Anzac Day 2014: Dawn Service commemorative address

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Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG

Fellow Australians, as we stand together on this hallowed ground in the cold and dark of another Anzac Day dawning, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride. Pride in what we have accomplished as a nation with great due to the sacrifice of so many, and so evident around us in the memorials of our past wars and conflicts. Looking out from our national memorial towering behind me are the faces of our most recent heroes. Men who like their forefathers believed that our safety, our freedom, and our way of life were worth all and more than their own suffering and loss. Proud, willing, capable Australians who did what needed to be done.

The young men who first fought under the Anzac banner on 25 April 1915 had no grasp, nor warning, of the intense and deadly combat that awaited them on Gallipoli’s shores, the fatigue, despair and hardship they would endure through the campaign, or the injuries and plagued memories they would carry home with them into their futures. Yet they banded together and they fought; they fought with a spontaneous, fearless, almost instinctive tenacity and grit that would come to define the Anzac spirit. An expression that touches our hearts, inspires our passion, focuses our purpose, strengthens our resolve and, better than anything else, encapsulates the very essence of our national culture and makeup.

Whilst the Anzac spirit may have first risen in troops on the battlefield, it is indeed a life force that resides in all Australians. We saw it shine through the black and desperate days of the bushfires earlier this year when volunteer fire-fighters rallied from all over the country and whole communities mobilised to look out for one another, to do what had to be done to save lives, homes, and livelihoods. Those who lost everything expressed the same spirit in their determination to start afresh. And we’ve seen it again, only this month, in the aftermath of Cyclone Ita. It is our constant and our preserve.

Since that day in 1915, each generation of Australians has had cause to step up for service in conflict, peacekeeping, community rebuilding, and nation-making missions. The men and women of the Australian military have on every occasion served with distinction alongside our allies. For my generation, military conflict rarely has a clearly defined front or enemy, nor is it contained within a single country or continent. The War on Terrorism is a war against our beliefs, waged by widespread agents of radical ideologies who seek to incite fear and uncertainty in our societies with the aim, ultimately, to suppress and destroy.

The Afghanistan campaign has lasted 11 years. It has been Australia’s longest war. We have, with our allies, applied our significant skills and efforts to draining the perpetrators’ manpower, resources and funding, forcing them to focus on their own survival rather than exporting their beliefs by force against us and nations like us. Our servicemen and women, like those who’ve come before them, have stepped up to this task, and done what has needed to be done. Of course, this is their job, but unlike most jobs, there is, day in, day out, disproportionate risk and sacrifice, only matched by their preparedness to shoulder both.

These are essential stripes to the Anzac spirit. The Roll of Honour in this place bears the names of the recently fallen, along with those of over 100,000 Australians who have died before them for this nation we share, love and work to protect and nurture. We are forever in their debt. We will always remember them. In their passing, they acquire a timelessness, a constancy that guides and reassures us through changing times.

And then there are our wounded. Their sacrifice is different but no less. Their bodies and lives having altered immeasurably, they must nonetheless live on and rebuild themselves through changing times. There is no timelessness and constancy for the wounded; rather, a daily call on them and their families to face and overcome formidable challenges.

It is a profoundly sad reality that our wounded tend to be forgotten, though they have always vastly outnumbered our dead. There were over 155,000 wounded in the First World War alone. The war in Afghanistan may be coming to an end, but for those who were wounded there, it will never end. The physical scars inflicted will remain their curse and inspiration for life; the other, deeper, more complex, more insidious scars to hearts and minds will wreak havoc and pain over lifetimes. Everything we understand to be the Anzac spirit is what these people dig deep and long for every day. Courage, stoicism, humour, laughter, warmth, generosity and a determination never to give in or to be a burden on others.

The Anzac spirit, and the values it demonstrates, remain our common bedrock, creed, and source of hope and confidence through difficult and uncertain times, in our world and our communities. Times that would be wholly unrecognisable to our original Anzacs.

This is the core of its meaning to me. With dawn on the break, here at the Australian War Memorial, Anzac Day 2014, as we commemorate one of our greatest defining events as a people and nation, I ask each of you, all of us, to ponder and embrace your own special sense of the Anzac spirit.

We are Australians. We are born of the Anzacs. We are the custodians and stewards of their spirit, now and into our future. We must take good care of it.

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