Ipswich church makes doco about courage and commitment of World War chaplains

One church near Brisbane has released a heartfelt documentary about military chaplains who served at Gallipoli and the Western Front during the World Wars of last century.

“The story [of the chaplains] took me by surprise. It’s emotional, it’s terrifying, it’s horrifying – but it’s also inspiring beyond measure,” says Cityhope Church’s senior minister Mark Edwards, in his introduction to the Padre – Where is God in this? documentary.

Released for Anzac Day 2021 and running for half an hour, Padre is a tribute to the commitment and courage of military chaplains and was sparked by Edwards’ own reading about Christians serving in past war zones.

“I was given a book about a British Chaplain who wrote about his experiences at Gallipoli and I realised the incredible experience that chaplains at Gallipoli and the Western Front went through, so I wanted to tell their story,” Edwards told Eternity.

“This caused me to then look at chaplains generally and I discovered the incredible work that chaplains in the military do.”

Taking 18 months to research and produce, Padre was filmed by a team from the Ipswich church at the Australian War Memorial, Australian Defence Force Academy and the Defence Force Chaplains College in Canberra, as well as at the Ipswich RSL. The sincere documentary realises a longstanding aim of Cityhope to honour Australia’s former and current service personnel in the military.

Mark Edwards filming on location for ‘Padre’ documentary.

The experience of investigating the service of chaplains impressed many personal stories upon Edwards. Chaplains kept “extensive journals and wrote many letters” and several of them are focused upon in Padre.

Having had more apply for chaplain positions than were available, Father John Fahey was a selected chaplain who disobeyed orders to remain on the ships at Gallipoli. He was one of the only chaplains “who stormed the beach”.

As Edwards reads from Fahey’s own description of the beach landing: “The faint glimmer of dawn. The boats … completely packed with men. So much so that one bullet would kill three men in one go.” The noise of the enemy’s guns is “horrendous” but Fahey managed to survive the attack, despite bullet holes peircing his clothing and being buried alive by an exploding shell.

Edwards appears particularly struck by discovering more about the way chaplains cared so intimately for the soldiers they served, such as having to deal with tending to the wounded and burying the dead on the Gallipoli beach.

“I have been personally moved by the courage, sacrifice, commitment and fortitude of these chaplains who endured hardship and saw episodes that would have a profound lifetime affect upon them, yet they were sustained by their faith and their love for the men they had chosen to serve,” Edwards said.

“It caused me to reflect on my own calling and my commitment to faith, sacrifice and courage.”

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