Dawn Service address 2015
We see them now, our servicemen and women of the war to end all wars, through a photographic lens that is tinged in sepia; faces seen stern, or laughing with mates, in black and white; shown moving in the film of the day in somewhat stilted motion.
It shapes our thinking.
Their letters and their diary entries, in copperplate handwriting and more formal in expression than our modern idiom, adds a layer to the sense that they were somehow different; that their world, their hopes, their aspirations and fears are removed from ours by more than just the passage of 100 years. They are a generation seemingly set apart.
And at one level they are.
When the fighting finally stopped and they returned from France, from Palestine, from service abroad back to Australia, the land of their birth or where they now called home, so much had changed - family, friends, community but most of all themselves. Our New Zealand brothers and sisters in arms experienced the same.
The certainties and adventure of 1914 had been washed away in waves of loss and failed hope, now replaced by the strangeness of a world if not at peace, then one, at least, no longer at war.
Children met for the first time; partners and parents rediscovered; mates mourned over and remembered, and so much had changed. They were, through fate and bloody circumstance ANZACs by name but more essentially men and women changed forever by war.
And for those who had crossed a foreign shore one hundred years ago this morning - under fire, amidst the terrible new sounds and sights of battle, of dying, of calls for courage and for duty done, who had improbably survived to see their world made new, what must they have felt on their return?
The long journey from Gallipoli to the breaking of the German line in November 1918, marked by failure and success, loss and life long mateship had left its indelible mark on them and their country.
If war is a sin against humanity, as some would hold, then war itself is punishment for that sin, compounded by its endless repetition and its hold on those who have experienced its terrors. Such was the mark many brought home to their families who continued, as so many families have and still do, to live daily with the indelible memories of those who had fought and who cannot let go.
But at another level there is little that separates them from we who gather to remember. Like us, they were men and women of their time - responding to their events in their world in the context of the society and families in which they lived. Like us, they dreamed of something better; they loved and were loved in return; were prepared to fight for their beliefs; were, like us, prey to fears and human despair.
It makes their sacrifice, and their capacity to endure, real despite the passage of time. It gives colour to those shades of black and white.
As a serving soldier there is a long line of servicemen and women that connects me to those who stormed ashore 100 years ago. That line is formed by names such as Villers-Bretonneux, Tobruk, El Alamein, Kokoda, Kapyong, Long Tan, Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is made whole by the names on the roll of honour of our War Memorial - over 100 000 of our fellow citizens who in the ultimate act put service before self in our Nation’s name.
And there is a line, too, that connects all of us to those who lived in this country 100 years ago. It is formed by the lives and hopes of millions of Australians who have lived since then. It is given physical substance in the architecture of our cities and the agricultural endeavours of our pioneers. It is a line made more whole by our recognition of the first people of this land and our sorrow for their treatment. It is a line given colour and vibrancy by our cultural richness and diversity, drawn as it is from migrants from all corners of our world. It is a line rooted in our freedom of expression and of belief, and the affirmation of our democratic nation state.
That is why we remember them - the first ANZACs and all of those who have followed. They left us that legacy and we, in turn, commemorate their sacrifice when we ask what legacy we shall leave for those who follow us.
We have not forgotten and we are defined, at least in part, by that act of remembrance. It makes us who we are and reminds us, in the face of an unknown future, who we can be – courageous and compassionate, resolute and resilient, - a people of our own time, reaching back one hundred years with pride and solemnity, looking forward with a sense of purpose to a better world.