A WEATHERED flag hanging on a wall at Warrnambool’s historic Christ Church once flew on the battle-scarred hills of Gallipoli where the Anzac legend was born.
It could be the only Australian Imperial Forces battalion marker from that bloodied war zone still intact.
Generations of parishioners at the Warrnambool Anglican church probably knew of the unique relic which hung in the bell tower.
But it wasn’t until parish priest Father Scott Lowrey mentioned it at last month’s Anzac Day ceremony that the realisation sank in for the wider community — we have a national treasure in our midst.
Its airing at the Lighthouse Theatre ceremony was probably the first time the old red and white flag had been shown in public outside the church since Chaplain Thomas Pearse Bennett retrieved it as he was evacuating Gallipoli with the Australian troops.
The Reverend Bennett, known widely as the Padre of Gallipoli, returned to Warrnambool and donated it to his parish church, where it has hung since 1917.
He relinquished his post as parish vicar and became archdeacon, seeking out distressed relatives of Diggers killed in the war and returned soldiers. He also helped establish the Warrnambool branch of the Returned Services League, of which he was the first president.
A stained-glass window was donated in his honour and his battalion donated a brass plaque.
“He was very fondly regarded by soldiers and parishioners,” Fr Scott said yesterday. “There’s a great sense of pride in our parish about Padre Bennett, especially among those who have themselves served in wars.
“The flag is a very significant item which we believe could be the only one still in existence in Australia, certainly the only one in Victoria that we know of. It’s a unique treasure not only for Warrnambool, but for so many families of people who fought at Gallipoli.”
Parishioners and descendants of the Padre’s unit recently donated about $5000 to have the flag rejuvenated by the same company that repaired Ballarat’s Eureka flag.
It is now hanging in a more prominent position, shaded by a blockout curtain in the Hammond Fellowship Centre adjacent to the bluestone church.
Padre Bennett landed at Gallipoli on September 25, 1915, with the 22nd Battalion after months aboard a troopship and time in Egypt.
He lived in a dugout in Shrapnel Gully and spent his time dodging bullets in the trenches, burying the dead, writing to their loved ones, holding services and being a source of comfort to many men from the south-west.
Reverend Bennett, who died in 1960, told his son “war is about mothers searching for their sons amid that vast carnage”.
Author Patsy Adam-Smith in her book The Anzacs described him as “the paragon among men”.
He also found time to take photographs and a collection of his hand-coloured glass slides is in the State Library of Victoria.