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Fr Mark Sexton with his 1979 Australian Army slouch hat (The Southern Cross/Ben Macmahon)

When the opening credits roll on the 1981 Australian war drama Gallipoli, Adelaide priest Fr Mark Sexton is reminded of his time in the Australian Army. Source: The Southern Cross.

He enlisted in 1976, after completing school at St Ignatius’ College in Adelaide.

“I was in what was known then as the Royal Military College, Duntroon,” Fr Mark said.

“I had three years at RMC before they discharged me and I joined the Army Reserve and was commissioned as a lieutenant in December 1982. I remained there until the beginning of 1996 when I went to the seminary to train as a priest.”

In an unexpected twist, Fr Mark’s time in the military led him to the big screen.

When director Peter Weir began work on filming Gallipoli, Fr Mark was one of the defence force crew who were enlisted as an extra.

“They needed people who could teach the cast the ins and outs of a firing squadron,” Fr Sexton said.

“Much of the battalion served as extras. Those of us who had served moved differently to the ones who hadn’t. The first thing we’d do when we picked up a weapon was to check to make sure it was empty. Normal actors certainly didn’t do that.”

Fr Sexton was just 22 at the time and was in good company. Among the lead actors were Mel Gibson, Mark Lee and Bill Kerr. The film tells the story of two Australian sprinters and mates who are sent to fight in the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey during World War I.

Filming took place across Australia and Egypt. The setting for Anzac Cove was Coffin Bay, South Australia. Look closely and you’ll spot Fr Sexton in three scenes throughout the flick.

With 18 years as an army chaplain, he is currently the longest serving “padre” in the state.


Gone but not forgotten on Anzac Day (By Katie Spain, The Southern Cross