Historian K.S. Inglis’s widespread and systematic prejudice towards churches is manifest in his book ‘Sacred Places’, which omits mention of war memorials in places of worship and the minimises the role of church leaders in the birth and evolution of Anzac traditions
Kenneth Stanley Inglis (1929–2017), is one of Australia’s most distinguished and versatile historians. His many books include The Stuart Case (1961), The Australian Colonists (1974) and his two-volume history of the national broadcaster, This is the ABC (1983) and Whose ABC? (2006).
Following the appearance in 1963 of his Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England, Inglis began to focus on the significance of the Anzac movement. This resulted in two seminal articles. The first of these, “Anzac and Christian—Two Traditions or One?” (1965) became the most frequently consulted piece of writing in the entire back catalogue of St Mark’s Review. The second, also published in 1965, appeared in Meanjin under the title of “The Anzac Tradition” and is, in part, a reflection on the official war historian C.E.W. Bean’s writings. It is a fine work of scholarship.
This essay appeared in a recent edition of Quadrant.
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Fragments of these articles reappear in his final work, the 500-page Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, which first appeared in 1998 and has been re-issued three times. Inglis wrote about monuments in the Australian landscape, but this book has made him something of a monument in the Australian publishing landscape.
However, Inglis has minimised the churches” role in the creating of war memorials and the formation of Anzac ceremonial. When explaining the decision to perpetuate the Anzac legend and the annual commemoration of the fallen on Anzac Day as we have come to know it, he has largely overlooked the contribution made by the churches to both.
Inglis has given ample attention to monuments in public places, but he has overlooked memorials standing in Australian churches, which he acknowledges are public places. With the exception of a single image among 220 photographs in his book, “sacred places” inside church buildings are wholly omitted.
One of the most splendid of these sacred places is the Warrior’s chapel in Christ Church Cathedral in Newcastle. Brass, bronze, marble and stained glass monuments to the fallen were also raised in many Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, and memorial halls were built beside churches after 1920, aided by a generous federal subsidy. None of these is given any notice.
The downplaying of Christian involvement in early Anzac commemorations must be viewed against a background of changing Australian historiography. Most recent histories of Australia give little attention to religion and the churches. Alan Atkinson’s The Europeans in Australia (1) is exceptional in its interest in religion. However, it must be conceded that most secular historians” aloofness from churches is only one side of the coin: the other side is compassion. In contemporary histories there’s usually a genuine empathy for the “forgotten people”– the marginalised, the economically downtrodden, migrants and refugees.
Any suggestion that organised religion and clergy had little to do with early Anzac observance needs to take into account what actually happened. In Egypt, for example, at the first anniversary service in Cairo in 1916, a sermon was preached by a denominational chaplain before hymns were sung by the thousands of servicemen present: “For All the Saints Who from Their Labours Rest” and “On the Resurrection Morning”.(2) But the index to Sacred Places lists no religious services or denominations, and there are references to only two clerical figures—the Anglican chaplain-general, Archbishop Charles Riley of Perth, and Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne.
Conspicuous among church leaders in Australia was David Garland, for nearly twenty-five years organiser of Queensland’s Anzac Day Commemoration Committee (ADCC) until his death on the eve of the Second World War. An Anglican canon and lobbyist, his role is credited by his biographers as pivotal in shaping inter-war Anzac commemorations. In the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), Wendy Mansfield asserts that Garland initiated the Anzac Day march, the returned soldiers’ luncheon, the wreath-laying ceremonies at memorials, and the special church services. These, she says, “vigorously backed by Garland”, were taken up in other states. (3) Mansfield reiterates a claim made in Brisbane on Anzac Day 1924, by the Queensland acting premier W.N. Gillies, at the unveiling of the Queensland War Memorial at Toowong by the Australian governor-general, that Garland was “the founder … of the observance of Anzac Day”. (4) At a seminar chaired in 1992 by Professor Inglis at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), a speaker insisted strenuously that Garland’s influence had reached beyond Queensland. Inglis responded by omitting Garland from the book altogether. Nor did Inglis or his research assistants consult Garland’s extensive Anzac Day papers in Brisbane’s Oxley Library.
In downplaying official Christian involvement in the planning of Anzac Day, Sacred Places is at odds with Inglis’s treatment of clergy in two earlier publications. In 1961 he gives credit to a Roman Catholic priest’s evidence in The Stuart Case, suggesting that it probably contributed to the commutation of Rupert Stuart’s death penalty.(5) The Australian Colonists gives some attention to colonial religion. Inglis also recalls his respect for his Christian Socialist teacher in the 1940s who went on to become a missionary in India. By contrast, Sacred Places is consistent with his 1963 analysis of the denominations and the Victorian working classes in negating the churches’ efforts to the point of dismissal.
In Sacred Places Inglis makes a contentious observation about soldiers in the Great War. Speaking of the men in the trenches, he says that the “average Australian soldier” was “not religious’.(6) He bases this on the war historian Bill Gammage’s observation, made after Gammage’s reading of a thousand diaries and letters for his book The Broken Years (1974), that the average soldier did not discuss religion in his correspondence.
Gammage is one of Inglis’s disciples. Gammage’s book was the inspiration for Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli. But his style differs considerably from that of his mentor. There cannot be a greater contrast between Inglis’s sophistication and the naivety of Gammage’s portrayal of the “average soldier”. According to Gammage, the Australian soldier in the First World War disliked chaplains primarily because he was an Australian. (7) This is something Inglis is unlikely ever to have written. But for all the clumsiness of Gammage’s religious references and Inglis’s finesse there is an ideological resonance between the two. In effect, both writers respond to the presence of religion by ignoring it.
The English poet Robert Graves started the fashion, in Goodbye to All That (1929), of depicting British First World War soldiers as irreligious and of Anglican chaplains as ineffectual and superfluous. The book is stylishly written and notable for its inaccuracies. One of Graves’s claims is that Anglican chaplains would occasionally, on a quiet day, “make a daring afternoon visit” to distribute cigarettes on the Western Front before hurrying back to a rest billet. (8) Graves’s aspersions are followed by Gammage, and a tradition has begun to settle into a historical orthodoxy: Australian chaplains were shirkers who stayed away from the front lines. (9)
Gammage’s claim in The Broken Years is that the average digger “distrusted chaplains, and sometimes detested them, because he was an Australian, and because they were officers, enjoying the privileges of leaders but not the concomitant risks and responsibilities of battle”. This extraordinary assertion contrasts starkly with the evidence presented by Michael McKernon in Victoria at War, 1914-1918, that “dozens, if not hundreds” of Anglican priests and Protestant ministers volunteered for active service. (10) Precise statistics of Australian clergy who died or were wounded were not available at the time of McKernan’s writing, but in the British Army, 166 chaplains of all churches were killed in action, and 196 awards for bravery were awarded to Anglican chaplains. Altogether 450 chaplains were awarded the Military Cross, with 145 crosses and bars to Anglican chaplains alone. The Victoria Cross was awarded to three Church of England chaplains. The only winner of a double VC in the Great War was Noel Chavasse of the 1/10 King’s Liverpool Regiment, brother of an army chaplain and son of the then Bishop of Liverpool.(11)
In addition, recent research has challenged the conventional view of soldiers as “irreligious” as advanced by Gammage and Inglis in the wake of Graves’s characteristic mingling of fact and fiction. The historian Colin Bale has studied the First AIF soldiers’ service records in 1916 and 1918, including a list of the personal effects of soldiers killed in action. Bale’s samples reveal that two-thirds of the soldiers had among their personal effects prayer books, Bibles, hymn books, religious literature and such paraphernalia as rosaries and religious medallions. There is also a large body of chaplains’ accounts testifying to religious interest among the First AIF. Bale’s conclusion is that “significant numbers of soldiers appear to have been more interested in religion than has often been thought”. (12)
As for the assertion by Gammage and Inglis about the letters of the “average soldier” revealing lack of religion, personal belief is a subject many people dislike writing about. Many Britons and Australians, especially young males, were reserved and reluctant to write or talk publicly about things close to the heart. “As you know,” wrote one soldier to his wife, “I never did make a big show about being religious, but it is in my heart all the same.” (13)
Young people then did not write about physical sex either, a fact acknowledged by Gammage. Some questions are perhaps too profound to be raised in letters to relatives at home, and in any case, not a few diggers might have found it difficult to frame deepest feelings in words. We shall never know what the men on the Western Front really thought about religion, or what they did when they returned home.
We do know, however, that the diggers were members of Christian denominations; but where the evidence is plentiful Inglis is silent. Wartime bureaucracy provides plenty of evidence—in this case,
400,000 pieces of evidence—in soldiers’ and sailors’ enlistment documents. Over 90 per cent were at least nominally Christian. It seems strange that the diggers’ description of themselves as being Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Anglican, or members of the Salvation Army is not mentioned in Sacred Places.
I have gone to some lengths to introduce the theme of textual and photographic prejudice in Inglis’s work, not to advance the absurd theory that thousands of Australian diggers were bypassed simply because their monuments are inside churches, but to point out the cumulative effect on the reader of these large-scale omissions. It is scarcely credible that such a distinguished scholar as Professor Inglis would have forgotten to check memorials to the fallen inside churches. Assembling his influential work took several decades and he is not known to suffer lapses of memory.
Continuing the same theme in his final contribution on war memorials in Tom Frame’s Anzac Day Then and Now, which was published the year before his death, Inglis draws attention to a church spire and cricket stumps in a window of the National War Memorial in Canberra. As for Melbourne and Sydney he remarks, “I found little or no more of Christianity in [these] monuments of Anzac” than in a verse by the non-religious wartime versifier C.J. Dennis. The shrines, Inglis says, are not Christian but ancient Greek in architecture and iconography. (14) Actually, the inspiration for the ziggurat profile of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance is not ancient Greek but Mesopotamian, the ziggurat being one of the familiar devices of the Art Deco movement.
Finding “little or no more” of religion, Inglis fell short of observing that not only religion, but Australian flora and fauna too, are completely missing. Of wattles and banksias, kangaroos, wombats and echidnas there is no trace. The reason may be that in its lack of embellishment, the architecture of Art Deco achieves its effect through streamlining and simplicity. Inglis seems also to miss the point that, seen from above, the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance is shaped in the form of a massive cross, which is at least suggestive.
Visiting Sydney’s Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Inglis noted the bronze figure of a naked warrior lying on a shield supported by mother, wife and sister. He avoided saying that the fallen soldier’s outstretched arms are lying across a sword which bears the shape and proportions of a Christian cross. To separate the memorial even further from Christianity, he said the observer is “required to look down, not up as in a Christian building”, that is, the Anzac Memorial is the reverse of Christian worship.(15) This is thin and tenuous. In Catholic and Anglican churches, the congregation looks upwards to the altar, but in most Protestant churches the Holy Table is situated more or less at the same level as the worshippers.
Going on to survey the inscriptions on war memorials in general, Inglis draws attention to some that include God but on the whole he distances the inscriptions from their scriptural roots; he says that the Bible was “not widely used as a source-book for inscriptions”. (16) He may indeed be right, but he had to stretch facts in one case. The inscription on the floor of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance contains the words “Greater Love Hath no Man” (17)—which, says Inglis, is “a statement unlike anything Jesus ever said”—an incorrect assertion, for the words are recorded as coming exactly from Jesus’s own lips in the so-called Farewell Discourses (John 15:13). One which came from the Bible was “Their Name Liveth for Evermore” first proposed by Rudyard Kipling, followed quickly by the observation that Kipling was “not an orthodox Christian”. (18) Unorthodox may be true but the inspiration for many of Kipling’s most memorable lines came straight from the King James Bible, such as “Recessional”:
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget.
Or his inscription on the tomb of the unknown soldier: “Known unto God”.
