Albany historian, Douglas Sellick, presents a myth-busting guest post on the real history of Australia’s most powerful tradition. He provides the real story and also a mystery…
In the Western Australian town of Albany from where many single voyage troopships and two great military convoys departed for the Great War there is a recently installed municipal memorial plinth in front of the Anglican Church on which is reported a great deal of mis-information relevant to the Anglican parish church S. John the Evangelist, its Parish Priest and the civic happenings on Anzac Day in Albany between 1918 and 1938.
The main part of the text on the parish church plinth reads:
…on the morning of 24th February 1918, a very special service was held at St. John’s Church that would shape future ANZAC Day commemorations. A mass for the war dead of World War 1 was offered by visiting Reverend and army chaplain, Arthur Ernest White. Reverend White – or Padre White as he was known – followed the service with a pilgrimage to Mt. Clarence. Atop Mt. Clarence looking across King George’s Sound, memories were conjured of the great fleet which had departed only a few years earlier. To pay tribute to the troops, “the flower of Australian manhood”, Padre White arranged for a boatman to cast a wreath into its waters.
Also inaccurate is a local newspaper article dated Friday, April 26, 2019 which begins:
Easter dawns with tradition. Worshippers packed into St. John’s Anglican Church in Albany on Sunday for the [9.30am.] Easter Eucharist. The service followed the traditional Easter Sunday dawn service honouring Padre Ernest White, who held Albany’s first Anzac Day dawn service in 1930 at the top of Mt. Clarence…
Both these careless items are perfect examples of local “made up” or “fake history” of very important Anzac Day events and people in 1916, 1918, 1930, 1931, 1937 and 1938.
New research, focusing on the important happenings on significant Anzac Days in Albany has revealed many myths which have gone uncorrected. It is obvious the above historical information has been compiled by researchers and writers without the benefit of primary research. Their findings have been copied and used by tour guides, municipal local histories, tourist brochures and scores of popular internet sites over many years. Also, there is the municipal claim that Albany is “where the great Anzac Legend had its beginning”, which completely ignores the first military embarkation ports of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Wellington, Lyttleton, Port Chalmers and Fremantle. Alas, all these mistakes have had the effect of perpetuating Albany’s famous history myths.
What then is the true Albany story?
The true Albany Anzac Day story of 1930 must start with the 1912 arrival in Albany of the The Reverend Arthur White, BSB, London born and English trained priest-member of the Bush Brotherhood of S. Boniface in Western Australia whose Clergy House was at Williams, a small town north on the old road to Perth. Fr. White visited Albany often in pre-war days and made a considerable number of friends. He delivered his first Albany sermon at Evensong in S. John’s Church on Sunday, 27th October 1912 and celebrated Holy Communion for the first time in Albany at the 8 a.m. in S. John’s Church on Christmas Day in 1913. The date of 24th February 1918 claiming to be the date the first Dawn Service in Albany celebrated by Fr. White is wrong. However, Fr. White was indeed in church that Sunday morning officiating at three morning services: 8am Holy Communion, 10am The Litany and 11am Matins, because the Rector, Archdeacon Thomas Louch was away from the parish. There is no record of an entry in S. John’s Service Register of any other regular Holy Communion service or Private Mass Fr. White may have celebrated during any of his recorded visits to Albany prior to 1929.
In 1930, Anglican Dawn Church Services were conducted in parish churches in Western Australia in Collie, Northam and Roebourne, and quite possibly elsewhere around Australia and New Zealand. In 1930 Albany was just one of many places to hold an early morning Dawn Requiem service on 25 April, which is also S. Mark’s Day in the church calendar. It is important to remember a service is a formal church ceremony of worship and cannot be applied to many of the very first informal silent gatherings of servicemen at dawn which occurred in some other places around Australia claiming to be the site of the Australia’s first dawn service.
