Remembrance Day Commemorative Address 2021

7 mins read

Mr Matthew Anderson PSM, Director of the Australian War Memorial

In 1993, on the 75th anniversary of the Armistice, then Prime Minister Keating delivered the Eulogy for the Unknown Australian Soldier.

In interring a soldier from the Great War, the so-called War to end all Wars – but which we now know sowed the seeds of a second, even more terrible war – Paul Keating said ‘We might think this Unknown Soldier died in vain.

But, in honouring our war dead, as we always have and as we do today, we declare that this is not true.'

Today, 28 years on we declare, still, that this is not true.

And, as we say every evening at the Last Post Ceremony, we also honour all those who have served, those still serving, and the families that love and support them.

We do not gather to glorify war.

Indeed, at our opening 80 years ago today, the then Governor General, Lord Gowrie, VC, said that when people leave this place, they must utter ‘Never again, never again.'

I have never sacrificed anything for the freedoms that I enjoy.

They were won by others, and on this day and at this hour, they continue to be guaranteed by others; by the women and men of the Australian Defence Force.  

What I can do, and what I ask of each of you, is to honour the two million women and men who have worn this nation’s uniform, and 102,800 recorded on the Roll of Honour and ensure their service and sacrifice is not in vain.

The philosopher Arthur Danto wrote that ‘We erect monuments so that we shall remember, and build Memorials so that we shall never forget.’

Private Edward Rose served with the 12th Battalion but never made it to the front line.

From Baghdad in Tasmania he was known as Bob, and with his mother’s permission had enlisted while still only 15 years of age.

Bob’s mother had written to General Birdwood requesting that her son be kept safe.

On reaching England with the 1st Training Battalion in April 1918, Bob caught measles, bronchitis and oedema of the lungs; he died at Sutton Veny Military Hospital on 1 June 1918.

The only letter she received from Birdwood was the one to inform her of her son’s death.

One of those who made it to the war, and who fought on the Somme and at Passchendaele, was Private Richard Williams of the 51st Battalion from Kapunda, South Australia.

Having been diagnosed with shellshock and trenchfoot, he was on his way home, when, just off the coast of Fremantle, on the morning of the Armistice, he jumped overboard.

His body was never recovered. 

In honouring our war dead, as we always have, we declare they did not die in vain.

During the desperate fighting at Isurava on the Kokoda Track, Corporal John Metson, of the 2/14th Battalion had his ankle smashed by a bullet.

Refusing to be evacuated on a stretcher he instead padded his hands and knees in order to crawl behind the stretcher bearers.

He crawled for three weeks with a party that became cut off from the main track. Despite his courage and tenacity, Metson was eventually discovered by the Japanese and was executed on the 4th of October 1942.

We declare he did not die in vain.

Following the fall of Kabul in August, much has been said about Afghanistan and the merits of our longest war.

Some have even suggested that the 43 lives recorded on the Afghanistan Panel on the Roll of Honour must therefore have been in vain.

You can learn a lot about a country by understanding what it is prepared to fight for.

You can learn even more by what its sons and daughters are prepared to die for. 

They were sent, in the earliest days, to kill or capture the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks which claimed thousands of innocents, including 10 Australians.

They stayed – as ordered – and they redeployed – as ordered – to counter the continued threat of terrorism and, over time, to mentor and to reconstruct.

At a ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the departure of Mentoring Task Force 1, I was asked by one of the young veterans whether it was worth it.

Former Naval Officer and Anglican Bishop of the Australian Defence Force, Tom Frame said that 'Asking what was it all for is not a sign of mental illness but of human maturity.

To find the answers do not come all at once or in an instant does not signal that someone cannot cope with life. Rather, it is an affirmation that life is complex, insight is rare, and wisdom is precious.’

My response to the young man with old eyes was that he and multiple Australian contingents had left behind an enviable reputation. Our enemies feared them, our allies revered them and those Afghans we worked with most closely in Uruzgan and Kandahar asked for the Australians to return. 

Albert Einstein once said that not everything that counts can be counted.

In southern Afghanistan, Australian forces fought their fiercest battles since the Vietnam War. Many, but not all, of these actions were fought by Australia’s Special Forces.

SASR Sergeant ‘S’, reflecting on the 2010 battle of Tizak in Afghanistan, said 'To fail would be worse than death. To let your mates down in combat would be worse than death…Yeah…..that’s the essence, you don’t let your mates down.'

Corporal Cameron Baird of the 2nd Commando Regiment was killed in the final moments of the assault on a Taliban stronghold in the village of Ghawchak in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, in July 2013.  For most conspicuous acts of valour, extreme devotion to duty and ultimate self-sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia – one of four so awarded to Australians in the war in Afghanistan.

Just weeks before his death, Baird responded to an Australian High School student who had written to him as part of a school pen-pal project. His response, in part, reads:

My name is Cameron and I am 32 years old.

Sometimes my job is difficult but I have good reasons to do it.

Making the world a safer place for others is one reason. I think we are very lucky in Australia, we are safe and can live our lives as we wish...

In your letter you asked some questions…

I am a team commander in an assault platoon…We do many different missions in Afghanistan but the main focus is providing security to the community and advising the Afghan police and army…

I have been to Afghanistan a number of times and they are getting better and better each time I come back...

Have I always wanted to be in the Army? Simple answer is No…When I was 12 years old I wanted to be a footballer or a sportsman, but I wasn’t good enough to be professional…

Since joining I have been really happy with it. I have travelled a lot around Australia training and around the world on operations. And I have heaps of good mates I work with.

Thank you so much for writing…

Always try your best in whatever you do, and always be happy in your life.

Enjoy and have fun.



Not everything that counts can be counted.

Chaplain Rob Sutherland ministered to our service personnel in Tarin Kowt, Kandahar and Kabul. After three tours of duty, Chaplain Sutherland concluded that 'Victory or success in Afghanistan is not going to be measured in the way it might have been measured in the past. I think some of our best successes are actually going to be in the people we bring home and, hopefully, the pride they will have in the job that they’ve done.'

Today, we remember those who have served, suffered and died in all wars and operations – and those left behind.

It was not in vain, if we remember.

It was not in vain, because we remember.

It was not in vain, since putting service before self never is.

As the blast wall in Tarin Kowt once read;

‘All gave some, some gave all.’

It was duty most nobly done.

Today, we remember.

Lest we forget.


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