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All Saints’ Anglican Church stands in a quiet corner of Dunedin in New Zealand’s South Island.

Built in 1865 it is the city’s oldest church still used as a place of worship.

The congregation is a vibrant mix of ages and interests.

Countless couples have gathered here to marry, brought their babies to be baptised.

It’s where morning teas are shared, friendships formed and comfort given during times of loss.

Gallipoli campaign 'ill-conceived and mad'
Gallipoli campaign 'ill-conceived and mad'
Voices of the First World War

As with many churches, the walls of All Saints’ are graced with a collection of beautiful stained-glass windows.

One window, in particular, on the north side wall of the nave reminds regular worshipers and visitors of one family’s connection to the parish – and their sacrifice to country.

Known as the ‘John Allen window’ it portrays the short life of a local man, Lieutenant John Allen, who died in 1915 in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey.

John was the son of Sir James Allen, who as Minister of Defence, helped plan and administer New Zealand’s World War I strategy, which saw 100,000 troops sent to fight.

With the war over and his son dead, Sir James chose to honour John’s sacrifice by installing a beautiful stained-glass window in All Saints’, a place with which the Allen family had strong ties.

Sir James and his family commissioned the window from a leading British glassmaker during his tenure as New Zealand High Commissioner to the United Kingdom after the war.

Divided into two panels, one depicts St George, the patron saint of soldiers, standing above a scene of khaki-clad servicemen at the Gallipoli landing, while the other panel has an angel of peace standing above a scene of a university scholar.

Across the bottom of the window is the coat of arms of Jesus College, University of Cambridge, where John Allen studied, along with the words, ‘John Hugh Allen, Gallipoli, 6th June, 1915’.

A kauri pine is delicately interlaced with an oak tree, while local birds including a native pigeon and a morepork fly or perch on the branches and a kiwi walks at the bottom – reminders that John was a lover of birds.

In private, years later, Sir James reportedly described the Gallipoli campaign as “ill-conceived and mad”

Window to history
Window to history
Voices of the First World War

The poignancy of the window isn’t lost on the church’s current vicar.

“There are many Boer War, World War I and World War II memorials in the church,” says Rev. Michael Wallace.

“However the John Allen window stands out; it touches people because of the beautiful design, because of the New Zealand birds in it and because John’s story, of a life so full of promise ending tragically in the trenches, reflects the lives and stories of so many others involved in World War I.”

Sir James died in 1942. Today, a pulpit in his name stands in All Saints’. Like John’s window, it features carvings of native birds.

A life cut short
A life cut short
Voices of the First World War

Like a handful of men from privileged New Zealand families, John Allen was fortunate enough to attend the University of Cambridge to study law.

While there he took a leading part in politics and debating, and was President of the Union. A bright future back in New Zealand appeared assured.

After the declaration of war on war on July 28, 1914, John joined up promptly and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 13th Battalion of the Worcester Regiment.

He was sent to fight in the tragic Gallipoli campaign in Turkey’s Dardanelles.

During his time in Gallipoli John kept a diary in which he describes how soldiers of all ranks comforted their wounded and dying comrades, sometimes their mates, at other times complete strangers.

They offered what help they could, ranging from first aid and medicines to simple words of comfort as another lifeebbed away.

On May 25 1915, John recorded one such occasion in his diary, (next page).

Nine days later, whille leading his men near Krithhia, Cape Helles, on June 6, 1915, John was killed by enemy fire.

He was 28 years old.

The Sight Of Suffering: An Extract From John Allen’s Diary
The Sight Of Suffering: An Extract From John Allen’s Diary
Wikipedia

“Before I came here and fought in a war, I read casualty lists with sympathy but without intense emotion.

“But nothing can convey to you how dreadful is the sight of the suffering, badly wounded man – nothing can convey it to you.

I heard two short, surprised coughs, and saw a man bend and fall.

A friend darted to him, opened his tunic, and said to him: ‘You’re done, Ginger, you’re done; they’ve got you.’

This frankness really seemed the most appropriate and sincere thing.

They bandaged him up, with the lint every soldier carries inside his tunic; then, knowing evidently that I had a medicine chest with sedatives, he asked for me.

By a stroke of providence I was given a beautiful pocket-case with gelatine lamels of a number of drugs.

It cost twenty-seven shillings – and under present circumstances worth ten times the money.

By the light of the moon – useful for once – I read and tore off the perforated strip.

While I was with him he said some remarkable things. I had only known him a day or so, but spotted him at once as a first-rate soldier.

He said: ‘Shall I go to heaven or hell, sir?’ I said with perfect confidence:

‘To heaven.’ He said: ‘No, tell me as a man.’ I repeated what I had said.

He said: ‘At any rate I’ll say my prayers,’ and I heard him murmuring the common meal grace.

A little later he made up a quite beautiful prayer – ‘Oh God, be good and ease my pain – if only a little,’ and then: ‘I thought I knew what pain was.’

“All the while it was unbearable to see what he suffered.”

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