He was a World War One hero from Holy Trinity - a man of the cloth, the Reverend Donald Burns Blackwood
He went out from the trenches to comfort countrymen lying wounded, many fatally, on the bloodiest
battlefields of World War One. So how do we continue to remember - and honour - such a hero who put
his life on the line? Do we do it by closing the place he served so faithfully beyond the trenches?
For this was a man of the cloth, the Reverend Donald Burns Blackwood, sixth rector of Holy Trinity. His
was a long tenure - almost 18 years, from late 1924 to mid-1942. Add three years before World War One
when he was the assistant curate and it was a very long time in the cause of this church. And now his
church is at risk.
Donald Burns Blackwood was 31 when he left is wife Ida in Deloraine and went to war as a chaplain. The
records show he had the rank of captain, and was designated as a priest - rather than a clergyman - when
he sailed from Sydney on November 2, 1915. Was there some portent of the horrors to come in the name
of his ship, the Euripedes. For that was the name of the ancient Greek dramatist of tragedies.
The files of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra give a good indication of our chaplain's selfless
dedication to aiding his fellow man. Recognition of it came on September 20, 1917, when he was
recommended for Mention in Despatches while serving in France. Commanding officer of the 13th
Australian Infantry Brigade, Brigadier-General T. W. Glasgow, wrote that between late February-late
September Padre Blackwood's "constant devotion to duty and untiring energy" had marked his work.
"Always to the fore in Battle, with a cheery word for all, he has helped materially in furthering the work
of this Brigade. Although not physically robust, Padre Blackwood is always unflagging in his efforts,
often under the most adverse circumstances, to serve the interests of the men, and always sets an example
which is the admiration of all."
The chief of the 4th Australian Division, Major-General Sinclair MacLagan, thought so as well by
endorsing the recommendation.
But greater recognition was to follow for the man from Holy Trinity when he won the Military Cross the
next year, this during one of the pivotal battles of the war. It was during the famous Australian defence of
the village of Villers-Bretonneux, April 24 to 26. The citation recognised Donald Blackwood's "fearless
devotion to duty and conspicuous gallantry", but it also reflected the measure of the man. He could have
opted for a safer position. He didn't:
"Although his appointment as Senior Chaplain (C. of E.) to the Division permitted him to remain at
Casualty Clearing Stations during operations and minister to wounded and dying outside the shelled area,
this very gallant Chaplain was indefatigable in his efforts to comfort the wounded in the forward battle
zone, visiting Regimental Aid Posts of the several Battalions engaged.
"On the second day and night of the operations he was out with burial parties well in advance of
Headquarters of the front line Battalions, working throughout the night in dangerous and shelled areas.
"By his cheery presence amongst the unwounded but tired troops he did a lot towards keeping up their
spirits and morale, whilst his work amongst the wounded was invaluable."
That second day, the 25th, was exactly three years after the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli, and the
Australian defence of Villers-Bretonneux was a major turning point in the war. The Australians had been pulled out of Ypres and given the objective of defending Villers-Brettoneux. They failed on the first day -
they didn't on the second.
In the battles of the Somme, these efforts were rated the finest Australian feat of arms on the Western
Front. The Australian National War Memorial at Villers-Brettoneux has the names of 11,000 Australians
who had no known grave.
Back in the post-war service of his church, the Rev Blackwood became Canon in 1925, Archdeacon of
Hobart in 1929 and when he left Holy Trinity in 1942 it was to become Bishop of Gippsland. But the
Trinity parishioners never forgot the man who had shown such devotion to his church and country - and
that parish desire to perpetuate his memory is why Holy Trinity has the Blackwood Chapel.
The Legacy of Lucien Dechaineux
It is one of the most striking - and important - aspects of a church richly endowed with links to Hobart,
and beyond. It's Holy Trinity's superb War Memorial Window, the 1922 dedication in stained glass to
those of the parish who died for their country in World War One. And at 101, this was a large sacrifice of
lives from the one Tasmanian parish.
The window's design, conveying as it does so poignantly and graphically the battlefield scene, to care of
the wounded, a scene at home on news of the sacrifice, to a depiction above of Christ and the angels, and
the Dove of Peace ascendant, draws one in. It leaves the viewer to wonder: "What inspiration created this
The designer was a (probably the) leading figure in that Hobart art era, Lucien Dechaineux, at the time
principal of the Hobart Technical College. Of his Holy Trinity tribute, the Mercury of the day observed:
"The whole conception is most beautiful and original, and impressions are left which would scarcely be
conveyed by a more conventional design."
