For Gallantry Book launch speech

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Matt Anderson, Director of the Australian War Memorial

26 November 2020

Good morning and welcome to the Australian War Memorial.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we gather today, and pay my respects to elders past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge as already mentioned by our MC, all the special guests with us today.

As Director of the Australian War Memorial, on behalf of the Council and staff, I am honoured to welcome you here today for the launch of For Gallantry: Australians awarded the George Cross and the Cross of Valour.

Two years ago For Valour: Australians awarded the Victoria Cross, was launched at the Memorial. Today it is fitting that its companion volume is also launched here – a place dedicated to the ideals of selflessness.

For Gallantry was an idea 57 years in its making. Historian Lionel Wigmore, writing in They Dared Mightily in 1963, remarked of the actions of Victoria Cross and George Cross holders that it could be difficult at times to decide where the border lies between the two.

They Dared Mightily, and subsequent editions, featured a number of George Cross recipients as secondary chapters to the main theme of the Victoria Cross. The Cross of Valour featured minimally in later editions.  

With Wigmore’s comment in mind, Australian War Memorial staff, curator Craig Blanch and historian Dr Aaron Pegram, conceived the idea that their book For Valour would be the first step in commemorating the holders of these prestigious non-military awards.

Two years later, For Gallantry ensures that their idea has become a reality and is now completed as standalone volume for the first time. It describes bravery in forms far removed from battle, but with the common threads of selflessness and courage.

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.

The Cross of Valour was created as its Australian equivalent in 1975 when our home-grown honours and awards system was established.

For Gallantry 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 naval 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.

I wish to sincerely thank Richard Rolfe AM, vice patron of the Cross of Valour Association of Australia and his wife Deborah Rolfe AM, both generous supporters of the Australian War Memorial. We thank Richard for his financial support which has enabled this book to be published, and for his ongoing support of our national heroes. 

Author Craig Blanch brought a wealth of experience to the task. Craig was co-author of For Valour, and is one of the Memorial’s foremost authorities on the Victoria Cross, George Cross and the Cross of Valour. He worked closely with all the surviving holders of the awards, and brought fresh insights into many of the lesser-known recipients. Importantly, he and NewSouth publishers produced a book of a standard befitting the extraordinary Australians within its pages.

I commend this book to anyone with an interest in the true meaning of courage – especially in the face of danger.  As Richard writes in the book’s foreword  “At times their decision to choose courage over fear came at great cost, even their lives. The very least we can do is remember them”.

I am honoured to be in your company today, and it is very fitting that the Australian War Memorial launch For Gallantry to ensure their legacy will live on.

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