Friday, 11 November 2011

It is a pleasure to be here to join you for this Remembrance Day Service and I congratulate the RSL sub-branch and all involved for its organisation. 

Today we commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the signing of the Armistice in 1918 which brought a temporary peace to the world after four years of savage conflict. 

The story of World War 1 is one of almost unimaginable horror and savagery. It began long columns of smiling soldiers heading off to the front, splendidly fitted out in dress uniforms, some with flowers protruding from the muzzles of their rifles.  Most expected it to be over quickly. Most expected they would shortly return home, their chests gleaming with shiny new medals.

Instead the war lasted four years. With neither side able to gain a decisive advantage, the conflict bogged down into a wretched stalemate of trench warfare where success was measured in hundreds of yards. Men lived in miserable subterranean holes scratched into the side of hundreds of miles of muddy trenches, emerging to contest a brutal war of attrition containing little glory but inflicting death, pain and destruction on a previously unimaginable scale.

World War I marked the beginning of an era where technology made killing people easy. Hundreds of thousands were killed by machine guns, barbed wire, poison gas and sophisticated new artillery. 

OF the more than 65 million men mobilised by all nations involved in World War 1, more than seven and a half million of them were killed. 21 million were wounded. Of the total force mobilised by all nations, the average casualty rate was 56 per cent.

Proportionally, Australia paid the highest sacrifice of any nation in the war. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 Australian men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner, including the young men whose names grace the memorial behind me.  

The impact on our small nation was profound, not least because we lost so much of the future talent of our country. Current and future leaders in their fields – artists, scientists, farmers and sportsmen - beloved children and fathers….enlisted and marched straight to their deaths.

And yet, from conflict prosecuted in the pursuit of a righteous cause, some good does come.

Besides the protection of our fundamental freedom, servicemen and women are bonded together in an enduring sense of mateship, a sense of doing the right thing; in a sense that no matter the deprivations, your mates will not let you down, nor you them.

This is what we now term the ANZAC spirit.

Our children are now almost 100 years removed from the onset of WWI, 66 years from the end of WWII, and a generation or more away from the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam and it is very difficult for them to comprehend what our service men and women went through. In fact it is very difficult for anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves, to comprehend what it must be like. But that is no excuse to dismiss or to forget. 

I would encourage the children here today and indeed every Australian, to remember and thank those who left the comfort and security of their homes in exchange for the daily risk of a brutal death; who left the warm embrace of their wives, children, friends and other loved ones in exchange for the blind indifference of bullets and barbed wire.

Ladies and gentlemen, the memories of our veterans, and those who made the greatest sacrifice should live on forever in our hearts and minds. If we can live by the values they fought for, and died by, we will have nothing to fear.

Lest we forget. 

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