Lucien Dechaineux, European-born art educationist - full name, Florent Vincent Emile Lucien
Dechaineux. Or just "Dishy" as many knew him. Born 1869 (in Liege, Belgium), died 1957 (in Hobart).
And in between an achievement in art for which Tasmanians owe a perpetual debt of gratitude. Gaze at
the Holy Trinity War Memorial Window and you will start to understand why.
The Dechaineux family's Tasmanian story is a fascinating one - of parents arriving with their 15-year-old
son in 1884, to discover they had invested in a worthless citrus orchard and a salted gold-mine! Of a
young Lucien going to Sydney to study art, eventually marrying a Tasmanian girl, becoming an instructor
in technical art at Launceston Technical School, and in 1907 both the principal and lecturer in art at
Hobart Tech. This was a double responsibility he was to handle for the next 33 years.
As an article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography notes:
"The arrival of a dedicated artist with enthusiasm in instructing others could not fail to have a major
impact on art and culture generally. It was said that with him every day . . .was an inspiration; he was not
an easy taskmaster; nothing second-rate was good enough; his credo was 'always aim at the highest'."
From water colours to oils, sculpting to etching, a dedicated artist. And teacher. But more than that - a
lover of Tasmania's great outdoors, as a dedicated bushwalker, and organiser of large summer camping
parties for artists on Tasmania's East Coast.
And a lover of literature and debating who after his retirement established a book club in Hobart's Collins
Street - in a large rented room which fulfilled the role of a salon where young artists and friends took their
work, to be scrutinized by an expert eye.
Holy Trinity Church has its fine memorial to the war dead. But the window also serves as a lasting
memorial to the achievements of Florent Vincent Emile Lucien Dechaineux.
A jubilee recalled
"The diamond jubilee of a church in a State so young as Tasmania is an occasion which calls for special
notice and some account of its surroundings."
So began an article in the Tasmanian Mail of September 4, 1909, and it provides another excellent insight
into the past days of Holy Trinity. The article was sent to the Holy Trinity Support Group by Huonville
man of books Tony Bentley ("Bentley for Books"), another supporter who has responded to the cause of
helping save Holy Trinity. He has original material on the early authorship for the church by F. P.
Bowden and M. I. Crawford in the mid-1930s.
The Diamond Jubilee report adds an extra dimension to the story because it records that the rector of the
time, Canon G. W. Shoobridge, had "with much care", compiled an interesting history of the church.
Canon Shoobridge traced the Trinity history from the first church to today's, and in it indicated a "what
might have been" bigger role for Holy Trinity.
Here are the relevant extracts on this from the Tasmanian Mail:
"The registers of Trinity parish begin with the date 1833, which indicates the formation of a distinct
parish in that year . . . up to 1833 St David's had been the only English church in Hobart Town, as the
capital was then called. St George's, Sandy Bay, was built shortly before the present Trinity Church.
"The Rev Philip Palmer, M.A., was the first clergyman appointed to Trinity parish, and he took charge in
1833, having previously for a short time been chaplain of New Town. He was also the first rural dean, the
whole colony being his first rural deanery, and forming part of the Archdeaconry of New South Wales,
under Archdeacon Broughton, who was, in 1836, consecrated Bishop of Australia.
"Up to that date, Australia, including Van Diemen's Land, formed part of the diocese of Calcutta, and it is
said that Bishop Heber contemplated a visit to this distant part of his diocese, but his sudden death
prevented him carrying out his intention.
"The first Archdeacon of Tasmania, the venerable William Hutchins, was appointed in 1836, and died in
"Archdeacon Hutchins, as well as Mr Palmer, very earnestly promoted the building of the present Holy
Trinity Church, but the Archdeacon died a few months before the foundation-stone was laid. It is said that
his death suggested the creation of Tasmania into a diocese.
"At any rate, the first Bishop of Tasmania was appointed shortly afterwards, in 1842. Perhaps it was the
building of the church at that time which gave rise to the often repeated rumour that it was intended to
make the new church the cathedral of the diocese.
"The fact that the arms of the See, impaled with Bishop Nixon's, are carved in stone over the porch on the
western side of the church may possibly have had something to do with the rumour."
What might have been . . . .