As for Mansfield and Moses’s portrayals of Canon Garland, let’s assume Inglis is right, that Australian Anzac commemorations were spontaneous and the Queensland commemorations were no precedent. (19) And Inglis may indeed be correct in saying that the initiating of Anzac services and war memorials outside Queensland was spontaneous, owing little or nothing to an Anglican priest. This is consistent with Inglis’s position that the churches played virtually no part in the war memorial movement or the formation of Anzac Day ceremonial. On the other hand, Garland’s status as “the architect of Anzac Day” may still be valid. Other forms of commemoration were attempted during the First World War and beyond, but in the end it was the model advanced by Garland and others that was accepted around the country.
The conclusion to be drawn from Sacred Places must be that Queensland’s Anzac evolution, through the efforts of military chaplains and other clerics and laymen led by Garland, was an isolated event in no way echoed elsewhere. Coupled with the text’s failure to admit the existence of memorials in churches—with the exception of two paragraphs in 500 pages—one is driven to conclude that the omissions are deliberate.
So what’s going on here? Perhaps Inglis’s lack of sympathy with churches is political. It is possible that a tendency to play down Anglicanism in particular may have its roots in a politically-based hostility to churches. Perhaps churches are seen as part of a system of imperial power? Like many other young undergraduates at Melbourne University in the late 1940s, Inglis was enrolled in the Student Christian Movement (SCM). He was also a co-founder of the University’s ALP Club.(20) Being moderately left-leaning and having a liberal theological base, the membership of SCM included some with socialist leanings, notable among whom were the anthropologist Camilla Wedgwood and the Anglo-Catholic priest Frank Coaldrake.
But “socialism” did not describe the political leanings of the mainstream Anglican church, and it has been said that at times the church allowed itself to be identified too closely with capitalists and the middle classes. This may possibly have helped produce a jaundiced outlook in the author of Sacred Places and his circle.
On the other hand, Melbourne University ALP Club members, including Inglis, would have been well aware that among the city’s Anglicans there were significant pockets of socialist influence. Both Coaldrake and Wedgwood were on the Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) list of those suspected of communist sympathies. (21) So was Farnham Maynard, vicar of St Peter’s Eastern Hill, whose lunchtime lectures at the university were once disrupted by hecklers said to have been inspired by the CIB. (22) In addition, the socialist sympathies of William Temple, Archbishop of York and of Canterbury (from 1928 to 1944) were well known. As a professor and vice-chancellor of the University of Papua New Guinea, Inglis would also have been aware of socialist experiments within the New Guinea Anglican mission which were sometimes labelled as “communist”.(23) In short, the words “Christian socialism” described a recognised variety of churchmanship within the Anglican spectrum.
The author of Sacred Places was regarded by his contemporaries with respect and affection. Why, then, did his charitable and self-effacing qualities give way to intolerance and obfuscation? Educated at the elite Melbourne High School, Inglis spent his youth in a lower-middle-class suburb. Until the 1960s, the tone of Melbourne’s wealthier suburbs was more “English” than either Brisbane’s or Sydney’s. As Barry Humphries and the urban historian Elizabeth Rushen among others have shown, the city and suburbs were sharply stratified.(24) Social snobbery was rife in Melbourne during the 1930s, and the Depression did nothing to erase this reality. Melbourne’s socio-economic landscape during the 1930s and 1940s is offered here only as background toning.
Since the appearance of Churches and the Working Classes in 1963 a mass of literature has arisen, which no one without experience could detect, which minimises the churches’ achievements and which leads its readers on by a process of editorial selection and deletion. This has been done with such skill that its effect has been virtually unnoticed by readers, including those sympathetic to religion.
In Inglis’s eyes Anzac ceremonial acquired a special significance through “the inability of suddenly bereaved people to draw adequate comfort from their traditional Christian faith”. (25) Inglis observes that organisers “might even keep clergymen off the platform altogether” (26), words evidently lost on Anzac Day organisers who continued to invite clergymen to the platform to say the prayers. On the centenary anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, the crowd who had gathered at Anzac Cove were led in prayer by the Catholic chaplain.