The first Albany public Anzac Day Commemoration of the district war dead was during Matins at 11a.m. in 1916 in S. John’s Church, the names of known soldiers were first read out by the Church Warden, this event was followed by a civic service held in the Albany Town Hall organised by the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia, the Women’s Auxiliary and the Sons of Soldiers’ League. Later the returned Services League (RSL) organized a street parade to the Albany War Memorial on York Street. These rather clumsy parades were held in various forms for many years until the RSL officially re-organised their membership rules and parade procedures in 1925.
The Albany Anglican dawn service in 1930 was simply following a then Church of England custom of the daily early morning celebrating of the Eucharist, the tradition lasted at S. John’s for about fifty years and was never revived, being replaced on Anzac Day by the present day RSL type service and parade.
The Mystery of the 1930 Albany Dawn Service
In The Albany Advertiser’s first edition on 24th April 1930, under CHURCH NEWS and the heading CHURCH OF ENGLAND appears the following announcement :
Saint John’s Church, Anzac Day.
6 a.m. Service at Dawn. Holy Communion.
Recital of Names of the Fallen.
Procession to the War Memorial.
Laying of Wreaths.
On Anzac Day directly after the Dawn Requiem Mass Fr. White, using a steel nib and black ink, filled in his Service Register as required by Canon Law and his Bishop. No other person is permitted to make any entry in this Register other than the parish priest. I have carefully examined Fr White’s entries, his handwriting in black ink appears hurried and spidery. However, in another hand alongside the main entry are the mysterious bracketed words ‘First Dawn Service held in Australia’ made by a wide fountain pen nib in blue ink by a person or persons unknown, it was certainly not made by Fr. White. This claim has been vigorously maintained by local parish and civic historians, they insist that this extra entry was categorically made by Father White. If it was, how was he to know it was Australia’s first dawn service he had just celebrated? Nor would he have added any additional entry in the Service Register.
The evidence of the extra entry suggests an un-authorised and illegal entry made in blue fountain pen ink by an ever-helpful parishioner or an interested local historian at a later date alongside the principal service entry of the day. Who made this entry? It has become one of the most poignant myths of the period. Unsuspecting local church and civic historians failed to pick up this strange discrepancy and its careless use has been accepted by many as fact and has become one of the many strange Albany historical myths, including the myth Fr White returned in 1923 for a holiday. In 1923 he was hard at work in Broken Hill and the Riverina all that year and spending a few weeks holiday on Kangaroo Island.
The True Story of the Anglican Parish Pilgrimage of 1931.
The local tradition of an Anglican Parish Pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Clarence on Anzac Day began in 1931, not 1930, at a site now known as “Padre White’s Lookout” so named by a municipal worthy who had perhaps viewed a 1938 photograph of Fr White standing rock looking out to sea. Look-Outs are popular in scenic Albany.
The pilgrimage custom arose as follows: After the second Dawn Service Father White and some of the congregation reached the rocky summit of Mount Clarence well after dawn had passed. They gathered in silence there to remember those whose names were not recorded on parish or district war memorials but had passed by Albany throughout the war.The Albany Advertiser on Monday 27th April 1931 under its Church News column reported: ‘Following the Dawn Service at St. John’s a small party climbed Mount Clarence to over-look the anchorage where in 1914 the first convoy of transports assembled to carry the Anzacs to war’.
In the years following this simple pilgrimage initiated by Fr White, became part of the Dawn Service custom at S. John’s Church. Many years later in Queensland he told one of the Sisters of Sacred Advent at St. Mary’s School in Herberton that he considered that climb to be his personal pilgrimage. This pilgrimage site and custom should not be confused with the present day RSL Dawn Service at the site of the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial which is a short distance down from the summit of Mount Clarence. Today, a recently established RSL style service on Mount Clarence is held before a huge crowd at dawn on Anzac Day. This RSL gathering originated shortly after the relocation from Egypt of the famous Desert Mounted Corps Memorial at the head of Apex Drive just below the summit of Mount Clarence. This grand memorial, incorrectly called locally the Anzac Memorial was originally situated on the banks of the Suez Canal, was re-erected and dedicated at Albany on Sunday 11th October 1964.
