ lee grant
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The unfathomable deep 2014
Standing upon that alone (dyptich) 2014
This too shall pass 2014
That will fall here 2014
Have you forgotten yet? 2014
holy things: a portrait of self-sacrifice christopher chapman
In his exploration of the registers of sacrifice, Douglas Hedley notes the conceptual and linguistic origins of sacrifice as ‘making holy’; and sacrifices as ‘holy things’. Sacrifice, within the context of Western Christian ideology, leads to a ‘redemptive path’.1 Sacrifice conjures violence, and sparks renewal. The poignancy of sacrifice and its drive towards rebirth; and the symbolic power of self-sacrifice and its promise of transcendence, is personified in the enduring symbolism of the youthful Saint Sebastian—a boy shot through with arrows. Visual representations of Saint Sebastian from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries depicted the saint as an attractive male youth. The symbolism of Sebastian in relation to the representation of youthful masculinity remains significant, and the iconographic representation of male youth in the guise or pose of Sebastian continues to provide inspiration for artists, and for popular and mass-media cultures.2 According to accounts of the fifth century, Sebastian was a Roman 39
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soldier of the late third century, secretly a Christian, and was made a captain of the praetorian guards by Emperor Diocletian. Under imperial rule, Christianity was seen as suspicious, leading to growing persecution of Christians prior to the Diocletian Persecution of 303ad. Sebastian assisted fellow Christians imprisoned for their faith and was ordered by Diocletian to be killed by arrows. Sebastian recovered and was subsequently clubbed to death on the Emperorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s orders. Early representations of Sebastian in the seventh and eight centuries depict him as an elderly bearded man. However, the enduring image of Sebastian is that of a youthful male, his arms bound behind his back or above his head, his torso exposed, his body pierced by arrows. In his sixteen-volume treatise The Lives of the Saints, first published in 1872, the Reverend S Baring-Gould gives a fuller account of Sebastianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s life: He was a fervent soldier of Christ at the same time that he served in the army of the Emperor. He was so greatly regarded by the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian, for he was a man prudent, upright in word and act, faithful in business, fervent in spirit. He was enabled, by his rank and office, to be of service to those who were imprisoned for the faith of Christ. He relieved their sufferings, and urged them to constancy.3 The story goes that two young brothers, Marcus and Marcellianus were imprisoned for their Christian faith. Sebastian rushed to save them, and in the presence of 40
the youths’ family, other prisoners and the magistrate Nicostratus, he implored them to hold steady to their faith. All were moved, and Nicostratus’s wife Zoe, who was unable to speak because of a paralysis six years earlier, was healed and her speech restored by Sebastian, in the name of Christ. Sebastian’s faith soon led to his martyrdom: The care which Sebastian took of the Christian prisoners, and the efforts he made to stimulate their courage, could not long remain secret; and he was denounced to the Emperor Diocletian, who sent for him, and in a rage, exclaimed, ‘What! I have had thee about my person, and thou hast conspired against my safety!’ S. Sebastian answered, ‘I pray daily for thy safety and for the prosperity of the state, to the God of heaven, for I reckon no succour can be got from gods of stone.’4 Diocletian ordered that Sebastian be taken into a field and executed with arrows. After the soldiers had left, Irene, widow of the martyr Castulus, saw that he was still alive, and took him in to her home. When he was healed, Sebastian encountered the Emperor and again proclaimed his faith. The Emperor ordered him to be clubbed to death and cast into the sewer.5 His body was rescued by a devout woman, Lucina, and buried in her garden. A church was later built by Pope Damascus at this spot on the Appian Way. An influential example of the representation of Saint Sebastian is Guido Reni’s portrayal, painted in several versions from 1615 to 1619. Two very similar versions, 41
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one in Genoa and one in Rome, painted circa 1615, depict the saint as a young man with curly hair, his arms tied above his head, his gaze heavenward.6 In both paintings, Sebastian is tied to a tree in the central foreground of the picture, his torso occupying much of the picture plane, the cloth draped around his waist revealing the crease between his loins and the top of his thigh. The number of arrows that pierce the torso primarily distinguish the paintings: two in one image, and three in the other. Writing of the Genoa version, Giovanna degli Esposti states: The moment of martyrdom is thus depicted as an instant of ecstatic union with the divine, which, far from compromising the beauty of the body, exalts it so that it too, no less than the soul, experiences a moment of purification. Stylistically this is brought out by the elegant perfection with which the forms of the torso are rendered, and the arrows—the sole element other than the bound hands referring to his physical torment—penetrate almost gently into the flesh of the saint, leaving no dramatic wound.7 The depiction of bodily wounding as minimal is true of both versions: the arrows enter the body with no evidence of trauma, and Sebastian’s expression is one without anguish. In each version Sebastian is an adolescent male youth with a hairless torso symbolising his symbolic purity. Reni’s depictions of Sebastian had a significant influence on writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1877, after seeing Reni’s Genoa version of Saint Sebastian, playwright, poet and essayist 42
Oscar Wilde composed an elegy to the poet John Keats who died aged twenty-five of tuberculosis. Prompted by a visit to Keats’s grave in Rome, Wilde’s poem included the lines: ‘Taken from life when life and love were new / The youngest of the martyrs here is lain, / Fair as Sebastian, and as early slain.’8 Wilde later added a prose addendum to the poem: As I stood beside the mean grave of this divine boy, I thought of him as a Priest of Beauty slain before his time; and the vision of Guido’s St Sebastian came before my eyes as I saw him at Genoa, a lovely brown boy, with crisp, clustering hair and red lips, bound by his evil enemies to a tree and, though pierced by arrows, raising his eyes with divine, impassioned gaze towards the Eternal Beauty of the opening Heavens.9 Sebastian signified a correlation between male youth, beauty, and the transcendent power of self-sacrifice in youth. The image of Sebastian exemplifies youthful masculinity defined by physical passiveness—a dramatic symbolic contrast to registers of physically active, muscular, athletic masculinity. In his study of Reni, Richard E Spear suggests: [Ardent] response to the sight of bound Sebastian penetrated by arrows has a long and varied history, if for no other reason than that the spectacle of a passive nude male body on exhibit was relatively uncommon [apart from the exception of Christ on the Cross].10 43
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Spear’s evocation of the unique nature of Sebastian’s physicality evokes other allegorical representations of male youths where passiveness bears symbolic significance. Christopher Fulton identifies a characteristic representation of male youth of the fifteenth century that ‘presents a solitary figure stripped of his clothing and undertaking some form of self-sacrifice’.11 A fifteenth-century depiction of Saint John represents him as an adolescent boy, stripped of all clothing and cultural artifice. Of Domenico Veneziano’s St John the Baptist in the Desert c.1445,12 Fulton states that: [By] discarding vainglorious robes, John cleanses himself of the lusty habits and pomp associated with adolescence, and, not yet clad in the rough hair-skin cloak that hangs loose across his shoulder, he stands momentarily unclothed. Thus shorn of youthful excesses, John makes no claims to status or property, and in his utter nakedness he has nothing to conceal. Stripped bare by his elders who commissioned the painting, the youth is shown undefended and fully subject to paternal control.13 Youthful masculinity, symbolic passiveness and sacrifice also find expression in images of adolescent masculinity in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France. The symbolic representation in French classicism of the ephebic male, as Abigail Solomon-Godeau states, engaged with concepts of androgynous masculinity and evoked the heroic ideals of sacrifice: 44
[An] imagery of disempowered and androgynous masculinity proliferated even as republican discourse limned its own ideal of masculinity in phallic, martial and stoic terms. It is though in violently ‘expelling’ the frivolity, decadence, and corruption of the ancien regime [sic] and its courtly culture, and linking these to a malign femininity (or a perverse and depraved masculinity), republican culture required a stand-in for an eroticised femininity deemed inimical to republican and civic values. The ubiquity of the ephebic body and the erotic investments to which it testifies suggest its escapist, even utopian facets. Given the nature of class and gender conflicts in the revolutionary period, there is reason to think that the beautiful ephebe is a kind of imaginary resolution of intractable contradictions, its pathos and grace a respite from the cataclysms of revolutionary change, its corporeal ambivalence and sensual appeal an escape from the misogyny (and homophobia) of republican discourse. As an idealised male figure, it is charged with all the exalted and ‘public’ values traditionally incarnated in the image of masculine beauty, yet its androgyny or effeminacy permits it to function as a surrogate for sexual difference, indeed, for desirability itself.14 Typical images of male youths in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in France showed them as dead or dying, where youthful beauty and the tragedy of youthful demise invited contemplation.15 Like earlier and 45
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contemporary representations of Sebastian, the ephebic youth was often portrayed in the role of martyr. The ephebe, Solomon-Godeau notes, ‘was officially supposed to embody the ideal—the pure and disinterested form of abstract perfection—not to provoke carnal desire’.16 Sebastian, who is shown at the moment of supposed death, will no longer be physically active. The act of binding and piercing him will render his body inactive, that is, physically dead. But Sebastian’s imagined spirit will be active, and the moment of his offering himself up for a higher cause—his willing acceptance and even desire for his own sacrifice, can be understood as spiritually active in the manner of the martyr. Sebastian is also experiencing a transcendent state through his selfsacrifice, and an imagined union with a spiritual force— his self-sacrifice leads to salvation.
1 2 3 4 5
13 14 15 16
Douglas Hedley, Sacrifice Imagined: Violence, Atonement and the Sacred, Continuum, New York and London, 2011, p. 7. See Wolfgang Fetz, Gerald Matt & Angela Stief (eds), Saint Sebastian: A Splendid Readiness for Death, Bielefeld, Kerber, 2003. S Baring-Gould, The Lives of the Saints, 16 vols, vol. 1 John C Nimmo, London, 1897, pp. 300–301. ibid., p. 304. Lodovico Carracci, St Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima, 1612, oil on canvas, 65 3/4 x 91 3/4 inches, 167 x 233 cm, Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Carracci’s painting is a rare depiction of Saint Sebastian’s body being dumped into the sewer. Guido Reni, Saint Sebastian, c. 1615, oil on canvas, 57 1/2 x 44 1/2 inches, 146.1 x 113 cm, Galleria di Palazzo Rosso, Genoa. Guido Reni, Saint Sebastian, c. 1615, oil on canvas, 51 x 39 inches. Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome. Giovanni degli Esposti in Susan L Caroselli, (ed.), Guido Reni 1575–1642 , Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Nuova Alfa Editoriale, Los Angeles and Bologna, 1988, p. 210. Oscar Wilde, ‘The grave of Keats’, 1877, in Oscar Wilde, The Complete Stories, Plays and Poems of Oscar Wilde, O’Mara Books, London, 1990, p. 750. Oscar Wilde in Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1987, p. 71. Richard E Spear, The ‘Divine’ Guido: Religion, Sex, Money, and Art in the World of Guido Reni, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 70. Fulton, ‘The boy stripped bare by his elders: Art and adolescence in Renaissance Florence’, Art Journal 56, summer 1997, p. 33. Domenico Veneziano, St John the Baptist in the Desert, c. 1445, tempera on panel, 11 x 12 3/4 inches, 27.9 x 32.4 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Christopher Fulton, ‘The boy stripped bare …’, p. 33. Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation, Thames & Hudson, London, 1997, pp.11–12. ibid., p. 123. ibid., p. 123.
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nostos: homecoming anne sanders
One of twentieth-century Greece’s great modern poets and writers, Nikos Kazantzakis, published his existential desiderata on Homer’s Odyssey in 1938. Composed over a period of fourteen years, much of it was written on the island of Aegina, one of a necklace of islands that trace a serpentine line from Athens and its port Piraeus, through the Saronic Gulf and around the tip of the Peloponnese peninsula to Poros, Hydra and Spetses. In 1950, his great friend, the Greek painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos Ghikas, whose family villa was on the island of Hydra, invited the Greek American poet and translator Kimon Friar to translate passages from Kazantzakis’s Odyssey into English to accompany a suite of drawings that he had made to illustrate his favourite passages. Ghika, as he was known, was convinced that this masterwork should be translated in its entirety of 33,333 verses, 24 books, into English prose. Kimon and Kazantzakis began their intense collaboration in 1954, two years after meeting for the first time, with the work retitled The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel and published 49
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to great international acclaim by Secker & Warburg, London, in 1958, one year after Kazantzakis’s death. All three men—Ghika, Kazantzakis and Kimon—were part of a peripatetic, cosmopolitan European and American philhellene artistic and literary elite whose contacts encompassed the educational and cultural institutions in Athens and extended to various villas and estates on the Saronic islands and beyond to the publishing houses and galleries of Europe and London in particular. For a period between 1954 and 1956, Friar worked on the early part of the translation of Kazantzakis’s Odyssey on the island of Poros. Such inspired collaborative work in translating Kazantzakis’s modern Odyssean epic—itself a reinterpretation of Homer’s ancient Odyssey—set up a resonance, in place, on these Greek islands; perhaps akin to Prospero’s island, creating a kind of mnemonic force field. Enter three Australian expatriates: writers Alan Moorehead and George Johnston, and artist Sidney Nolan. Time and memory are significant elements in this unfolding: with the generative period occurring on the nearby islands of Spetses and Hydra between 1955 and 1956.
W ha t joy to an chor i n t h e d ea t h l es s d ee ps of my t h un ti l ti me an d pl a ce roll on li ke twi n sl ow st ream s … the Nor th Wi nd bl ew, a nd m e m ori es fel l l i ke almon d fl owe rs before t h e fru i t com es . Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Book ii 1 50
Born in Melbourne in 1910, Alan Moorehead moved to London as a reporter in 1936. However it was his courage and incisive reportage during the Second World War in the Middle East and North Africa that earned him an international reputation as an outstanding journalist and writer. Having retired from full-time journalism in 1946 to pursue writing, by 1955 he had published a number of well-received books including biographies of General Montgomery and Winston Churchill; African Trilogy about his war experience; and The Traitors. However, the genesis of his book about the Gallipoli campaign was the personal diary of his friend, BBC broadcaster Lionel Fielden. Ever the resourceful and well-connected researcher, Moorehead drew on private papers, interviews, official records and several detailed visits to Turkey and the Dardanelles to build his writing arsenal. Moorehead’s literary contacts included many of the English poets, writers, editors and critics who were influenced by, and increasingly translating and publishing in English, the modern poetic voices emanating from Greece and the Greek diaspora. By the early 1950s, Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek, Rex Warner’s Men and Gods: Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece, Martin Hürlimann’s photographs with Warner’s commentary in the publication Eternal Greece and W A Wigram’s Hellenic Travel were bestsellers. George Seferis, another of Greece’s important modern poets, translator into Greek of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land and of the early Greek modernist poet CP Cavafy into English, was Counsellor to the Greek Embassy in London between 1951 and 1953; 51
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he was a close friend of Ghika the artist and a number of Greek expatriate poets; as an author and translator, he was well connected within the English philhellene literati.2 Within London’s diplomatic network, Seferis would have known the Australian High Commissioner in London, Sir Thomas White, a great friend of Moorehead and supporter of his unsuccessful attempt in seeking an Australian diplomatic posting in Greece. Moorehead had written directly to Robert Menzies: ‘My Dear Prime Minister … the place that particularly interests me is Greece. I am going out there shortly to finish … a history of the Gallipoli campaign … And I hope before the end of the year to know the people and language fairly well.’3 From April 1955, to complete his history of the Gallipoli campaign, Moorehead rented an Athenian friend’s villa on an olive estate on the island of Spetses. The American playwright and author Irwin Shaw recalled: ‘The hotter it is, the better he writes … his having written Gallipoli, that beautiful book, on a bare Greek island during a blazing summer.’4 Until reading Fielden’s diary, Moorehead’s memories of Australia’s annual Anzac Day commemorations— its keen reminders of sacrifice in the maimed returned soldiers and the Anzac legend itself—were synonymous with his sense of a parochialism that had to be escaped; something best forgotten. This is captured in the opening pages of his New Yorker article (published in April 1955) entitled, ‘Our far-flung correspondent: return to a legend’. However as the article progresses, Moorehead describes his visit to the Gallipoli peninsula where both 52
his uncles had fought (and one was buried). His evocative and engaging prose takes the reader on a very personal journey; he introduces his Turkish guide, an expert on the Gallipoli campaign and one of the officers who had fought with Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) against the Anzacs, and lightly touches on background history; however it is the power of the place itself, in view of the Plain of Troy, hovering between myth and reality, and on the fault line of Europe and Asia, that fairly grips in his writing. Towards the end of the article, he observed: ‘In this atmosphere, I found that my interest in the campaign had advanced through one more stage, that it had developed from legend, through history, to the point where it almost seemed to become a personal experience of my own.’5 For this modern day Odysseus, it ignited the possibility of a re-imagined relationship with his ‘Ithaka’, Australia. There is a fusing in the mind’s eye of the windswept peninsula of Gallipoli with its bleached memorials; memories of the North African Desert campaign of the Second World War; the searing heat and isolation on the island of Spetses, looking out across the Aegean as he wrote; the ravages of scorching Australian summers and animal carcases desiccated by drought in the outback.
My soul your voyages have been your native land Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Book xvi 6 53
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It is the honesty in Moorehead’s writing, his Melbourne childhood memories of the ritual of Anzac Day, its droning legend and the returned and damaged soldiers, that gripped George Johnston, a fellow war correspondent turned writer, a friend from London, who was now living on the nearby island of Hydra. For Johnston, ‘it affected me … like unlocking a door’.7 Sidney Nolan and his wife Cynthia joined Johnston and Charmian Clift, now married, for a brief holiday on Hydra towards the end of 1955; however, the proximity of the island to both the Troy of Homeric legend and the more recent Anzac legend at Gallipoli (and the inspiration of Moorehead’s article) led the Nolans to consider extending their stay. With the help of an Australian friend in London who knew the artist Ghika, they were offered his villa and lived there for nine months. Born in 1917, Nolan, like Moorehead and Johnston (born 1912) was raised in Melbourne. His impressions of Gallipoli and the Anzacs were similarly formed by recollections of the annual march, visiting the War Museum (housed in the Royal Exhibition Building during the 1920s) with its dioramas and war artist paintings, and reading Charles Bean’s Anzac Book with its carefully composed representation of Australian (Anzac) masculinity. And there were the wounded returned servicemen, the widows and fatherless children, maiden aunts and broken families. Melbourne for both Johnston and Nolan was a fraught leaving. George’s scandalous affair with Charmian Clift, which ruptured his first marriage, saw 54
them both flee to Sydney where they found employment and success, winning the Sydney Morning Herald prize for their joint novel, High Valley in 1949. Johnston had been a well-known war correspondent predominantly in the Asian theatre of war. His big break as a journalist came when in 1951 he was appointed head of the London bureau of Associated Newspaper Services. It was a prestigious appointment that saw him and Charmian mixing in celebrity circles; their British publisher was Faber and Faber, under the aegis of the poet TS Eliot. However George’s battle with the two masters of journalism and serious writing saw him resign in November 1954 and move with his family to the island of Kalymnos and, nine months later, to Hydra. Writing, for both Johnston and Clift, was their first love. Nolan’s break with John and Sunday Reed at Heide was completed when he met and married Cynthia Hansen (John Reed’s sister). They established themselves in Sydney, and although Nolan was introduced to and championed by the influential British critic Kenneth Clark, recognition as a modern Australian artist proved to be a slow process. The couple took a one-year reconnaissance trip to England and Europe, returning to Sydney in August 1951. The Festival of Britain of that year drew many talented Australians to London; the Nolans moved in this lively expatriate circle, which included the Johnstons. Returning to London in mid 1953, the Nolans travelled extensively in Europe and in 1954 Sidney Nolan was the commissioner for Australia’s participation in the Venice Biennale, the artists represented 55
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being William Dobell, Russell Drysdale and himself. Once established on Hydra, the Johnstons had written inviting the Nolans to visit them; a cheap and sunnier option than surviving winter in London’s smog. Nolan’s and Moorehead’s paths may have crossed on the stock routes of northern Australia in 1952. Both of them had been independently commissioned by Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper, Moorehead as a guest writer to produce weekly feature articles as he crisscrossed the continent, and Nolan to document the drought along the stock routes from the Barkly Tableland to the Queensland border. Moorehead wrote two articles on Nolan’s drawings recording the devastating impact of the drought. Perhaps his own memories of the scorched outback and Nolan’s images mingled with his childhood memories as he walked over the Gallipoli peninsula in 1954, always in sight of the ancient Troy Plain; Homer’s epic battle resonant still. In writing, at the time, of his experience of the desolation along the stock routes, Nolan noted the ‘brooding air of almost biblical intensity … Death takes on a curiously abstract pattern under these arid conditions. Carcases of animals are preserved in stranger shapes which have often a kind of beauty or even grim elegance. Over the whole country there is a silence.’8 On Hydra, Nolan plundered Johnston’s library, devouring translations of Homer’s classic texts and Robert Graves’s recently published Greek Myths, inspired by the archaic heroes of the Trojan War, with the intention of creating a new series of paintings based on the 56
Trojan myth. However, Alan Moorehead’s memoir-article ‘opened a door’ for both writer and painter: When the retsina circled and wild winter buffeted at the shutters of the waterfront taverns, we would talk far into the small hours about this other myth of our own, so uniquely Australian, and yet so close to that much more ancient myth of Homer’s.9 The powerful presence of things past suffused the imaginative and physical space of both artist and writer. On this small Greek island, at the margins of Europe, each wrestled with boyhood memories of the Anzac legend, the more recent world war and the closeness of the legend to the ethos of what it meant to be Australian. George trusted Sid with his more harrowing experiences as a war correspondent in Asia, while Sid shared uncomfortable memories of his army desertion and his father’s disapproval. He may also, later, have confided his father’s desolation following the death of Sid’s younger brother, Ray, in an army accident just prior to the end of the war. Another door opened. Ensconced in Ghika’s stone citadel above the town, surrounded by Ghika’s paintings and drawings, Nolan was driven, producing hundreds of studies, both paintings and drawings, of Anzacs, figures in the landscape. He marshalled his past experience and motifs: the psychologically distorted portrait studies of soldiers, the bronzed torsos at St Kilda baths, the centaur-like Ned Kelly works, the colonial tragedies of explorers Burke and Wills, and Mrs Fraser and, most recently, the drought and carcase paintings of central Australia, all the while 57
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trying ‘to give the story back the savage, sweaty, cruel and dusty, unadorned human grandeur that Homer had sung’.10 ‘It’s got to clang!’ he cried.11 Nolan had to walk the land, feel its presence; the Gallipoli peninsula, the plain of Troy, the islands of Mudros and Lemnos, Turkey; and touch the earth that bore the traces of Achaens and Anzacs alike. The great suite of paintings would come later; this was the beginning.
Accept who you are. Don’t drown the poem in deep plane trees; nurture it with what earth and rock you have. For things beyond this — to find them dig in this same place. George Seferis, ‘Three Secret Poems: Summer Solstice, 7’ 12
For George Johnston, the gestation between the awakening—invoked by Moorehead’s memoir, intensified during the nine-month creative exchange with Nolan and the entwining archaic and modern myths—and the flowering of his meditation on the Australian character in his semiautobiographical novel My Brother Jack, would take seven years. As with Nolan, the seed had been sown. Johnston saw himself as Odysseus: the wandering, wily mortal. In a letter written in 1956, Cynthia Nolan wrote: ‘if 58
he wants to write something a bit better, he’ll have to go to what he knows—Elwood, Melbourne … Australia’.13 In fact, he would have to go ‘all the way back to the flat suburban streets and the flat suburban houses behind silver wire fences and the child waiting in the bathroom for his father to enter with the razor strop to administer the ritual monthly beating’.14 George’s father was a Gallipoli veteran. As Charmian Clift, an author in her own right, saw it, George’s ‘life was a knotted ball that he is madly unraveling backwards’.15 A large part of what Johnston knew was the stoic silence hidden behind the suburban façade of those inter-war years in Melbourne. The trials and tribulations that befell Johnston in his quest to write his seminal novel were Odyssean; receiving the diagnosis that he had chronic pulmonary tuberculosis—a slow death sentence—brought him face to face with his own mortality. Great hearted, enduring, wily Odysseus-Johnston, ill and homesick, prepared for his homecoming by summoning up his past in the guise of his alter ego, David Meredith. Johnston recalled the process: ‘if I gave myself to memory it worked in a most uncanny way … gradually this whole nostalgic world began to re-emerge’.16 Meanwhile, like a Greek chorus, Charmian tested him constantly with her refrain, But is it true? Not in the absolute sense, but did it ring true? And, echoing Nolan, Did it clang? Indeed it did, for this heroic struggle gave birth to the brilliant novel of Australian identity, My Brother Jack: not focused on the Gallipoli battlefront, but on its aftermath, through recollections of Johnston’s Melbourne, brought to life by the two 59
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Meredith sons and their respective and very different journeys to manhood in the postwar era of the 1920s and 30s. It was the great Australian novel that would allow George to return to Australia, his Ithaka, triumphant. Although published eight years apart, both Moorehead’s and Johnston’s books were critically acclaimed, highly popular and award winning. For both writers they were labours of love; works upon which to stake one’s reputation. Published in 1956, Moorehead’s Gallipoli was a slim, taut volume that brought the history of that fated battle to a much wider audience. Johnston’s My Brother Jack was launched with much fanfare in Australia at the 1964 Adelaide Festival for the Arts, its cover featuring one of Sidney Nolan’s Anzacs from the Gallipoli series. In fact, all three expatriates starred at that Festival. Nolan continued to work on his Gallipoli series—prosaic and unheroic paintings about loss and alienation—eventually donating a significant proportion of the series to the Australian War Memorial in 1978. A kind of epiphany unfolded for Moorehead, Johnston and Nolan during 1955 and 1956 on these Greek isles. The ancient Greek word chora illuminates this unfolding as, ‘a location of shapes, powers and feelings … not only a physical space but an expressive space … a container of feelings’ which, according to Plato, ‘is grasped without the senses by a sort of bastard reasoning that is hard to believe’.17 This concept offers a way of sensing resonances that enabled each to take a journey through myth—Homeric and Anzac—to create new narratives of Australian identity; and a kind of homecoming. 60
IT HAK A As you set out for Ithaka hope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: you’ll never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare excitement stirs your spirit and your body. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you. Hope the voyage is a long one. May there be many a summer morning when, with what pleasure, what joy, you come into harbours seen for the first time; may you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfume of every kind— as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
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Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey. Without her you would not have set out. She has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. CP Cavafy ‘Ithaka’ 18
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Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, translated into English by Kimon Friar, illustrations by Ghika, Secker & Warburg, London, 1958, Book ii, p. 60. George Seferis was the first Greek poet to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963. Both Seferis and Cavafy, the poet of the Greek diaspora, were read in English translation by George Johnston. Draft letter from Alan Moorehead to Prime Minister Robert Menzies, undated (c. early 1955), MS 5654 Alan Moorehead, Box 13 Folder 27, National Library of Australia. Irwin Shaw ‘Memories’: http://www.irwinshaw.org/memories. Viewed 19 September 2014. Alan Moorehead, ‘Our far-flung correspondents: Return to a Legend’, New Yorker, 2 April 1955, pp. 107–108. Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Book xvi, p. 509. Gary Kinnane, George Johnston – A biography, Nelson, Melbourne, 1986, p. 153. Sidney Nolan, ‘An Epic Drought in Australia’ August 1952, unpublished, Jinx Nolan Papers, in Geoffrey Smith, Sidney Nolan: Desert and Drought, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p.97. Kinnane, George Johnston – A biography, p. 153. George Johnston, ‘Gallipoli paintings’, Nolan issue, Art and Australia, vol. 5, no. 1, September 1967, p. 466. ibid., p. 467. George Seferis, Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard, revised ed., Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 209. Letter from Cynthia Nolan to Pat Flower (c. 1956) reproduced in Kinnane, George Johnston – A biography, p. 158. Charmian Clift, Peel me a Lotus, Hutchison & Co, London, 1959, p. 61. ibid., p. 61. Nadia Wheatley, The life and myth of Charmian Clift, Flamingo Publishing, Pymble NSW, c. 2001, p. 429. Eugene Victor Walter, Placeways: A Theory of the Human Environment, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1988, p. 123. CP Cavafy Collected Poems, translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard, edited by George Savidis, Chatto & Windus, London, 1979, pp. 29–30.
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Dr Christopher Chapman is Senior Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; and co-curator of the exhibition All that fall: Sacrifice, life and loss in the First World War. His PhD thesis examined youth masculinity and themes of self-sacrifice in photography and film. Raimond Gaita is Professorial Fellow in the Melbourne Law School and the Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne and Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at King’s College London. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Gaita’s books, which have been widely translated, include Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception; Romulus, My Father, which was made into a feature film; A Common Humanity: Thinking About Love & Truth & Justice; The Philosopher’s Dog and After Romulus. Lee Grant is a Canberra-based photographer who works in Australia and Asia. She is well known for her documentary work; her often formal, colour-portraiture examines identity integration and inhabited landscapes. She is currently working on projects in Australia and Korea. Lee has a degree in Anthropology and a Masters in Visual Art from the Australian National University. Pat Jalland, FASSA, FRHistS, is an Emeritus Professor of History at the Australian National University. Her many publications include Australian Ways of Death: A Social and Cultural History, 1840–1918 (Oxford University Press, 2002); and Changing Ways of Death in Twentieth-Century Australia: War, Medicine and the Funeral Business (University of NSW Press, 2006). Dr Anne Sanders is Curatorial Researcher at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, and co-curator of the exhibition All that fall: Sacrifice, life and loss in the First World War.
This slim volume of essays complements the exhibition All that fall: Sacrifice, life and loss in the First World War presented at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, in the wake of the Anzac centenary; itself an immersive ‘portrait’ of loss on the Australian homefront that encourages reflection. The essays explore themes of sacrifice and loss in very different modes: the direct historical exploration of the burden of unspoken grief in Pat Jalland’s essay; and moral philosopher Raimond Gaita’s meditation upon war, truth, love of country and the ways in which ‘jingoism can find its way to love’. Christopher Chapman focuses on young men and the notion of redemptive self-sacrifice, while Anne Sanders looks to the shared experiences of three expatriate Australians living in the Greek islands in the mid 1950s and the melding of past and present, journeys and homecomings, narrative, myth and identity.
national portrait gallery