April 13, 2015

Russell Crowe's "The Water Diviner" Is Not Complete Fiction


The secret, much wider truth behind Russell Crowe’s Gallipoli film The Water Diviner, a dramatisation of an Australian father’s search for the bodies of his sons killed at Anzac Cove, is about to be revealed in Rome. 
Previously secret documents show that Australians flooded Turkey with requests about their sons’ graves, some asking for their bodies to be returned, seeking photos and wanting to ensure there were crosses over the graves.

There was so much interest that Australian PM Billy ­Hughes became involved in a series of secret appeals to Turkey via the pope, Benedict XV, and the Vatican’s neutral diplomatic service.

The Australian movie, filmed in Turkey, is based on the work of the Imperial War Graves Unit at Gallipoli after World War I and relied on a remark by a British lieutenant colonel, Cyril Hughes, who reported that: “One old chap managed to get here from Australia, looking for his son’s grave.”

Crowe’s character of Joshua Connor is a fictionalised version of the “old chap” who tries to honour the wish of his dead wife and find the bodies of his three sons, who were killed on the one night. One of the sons is believed to have been captured and taken to Constantinople (Istanbul).

Two Turkish historians, Rinaldo Marmara and Bulent Gunal, have revealed a remarkable true campaign by British, Australian and French parents when WWI was still raging to find their sons’ graves and repatriate their bodies.

The Turkish scholars also reveal that the search for the graves of family members was able to begin before the war finished because of the intervention of the Papal Nuncio of the Holy See, the Vatican’s ambassador, in Constantinople after an appeal by prominent Australian Catholic and publisher, Frank Coffee, to find the grave of his son, also Frank, and return his body to Australia.

The English-language version of the book, Gallipoli 1915The Vatican’s Secret Archive Documents: Frank Coffee Case, already published in Turkey, will be launched in Rome on April 22 by Australia’s ambassador to the Vatican, John McCarthy, and Australia’s Cardinal George Pell.

The Coffee family appealed to the Vatican after the Australian troops had withdrawn from Turkey but while the war still raged in Europe. Through the Vatican’s emissary in Istanbul, Angelo Dolci, Australian families were able to ask for their sons’ graves to be located, properly identified and photographed.

Mr Coffee sent £50 to help with the cost of finding his son’s grave while other families offered to pay for “a few copies” of photographs of the graves to be “distributed among relatives”.

Another family asked the Vatican to find out whether their son had been captured and sent to Istanbul and a French woman, Rene Ribes, who lost both sons in the war including one at Gallipoli, directly asked the pope to ensure his grave would be honoured.

Although the war was continuing, the Turkish leadership, the war minister and army moved to protect the graves.

Frank Coffee’s grave was not found until four years later at Brown’s Dip, partly because the Australian descriptions of the landscape and names did not match the Turkish, when the War Graves unit was at Gallipoli.

After years of trying to have his son’s remains returned to Australia and sparking a concerted campaign in Australia of appeals to the Vatican, Frank Coffee decided to have a headstone installed and to leave his son “with his friends”.

By Dennis Shanahan

The picture above is Frank Coffee, who was killed at Lone Pine in 1915, age 28


With many thanks to The Australian
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