In his 1967 inaugural lecture as professor of history at the University of Papua New Guinea, Inglis said that balance and fair-mindedness should characterise historians’ treatment of religion. (27) This was especially so in the contested religious field of Papua New Guinea, where during the initial decade the university students came from heavily missionised areas. As professor of history, he gradually moved away from the ideal of fair-mindedness. From considering Christianity fifty years ago among the leading strands in the post-1915 commemoration of war dead, he moved in the direction of wiping the slate clean of the churches.
Inglis is probably right in implying that the first stirrings in 1916 towards a national Anzac commemoration did not come from Garland alone but had spontaneous origins in Australia, New Zealand and Britain. However, it is not Garland who matters but what Garland represents—and these are Inglis’s real bane: the churches. By his selections and omissions, his reader is left to draw the conclusion that religion in general and Christianity in particular are a purely private matter which needs to be kept out of the public domain as much as possible. It is permissible for sport, art and entertainment to be organised, but not religion. Inglis’s widespread and systematic prejudice towards churches culminates in the textual omitting of war memorials inside churches and the minimising of church leaders in the evolving of Anzac traditions. As a result Sacred Places is unbalanced.
David Wetherell is an Honorary Fellow in History at Deakin University in Geelong.
(1) Alan Atkinson, The Europeans in Australia, Oxford University Press 2004-16
(2) JA Moses and G.F. Davis, Anzac Day Origins Canon DJ Garland and Trans-Tasman Commemoration Barton books Canberra 2013, p.182-4.
(3) Wendy Mansfield, “Garland, David John 1864-1939” Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.8 1891-1939 Melbourne University Press, 1981, pp.619-20.
(4) JA Moses Anzac p.228-9
(5) KS Inglis, The Stuart Case, Melbourne University Press 1961 pp.41-51.
(6) Inglis, Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape Melbourne University Press, 1998, p.214.
(7) Bill Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War Penguin, Melbourne 1975 p.xiv
(8) Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1982 p.158
(9) Gammage, Broken Years p.xiv
(10) Michael McKernan, Victoria at War; 1914-18, State Library and NewSouth Press, Sydney, 2014, p.72
(11) Michael Snape , God and the British Soldier: Religion and the British Army in the First and Second World Wars, Routledge, Milton Park, 2005 p.179; Terry Buckingham, “A Sacred Presence, a Holy Battle” in New Directions, London, November 2017, p.33
(12) Peter Bale, “‘In God We Trust’: The Impact of the Great War on Religious Belief” in Peter Bolt and Mark Thompson (eds) Donald Robinson Selected Works vol 3: Appreciation Australian Church Record, Sydney, 2008 p.303-14 at pp.304-7. See also Michael Gladwin, Captains of the Soul: A History of Australian Army Chaplains Big Sky, Melbourne, p.77.
(13) Snape, God, p.102-3
(14) Tom Frame, Anzac Day Then and Now NewSouth 2016, p.16
(15) Inglis, “The Anzac Tradition” in John Lack (ed) Anzac Remembered Selected writings of KSInglis Department of History University of Melbourne, 1998, pp.40-1.
(16) Inglis, Sacred Places p.193.
(17) Inglis Sacred Places p.193-4.
(18) Inglis Sacred Places p.211-12.
(19) Inglis to writer at Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance launch in 2005.
(20) Renate Howe, A Century of Influence: The Australian Student Christian Movement 1896–1996 University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2009, pp. 267-70.
(21) Howe, Century, p.267.
(22) Howe, Century, p.267
(23) David Hand, Modawa Papua New Guinea and Me Salpress, Port Moresby, 2002 p.132.
(24) Elizabeth Rushen, Bishopscourt Melbourne: Official Residence and Family Home Mosaic, Melbourne, p.145.
(25) Inglis, Sacred Places p.461
(26) Inglis, Sacred Places p.462
(27) K.S.Inglis, The Study of History in Papua and New Guinea, Inaugural Lecture by K.S. Inglis University of Papua and New Guinea, Port Moresby, 1967 pp.13-14.