by Joshua Gibbon
A 90-year-old Australian woman sinks to her hands and knees at the foot of a gravesite outside the small town of Templeux-Le-Guerard in France.
A contingent of military personnel and family members stand around her. As The Last Post sounds from a bugle, she leans forward, wraps her arms around the headstone and embraces it. As she holds on, the emotion in the silence of the small crowd is palpable, and every eye fills with tears.
Moments earlier, this woman delivered a short eulogy, recalling brief stories of her grandfather, Tommy, who went to war in France before she was born. He never returned, leaving her grandmother and mother behind. Today, thanks to the tireless work of military investigators, this woman can close a family chapter left open for over 100 years – where Grandfather Tommy was laid to rest when he fought for Australia in World War I.
Frank Langford, a Churches of Christ defence force chaplain, delivered this service. Having spoken with the family beforehand, he discovered Thomas Cohen had been a man of faith. Speaking to this, Frank had the opportunity to share about God’s presence with Thomas on the battlefield as he laid down his life for his country.
Last year, Frank was sent to Europe with a small contingent of military personnel to acknowledge the identities of 20 formally ‘unknown’ soldiers with headstone and recommitment ceremonies, and to inter the remains of an unidentified ‘unknown’ Australian soldier believed to have been killed during the battle of Menin Road in Belgium in 1917. Frank had the honour and responsibility of delivering memorial services for each soldier, which took the best part of six weeks in France and Belgium.
For Frank, this ministry was profoundly significant.
“I talked about the presence of God in the trenches and prayed hoping His comfort and His peace was able to empower them to do their job. Because without doubt, even though they would have been scared, they did their jobs mightily and faithfully.”
Being partly of Aboriginal descent on his father’s side, one of Frank’s greatest honours was to play the didgeridoo for the services of two Aboriginal soldiers. They were brothers, found 100 miles from each other, so a traditional ‘soil swap’ was performed to unite Charles and Christopher Gage again.
Opportunities like these are just one reason Frank says being an army chaplain has given him a new lease of passion in his ministry.
To read more about Frank’s story and why he believes defence force chaplaincy is one of the most exciting places to be a minister, head here.
Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE