Order of Australia Service

10 mins read

Address given by Mr Matt Anderson PSM, Director, Australian War Memorial

This year’s Australia Day Honours List recognised 1040 Australians.

The list includes:

  • 732 recipients of awards in the General Division and
  • 30 recipients of awards in the Military Division of the Order of Australia
  • 197 Meritorious awards  
  • 81 Distinguished and Conspicuous awards
  • 58 Australians recognised for their contribution in support of Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All recognised, and rightly, for their service.

For Eminent service ranging from ground breaking scientific research and mentoring, to community service in areas as diverse as a Holocaust Museum, Indigenous Communities, education, health and for our veterans.

For service.

I was honoured when Mike Crane asked me to speak to the notion of service as commemorated at the Australian War Memorial.

Mike, as you know from your own service, that’s a pretty broad brush.

At the Australian War Memorial we commemorate the service of the more than two million women and men who have worn this nation’s uniform, and the nearly 103,000 who have paid the highest price and are recorded on the Roll of Honour. 

The Commemorative Roll includes a further 3242 Australians who died during or as a result of wars in which Australians served, but who were not serving in the Australian Armed Forces.  

This includes those Australians who died while members of Allied Forces, the Merchant Navy, philanthropic organisations attached to the forces, or as war correspondents or photographers.

And at the Australian War Memorial, every evening we conduct a Last Post Ceremony to tell the stories of just one of those who have served, suffered and died.  

At the current rate, it will take nearly 300 years. And God willing, we won’t add any more names to our Roll of Honour.

At the Ceremony we acknowledge those who have served, those still serving, and the families that love and support them – arguably the most important – and often the most difficult – service of all.

For service.

We reflect on Service a lot.

The Memorial has over 800,000 objects telling these stories. They range in size from a Lancaster Bomber to the Bridge of HMAS Brisbane; she saw action in both Vietnam and the Gulf War. A battle damaged Bushmaster from Uruzgan to a Perth/Albany (Return) railway ticket recovered from the pocket of an Australian at Pheasant Wood, about 90 years after he fell at Fromelles.

We also have over four million photographs, and 7,000 hours of film.

Each tells a story of service or sacrifice.

I often ask my staff ‘what’s your favourite item in the collection?’

A bit unfair really, like asking them to choose their favourite child.

One of mine – note I said one – is a small crucifix of Lieutenant Harold Bott, a railway porter from Armidale, who served with 4 Division Artillery.

Harry was born n 1895 and enlisted on 28 August 1915.

In 1917 he and some of his men were billeted in a French chateau owned by an elderly couple who became very fond of him.

When he received orders to move back to the Front, they asked him to accompany them to the local church where they had arranged for the priest to bless a crucifix they had brought with them.

It was placed around Bott's neck and he was told that while he continued to wear it no harm would come to him.

Lt Bott was later wounded and affected badly by mustard gas.

After being transported to a casualty clearing station he was pronounced dead on arrival and taken to the morgue.

Much later, an orderly passing between the bodies stopped to look at the crucifix.

He saw Bott's eyelid's flicker.

Bott was returned to the hospital and was later sent to England for further hospitalisation and convalescence before being sent home.

During the Second World War he served as a captain with 15 Light Horse Regiment at Grafton and later, after the regiment became mechanised, with the 15 Motor Regiment.

He finally served as the adjutant at the Sydney Showground. He died in 1972.

We rightly commemorate the service of Harold Bott, but know nothing of the Orderly who rendered that service.

The Orderly whose attentiveness and devotion to duty saved Bott’s life and brought into being the life and lives that followed.

Today, without knowing his name – or indeed the French family’s name - we nevertheless give thanks for that service.

In the past week or so, I’ve spoken at a thanksgiving service for nurses and midwifes, and for the Salvation Army – the Sallyman - at the Launch of their Annual Red Shield Appeal.

When acknowledging the services of our nurses and midwifes, it is impossible not to reflect on the events of 80 years ago; the fall of Singapore, the sinking of the Vyner Brooke, the massacres of Banka Island and those who were interned subsequently as Prisoners of War.

Some of those killed, such as Sister Florence Casson, are remembered by memorial plaques in their hometowns.  Some, such as Sister Annie Trenerry drifted away in their life raft and were never seen again.

The stories of these men, women and children are diverse and rich and must not be reduced to a single event. 

The sole survivor of the Banka Island Massacres; Vivian Bullwinkel lived a full life.

Bullwinkel retired from the army in 1947 and became Director of Nursing at Melbourne's Fairfield Hospital.

She devoted herself to the nursing profession and to honouring those killed on Banka Island, raising funds for a nurses' memorial and serving on numerous committees, including as President of the Australian College of Nursing.

She also served on the Council of the Australian War Memorial – the first woman to do so - and the way in which she chose to commemorate her fellow nurses was to ensure their stories were told and would continue to be told. 

That we would learn from, and honour their service.

And next week, I will speak at the annual Sandakan commemoration to remember what remains the single greatest atrocity committed against Australians in war.

An atrocity that deprived 2,500 Australian and British men the central tenets of humanity.

Sent to Sandakan on Borneo’s north east coast in 1942, only six men – all Australians – survived. And while their survival speaks to their fortitude and tenacity, it was not without grave and indelible personal consequences.

