Winston Churchill famously stated, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”
Few these days are encouraged to study the ancient history and traditions of the British and their colonial sons and learn of the unbreakable link to biblical heritage possessed of those whom Churchill termed “the English-speaking peoples.” In fact, that heritage has a linkage with the fighting forces of these peoples today that extends 3,000 years back to, believe it or not, King David of ancient Israel! If only we would take the time to look that far back in our history, we would be ever so well prepared for the volatile future that today’s global disorder portends.
It was Churchill who also declared that “war is history.”
There is a lengthy heritage that links the ancient King David to the armies of Boadicea on to King Henry V’s merry few, to Drake and the Spanish Armada, on to Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, to Lord Kitchener, to the gallant Chauvel and the galloping horseman of Anzac tradition and beyond.
This is a heritage that had the kilted fighting men of the Highlands, for countless generations, stirred by the skirl of that ancient instrument of Davidic lineage, the psaltery, today called the bagpipes, to fight fearsomely in battle. It is a heritage which links the English-speaking peoples powerfully to ancient Israel by their tradition of singing the great psalms penned by the great warrior King David.
Benjamin Disraeli, twice prime minister of Britain during the British Empire’s time of greatness (the years 1868 and 1874-1880) observed in his famous novel, Tancred, “The most popular poet in England is the Sweet Singer of Israel. Since the days of the heritage, there never was a race who sang so often the odes of David as the people of Great Britain. It was the ‘sword of the Lord and of Gideon’ that won the boasted liberties of England; and the Scots upon their hillsides achieved their religious freedom chanting the same canticles that cheered the heart of Judah amid their glens.”
Heritage—that’s what once made Britain great! That’s what moved these peoples to carve great nations out of the continental extension of North America, of southern Africa, Australia and New Zealand! Disraeli rightly attached the true heritage of the English-speaking peoples to the great psalmist of ancient Israel. It was a heritage acknowledged by Victoria, Queen of the British Empire at its peak. That was a heritage known to the Anzacs of old, they who joined the fight to free the world from the tyrant in the Great War, World War i.
A Heroic Son of Australia
Ion Idriess was inspired by the biblical setting of the desert war of 1914-18. Written amid the heat and sand, the fire and the blood of desert warfare, some of Idriess’s phrases were, at times, attached to, even inspired by, the ancient biblical heritage upon which the British Empire was founded. As the famed Desert Column filed along the old Way of the Philistines heading toward Gaza, Idriess reflected, “The joy-spots of this old Bible desert are the oases. … It is in tiny wells which have been used since countless centuries before Moses” (The Desert Column).
Ion Idriess, an Australian of Davidic Welsh stock, enlisted as a trooper in the Australian Imperial Force at the opening of World War i. He was attached to the 5th Light Horse Regiment. Wounded twice, once at Gallipoli and again at Gaza, Idriess witnessed the famous Anzac mounted infantry charge at Beersheba that led to the taking of Jerusalem by British Imperial forces. His writings made between marches and skirmishes in the desert at times reflected the deep emotion of a soldier, a son of Australia, conscious of Palestine’s link between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. At Rafah, en route to Gaza, he pondered, “Britain has brought along the 20th century into a land that was ancient when Christ was a child.”
On leave in Greece, recovering from injury before the great march to Gaza and conscious of the seemingly overwhelming combined superiority in arms of the Turks, Austrians and Germans that awaited on return to active duty in the Sinai desert, Idriess mused, “The story of David and Goliath is not repeated in modern warfare when it is a handful against many men and many machines.” He was later to eat those words as he witnessed the Australian Light Horse charge the cannon, bullets and cold steel of the enemy, by whom they were vastly outnumbered, and capture the ancient city of water wells, Beersheba, opening the way for victory over the Turks at Jerusalem.
Of the great warrior psalmist, King David, we read in a few words in the biblical book of Samuel a summation of the man. 2 Samuel 23:1 describes him as “David the son of Jesse … the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel.”
“The man”! That term in this verse is translated from the Hebrew ha-gever, meaning mighty, he-man, HERO!
There was a time when the Australian teaching fraternity inspired their students to think on the power that the true heroes of the English-speaking nations demonstrated in securing the freedoms that those nations, together with much of the rest of the world, enjoyed due to their selfless sacrifice in many battles, on many fronts, over the past hundred years. But that was back in a time when teachers conducted themselves in a manner that earned the respect of the classroom.
But even today, because of an education that taught us of true heroes, rather than of the “celebrities” and the “idols” of pop fame of today, I can still be stimulated while listening to the Ten Tenors’ rousing rendition of lyricist Don Black’s “Here’s to the Heroes” and see those mental images of the clash of steel, the fire of cannon, the pounding of hooves and the shouts of men in the bloody heat of battle as portrayed by Idriess at Gallipoli and on the desert sands of Sinai.
As those 10 young Australians sing out lustily the words, “Here’s to the heroes who change our lives. // Thanks to the heroes, freedom survives,” the great mounted charges by those hardy bushmen who, nine decades ago, made up the thin, brown ranks of the Australian Light Horse as they fought heroically to break centuries of Ottoman rule in the Middle East, flash through the mind in movie-like imagery.
There, in vivid detail, one can imagine the frenzied gallop of horsemen, vastly outnumbered by the entrenched enemy, swooping down in the face of ravaging fire to take ancient Beersheba of Abrahamaic tradition and open the way for the seizure of Jerusalem from the Muslims, a victory denied to the Crusaders who over the centuries had sought to take the Holy City in the name of Rome. One can visualize General Allenby dismounting in respect to the ancient heritage of the Holy City and marching through the Jaffa Gate to secure the City of Peace under British martial law. Well, at least if one has been taught the history, such can be the mental images that a stirring song can produce. For once there were heroes, true heroes.
Australia was founded on the blood and sweat of its pioneers, and gained maturity as a nation in the face of fire and steel in the desert of the Middle East and in the mud of the Western Front in World War i. Its military record is foremost a history of gallantry, of self-sacrifice in the best traditions of the human spirit that, in the words of the Savior of mankind, bespeaks this reality: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
That’s the true Anzac spirit.
It is, to a degree, reflected in what Idriess declared was his dearest memory of his fellow soldiers in the desert: “[T]he memory that will linger until I die, is the comradeship of my mates, those thousands of men who laugh so harshly at their own hardships and sufferings, but whose smile is so tenderly sympathetic to others in pain (op. cit.).”
Loss of Heroes
Do today’s Australians still reflect that spirit?
Grave doubts are being raised on that question as we see representatives of Australia’s fighting forces taking part in a “celebration” of lifestyles specifically condemned within the book that was the foundation of the country’s moral strength through its pioneering history and its blooding as a nation in warfare. Great shame was brought upon the Anzac heritage at the 30th anniversary “celebration” of the homosexual and lesbian mardi gras in Sydney in 2008 as, for the first time, a contingent of Australia’s military marched in Sydney’s annual day of shame.
My father carried a standard military-issue pocket Bible with him into battle. The greatest of the English-speaking military leaders have been Bible-reading men, some of them even basing their tactics on ancient battles of Israel. These men would roll over in their graves, if it were possible, to see the debacle of representatives of their country’s fighting forces marching in a parade in celebration of lifestyles that are not only condemned in the Bible but were—as part of that same biblical heritage passed down from Israel through its progeny to recent times—condemned as criminal acts barely 30 years ago!
We would do well to ask, where are the true heroes today who are willing to fight for the preservation of the heritage of King David, the psalmist hero?
In 2002, Alec William Campbell, Australia’s last remaining veteran Anzac, died. Now, as each year goes by, only the icons of the era—the statues, the photographic depictions of battle, the medals and the museum paraphernalia of the period—remain to link the present with those five years that launched the fledgling nation of Australia into the swift maturity that only the crucible of war can yield.
Nine decades have elapsed since all fell quiet on the Western Front of World War i. Within that period of time Australian and New Zealand forces have risen to the occasion to aid their English-speaking allies in World War ii, in Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. But it has been over 60 years since Australia was called upon to mobilize for a battle of global proportions to protect the precious freedoms of which the English-speaking peoples have been guarantors for over 200 years.
The question now is, would today’s increasingly politically correct, multicultural, Aboriginalized, feminized, increasingly Asianized and Islamicized Australian society have what it takes to rise to the occasion should tyranny once again threaten these freedoms? Would there be sufficient of the old Anzac spirit remaining to fire up the manpower of the nation to willingly defend home and hearth from any prospect of invasion? Can a new multicultural “tradition” fire a nation with the same zealous patriotism that the once deeply embedded culture of “God, king and country” did for Australia in two great world wars? The psychology simply does not work the same!
Is there then an increasing risk in Australia’s future of the words of the ancient prophet coming to fruition, “They have blown the trumpet, even to make all ready; but none goeth to the battle”? (Ezekiel 7:14).
It was Sir Winston Churchill who pointed to the truism that any nation that forgets its past does not deserve to survive.