Anzac Day 2011: National Ceremony commemorative address

4 mins read
Mr Les Carlyon AC

Ministers,Excellencies,Veterans,Distinguished guests,Ladies and Gentlemen.

Pompey Elliott, a solicitor turned soldier, in 1915 found himself at a charnel house called Lone Pine.

There, high on a hill on Gallipoli, Elliott’s men won four Victoria Crosses in a day.

Months afterwards Elliott wrote home and told a colleague some of what had happened there.

‘When anyone speaks to you of the glory of war,’ he wrote, ‘picture to yourself a narrow line of trenches two and sometimes three deep with bodies mangled and torn beyond description by the bombs ...

‘Live among this for days ... This is war and such is glory – whatever the novelists may say.’

End of quote.

This is war and such is glory ...   This morning’s ceremony is not about the glory of war.

Neither is it about triumphalism.   It can’t be.   Gallipoli, the wellspring of this day, was no military triumph, even if it endures as a triumph of the spirit.

And neither is Anzac Day about standing armies.   The names of the dead, more than one hundred thousand of them, on the cloisters behind me are overwhelmingly those of citizen soldiers.

They are predominately the names of volunteers, men and women drawn to a cause rather than a career, people that Steve Gower, the Director of this memorial, has called ‘ordinary, decent Australians’.   

And neither is Anzac Day our national day ... it only seems like it.

Anzac Day, this ceremony, is first of all about remembering.

Remembering those ordinary, decent Australians.

Remembering the debt we owe to the generations that came before us, people who did things so extraordinary that they test our powers to imagine.

Today is about remembering our war dead ... those tens of thousands of Australians who lie in foreign fields -- on the pretty downlands above the Somme, in the deserts of Libya, in an olive grove on Crete, in the heavy clay of Flanders.

Every grave represents someone’s son or uncle or father or husband.   Every grave represents sacrifice in perhaps its saddest form, the death of the dreams of youth.

And today is about remembering our bond with New Zealand, because there can be no talk of Anzac, there can be no notion of an ‘Anzac spirit’, without New Zealand.   The New Zealanders were alongside us at Gallipoli, and in France and Belgium, just as they were alongside us again at Kapyong in Korea.   Today is a good time to remember that the values we share with New Zealand are profoundly stronger than any trifling differences we might have about rugby or racehorses.

Today is about remembering places, the names of which are heavy with meaning for Australians.

Places such as Lone Pine and Pozieres and Passchendaele ...

Kokoda and Tobruk and Singapore ...

Maryang San and Long Tan ...

And other places ... so many of them.

And we remember people.   We remember the sixty thousand dead from World War I.

We remember the eight thousand who died as prisoners of war in World War II.   We remember the thousands of Australians who died in the skies over Europe ... and the three hundred lost in Korea ... and the five hundred who died in Vietnam.   

Today we also remember -- strange as this might seem to outsiders -- the Turks we fought at Gallipoli.   It is almost unprecedented that two countries that discovered each other so violently should become friends -- mutual admirers, if you like – but this has happened, and it’s a thing of wonder.  

Charles Bean devoted his life to recording the deeds of the men of the first AIF.   He wrote of this shrine behind me: ‘Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved ...’

So today we remember that spirit.   Which means we remember bravery and stoicism, mateship and the dry wit of adversity ... we remember the democratic temper that was unique to the Australian forces ... we remember the ideal that goes by the name of duty ... and we remember a quality that Charles Bean called great-heartedness.

By coming here this morning, by standing quietly and reflecting, we are saying that we have not forgotten and will not forget.  

Today we remember them all -- and with fondness ... because they are ours.

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