The True Story The Sound Wreath and Boatman of 1937.
Early in 1937 Fr White made a suggestion to the local RSL and TocH that they might like to make arrangements for a boatman to drop a wreath into the narrow entrance of The Princess Royal Harbour. It was thought the wreath would float out into King George Sound on the early tide. The first occasion the custom was successfully carried out by a member of the Harbour Master’s staff, standing on the end of the Harbour Master’s jetty was on Anzac Day, Sunday 25th April 1937. On the day it had been decided a boat was not necessary.
This event could not have seen from the summit of Mount Clarence as claimed by many town witnesses between 1930 and 1936 due to the fact the shoreline of King George Sound is obscured by Mount Adelaide. The tiny wreath even if it had been carried far out into King George Sound would have been difficult to see even with powerful binoculars. The telling of this event has confused many, lasting only a few years and declined shortly after the start of Second World War in 1940.
The True Story of the Famous Summit Photograph of 1938
The most frequently used black and white photograph of Father White depicting him on the summit of Mount Clarence was taken as a young girl by Mrs. Patricia Davies, the widow of an Anglican priest, a close friend of the Rector. The 1938 photograph depicts Father White standing on a large rock in silhouette in street clothes looking out to sea. This subject must be one of the more bizarre myths associated with Albany’s history. Many years later when reproduced for the first time the caption stated it depicts ‘Arthur Ernest White, at Mount Clarence, Anzac Day Service, 25 April 1930’. A weirder mistake which has become a myth cannot be imagined. Father White is doing no such thing, in fact, he was enjoying a last visit to Mt. Clarence on the very day – Friday 20th May 1938 – he sailed away to become the Parish Priest at Forbes in New South Wales.
This information was given to me by Mrs Davies because I had asked her to confirm the circumstances of the photograph and sort her opinion relevant to its incorrect use. It was her opinion the photograph had fallen in the hands of an unknown amateur parish historian who misunderstood its real significance and captioned it with “made up” details. Regrettably, this photograph has been used incorrectly in many publications. This I fear is because of the surprising prominence given in the official exhibition and guide to the Albany National Anzac Centre. The official, though false, caption reads ‘Arthur Ernest White, at Mount Clarence, Anzac Day Dawn Service, 25 April 1930. Courtesy of St. John’s Anglican Church, Albany’. This incorrect and absurd caption, accompanied by a very poor, disjoined biography of Father White’s priestly life, must surely rank as the source of the most ludicrous myth relating to the true site of Albany’s first Anzac Day Dawn Service in St. John’s Church. More the pity it is part of the Official Exhibition and Guide to The National Anzac Centre at The Princess Royal Fortress in Albany
The Albany Advertiser various editions 1914-1939, Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, Cairns Post, The Church Chronicle, The Western Australian Church News, Bunbury Diocesan Year Book, Crockford’s Clerical Directory, 1953 Edition. The Anglican Religious Communities Year Book various and current issues. The RSL Listening Post, The Western Mail, Perth various editions 1911-1948. Albany Parish Service Registers 1901-1948, Batty Library of Western Australian History. The Albany Wizbang. Official Organ of the Albany Sub-Branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League 1936-1941. The Link (TocH) 1926-1973 all found in the National Library of Australia, National Archives of Australia and the State Library of Western Australia.
Conversations with a retired Sister of the Sacred Advent in Brisbane, a Sister of the Community of Holy Name, Melbourne. The late Reverend Father Tony Bolt of Albany who was taught Greek and Latin by Father White, Brigadier John White, son. Father John A. Moses & George F. Davis, Anzac Day Origins: Canon D.J. Garland and Trans-Tasman Commemoration, Canberra; Barton Books, 2013.