I was privileged to deliver the address at the Logan Village Dawn Service in 2010. This is a transcript of that address.
We meet here, at this bleak hour, on this day every year, to honour the heroism, tenacity, and resilience of that group of young men whose units were sent to Gallipoli. We honour especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and did not return home to their families. We also choose at this moment to remember those brave men and women who fought elsewhere and in other wars under the Australian flag – a flag that has been flown in the far corners of the world and had Australian blood spilt under its proud colours in order to protect freedom.
We all mark this day in our individual ways – some have personal memories and scars of combat or the hurt of a fallen spouse, father, son, brother or sister. Some have stories from grandparents or from uncles they never met; some choose to remember quietly; some choose to use this day to pray for souls faithfully departed; some choose to celebrate freedom, secured with sacrifice. Some are new to this nation and simply thankful for its opportunities. But however we individually mark Anzac Day, the public ceremony surrounding Anzac Day is the key. For it is through local dawn services held around the country – just like the one we are now attending– and through larger parades and events, that Australians collectively remember the sacrifices this nation has made in conflict.
And there have been immense sacrifices. Let us consider, then, the sacrifice made by Australians on the western front in World War One. From a nation of about 5 million, 5 divisions were sent to fight in France and Belgium. What does that mean to us today? It means that if Afghanistan was of a similar magnitude to the war in France, about one in four men between the ages of 14 and 40 would deploy. Even more would be in uniform. Happily, this is not the case.
Think also of the sacrifices made by the wives, mothers and children of those left behind in Australia. Of those 300 000 odd diggers sent overseas, one in five did not return. Over half the rest were wounded, many to be maimed for life. Statistically, if there was not someone mourning over a lost son or worrying over a husband’s injuries in your house, there was in the house to the left or right, or to the front or rear. Again, happily this is not the case today.
Was this sacrifice worth it? On the surface, when one remembers the mud of Flanders and the names of fading empires, perhaps not. But when you delve into the history, the answer is yes. In World War One the threat from Germany was real. Not just to the British Empire, but to Australian interests. The first Australian casualties were taken fighting German forces in New Guinea. A German victory in Europe would have had major ramifications for Australia’s own backyard.
Perhaps more significantly, when the German Army appeared to break the Allied defensive line in early 1918, Australian forces were thrown into the breach and won the largest and most important military victories in our history. But there is an even greater reason than this. Australians signed up in their thousands because they believed our society stood for something – mateship, civilisation and freedom. And this has shone through in our culture ever since – we value our freedom, and our military campaigns have demonstrated that we believe that this is worth shedding blood to preserve.
I can personally vouch for that, having served in Iraq on three occasions. On each deployment the freedom for the local and national community had improved, not just from a nightmare of temporary chaos, but in profound ways from the Saddam era and in the simple, everyday things that count. Water, electricity, schools, businesses and restaurants. And now Iraq is the leading democracy in the Middle East. There will probably be bumps ahead, but Iraq’s future is brighter than could have ever been imagined five years ago, and it will be a catalyst for positive change in the Middle East for generations. And it is not just me saying this – listen to the Iraqi people themselves. The Australian nation can be proud of its contribution to Iraq.
So, on this Anzac Day, as we remember the sacrifices of generations past and pray for souls departed, let us also ponder on how we can ensure Australia retains that youthful and idealistic spark that is vital if good is to be recognized and defended. For, if as a nation we are not prepared to sacrifice again for our beliefs, then the Anzacs’ efforts have been in vain and those beliefs are empty.
Let us also remember our servicemen and women on operations in Iraq and East Timor, Solomon Islands and Sudan. Let us think of those especially in Afghanistan where the threat is real, unknown and constant and which has, regrettably, resulted in new families with scars suffered in the fight for freedom against an enemy network which has killed Australians closer to home and plotted attacks on our soil.