Prisoners of war will tell you they did not serve; all they did was survive.

But of course what they did was set an example of service to each other beyond our imagining – one in which no man died alone.

For service

But back to Mike’s exam question and how we commemorate service at the Australian War Memorial, the Founder of the Memorial was Charles Bean.

Originally the official war correspondent he would later be appointed the official historian.

Bean landed with the Australians at Gallipoli on the 25th of April.

He stayed with them at the front, through the entire war, refused evacuation when he was wounded and then over 23 years would write and edit the 12 volume official history of the First World War.

And we he sought to sum it all up – Gallipoli to Pozieres, Beersheeba to Le Hamel and Mont St Quentin, he wrote:

 "What these men did nothing can alter now. The good and the bad, the greatness and smallness of their story will stand … It rises, as it always will rise, above the mists of ages, a monument to great-hearted men; and, for their nation, a possession forever."

He would later distil this service even further as he and the very first Director of the Australian War Memorial, and Gallipoli veteran, John Treloar sought to make sense of it.

“What,” they asked each other “are the values, the virtues we saw in these men and women we regard as being essential. Not just for in victory in battle but for depth and breadth of character.”

What had we learned from their service?

Those values now feature in the 15 stained glass windows – portraits of 14 men and a woman from the First World War - standing sentinel over the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier

They were designed by Napier Waller – an artist before the war, who lost his right arm in the battle of Bullecourt – and who taught himself to paint with his left arm, saying ‘an artist paints with his head, not with his hand’.

Those fifteen lessons of service portrayed in these men and women:

Resource, to find strength from within.

Candour, to be open and honest to those you lead and to those you serve.

Under the nurse facing directly down Anzac Parade to the Parliament, devotion. To give yourself, without reservation, to the people and the cause on which you are embarked.

Curiosity and Independence, always ask questions and don’t be afraid to go your own way.

Comradeship, no man is an island.

Ancestry, be proud of where you’ve come from and those who have backed you to succeed.

Patriotism, chivalry, we are or should be servants to a greater cause and do what’s right, not what’s popular.

Loyalty, coolness and control, stay true to your beliefs and to those you serve, know when to – and when not to – speak out and to act.

Audacity, nothing in your life will be achieved of value without taking a risk.

Endurance, you never give up.

And decision, make a decision and be responsible for the consequences. As Kerry Stokes, our former Chair of the Australian War Memorial Council once told me, in his experience, when faced with a decision, the harder of two courses is, almost always, the right one.

When I’m with the young men and women about to graduate from the Royal Military College or the Australian Defence Force Academy, I ask them to make a choice.

To choose just one value from the Hall of Memory – and make it their compass heading for the remainder of their career.

Should they do so, the women and men of the Australian Defence Force will be well led.

But Mike also asked me to reflect on service beyond the Australia Defence Force.

The Imperial George Cross and the Australian Cross of Valour are our nation’s highest former and current awards for bravery outside combat.

The George Cross was instituted by King George VI in wartime Britain during the Blitz. So moved was the King by the courage and sacrifice shown by civilian and uniformed alike that he created the George Cross to sit beside its military counterpart, the Victoria Cross.

One of my early honours as Director was to launch a book, For Gallantry, which contains the profiles of Australians from all walks of life, who have been recognised for actions of outstanding physical and moral courage.

Among them: a tram conductor who sacrificed his life to warn others as his tram hurtled out of control; a Chief Petty Officer who remained with his trapped young seamen,  giving them comfort even as their ship sank to the sea floor; a farmer who used his body to earth a high voltage current to save the life of a young child; a geologist and a police constable who braved the terrible aftermath of terrorist bombings to help the injured and dying; prisoners of war who died rather than betray their ideals; a dental student who went to the aid of a swimmer during a frenzied shark attack.

These are all stories that demonstrate that Australians do not need to go to war to display astonishing acts of bravery.

As so many of you here today remind me, you don’t need to wear a uniform to serve.

The mission of the Australian War Memorial is to lead remembrance and understanding of Australia’s wartime experience.

We carry on the work of those like Vivian Bullwinkel. 

Every night at the Last Post Ceremony, we take time from our busy lives to honour our fallen, and to remind ourselves we are richer for the example of all who have put service before self. 

We acknowledge that they gave their lives for us, for our freedoms and in the hope of a better world.

We do not glorify war. Indeed, when the Governor General, Lord Gowrie, VC, opened the Memorial on Remembrance Day 1941, he said the challenge – which remains to this day – was to ensure that when people leave the War Memorial, they must utter never again’.

We will always seek to know more, to not turn away from what is difficult to hear or see. 

Each night, we tell a single story not only of how they died, but who they were when they lived. 

When we remember them as you have allowed me to do today, when we speak their names and tell their stories, we declare they did not die in vain. 

That is the mission of the Australian War Memorial.

I’ll conclude, as I must, with Charles Bean.

‘Here is their Spirit, in the heart of the land they loved, and here we guard the record, which they themselves have made.’

And that is my service.

I thank you and honour you, as Members of the Order of Australia Association, for yours.

Lest We Forget

Last updated: