It was almost at this time of the day 97 years ago that the Anzac legend began. Private Walter Stagles of the 3rd Australian Battalion was there and described what happens as the first boats approached Gallipoli ... “It was pitch dark then all of a sudden the coast ... loomed up ... everything was so quiet. Then a single shot rang out and a yellowish light flared up in the sky, and from then on the Turks let loose, machine gun and rifle fire at the boats ... as soon as the boats grounded it was everyman for himself, it was out, do the best you could” [i]. And the rest is now part of our nation’s history.
This morning we not only remember the Anzacs at Gallipoli, but every conflict before and since in which Australian men and women have put their lives at risk in the defence of us, the Australian people and the Australian nation. Today we pause to remember, and to say thank you.
What is it that causes a young Australian man or women to join our armed forces, knowing that they might have to put their lives ‘on the line’? There are probably many answers to this question. We know that for many of the first Anzacs, there was the sense of adventure going off to fight overseas. These days, it could be about career, or lifestyle, or a sense of national duty. But whatever the reason, I know that at some point every soldier is confronted with the question of cost ... would they be prepared to die for their country? All too often though our history, the answer to this question has been ‘yes’. What is it that brings such a profound and absolute response? The answer isn’t found in a sense of adventure, or in seeking a good career. There is something deeper that happens for this sort of commitment to be made.
In the Christian Bible, the gospel of John, Jesus makes a statement that helps us understand a little better the commitment of our soldiers. “No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 NIV). Although Jesus was reflecting on his own sacrifice and what he was prepared to do for the salvation of the world, he does say something that applies to all of us – that the profound nature of sacrifice is associated with love.
I am not talking about the emotional nature of love here, but a determined love that lies deep within the heart and mind of a person and is the driving force for their actions. For our soldiers it may have been expressed in words such as - love for their country, or love for their families, or love of the freedom that is a hallmark of our nation. But it was powerful enough to lead so many to the supreme sacrifice. And I am not just talking about the past – in recent days we have once again seen this love expressed in the sacrifice of our soldiers in Afghanistan. To me it is a profound gift of love given to each of us, to every Australian. We can only stand in admiration, and say thank you.
Most of us here will not be called upon to express our love for our country in such a sacrificial way. But I believe that the challenge of our armed forces and particularly those who have paid the supreme sacrifice is that we all display our love for our country in practical and tangible ways. That we love each other in spite of our differences; that we love the poor and the marginalised and work towards their betterment; that we love the equality of our society and work to preserve the freedom that we enjoy.
Our freedom has been brought with a great price. Today we as a grateful nation say thank you to those who have paid this great price and to those who continue to place themselves in danger for us and our nation. For such love, we say thank you.
[i] Walter Stagles, quoted by Max Arthur in Forgotten Voices of the Great War, Ebury Press, Random House Publishing, United kingdom 2002, p.110