His Excellency's 2016 Dawn Service of Remembrance Speech

A speech delievered by His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Administrator of the Commonwealth of Australia, at the 2016 Anzac Day Dawn Service of Remembrance, ANZAC Square, Brisbane:

As we gather in peaceful pre-dawn darkness, in reflection, we honour the hundreds of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders heeding the call to arms throughout our nations’ histories.

By our united presence, we solemnly commemorate those who have fallen; we pay tribute to those injured in conflict; and we gratefully acknowledge all who have served, and continue to serve our country in the armed forces.

Last year we marked the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli. It was then one hundred years since the beginning of an eight month, ill-conceived, and bloody campaign. There were 26,000 Australian casualties. It was a military failure.

However the sustained, heroic deeds of the Aussies and Kiwis on that rugged Turkish peninsula so profoundly captured public imagination, that the Anzac Spirit – that spirit of courage, fortitude and mateship, of honour and service before self – is said to have been born.

It was a spirit the people of our nations would seek to preserve through a powerful and enduring evocation of remembrance, which we call… Anzac Day.

In Queensland, a public meeting was called for the 11th of January 1916, presided over by Brisbane Alderman George Down. There the citizens decided that the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landing would be suitably commemorated henceforth in Queensland, and to that end the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee was formed.

And so, one hundred years ago today, in 1916, just a few hundred metres from where we gather this morning, a column of more than 6,000 veterans and troops left Roma Street and marched down lined City streets. Later that night, at a Citizens’ Celebration at Exhibition Hall, one minute’s silence was maintained at 9pm sharp. 

Similar commemorations were held elsewhere in Queensland, as they were in London, and in Egypt – where much of the Anzac Force was waiting to deploy to the Western Front and where, at church parades, diggers who had been at the Gallipoli landings proudly displayed red ribbons above their left breast pockets.

But that century ago, the Anzacs’ involvement in the Great War in Europe was just beginning. The first Australian arrivals in France, from Egypt, had happened only a month earlier, in March 1916.

The Australian forces were soon to be bloodied in one of the major battles of the Great War, the Somme offensive, conducted between July and November that year.

In that July, in the first major action by the Australians on the Western Front, 7,000 diggers attacked entrenched German positions at Fromelles in France, resulting in 5,500 casualties, including 2,000 dead – tragic carnage, in just one day, on just one advance.

The bloodshed continued, and between late July and early August a century ago, the First, Second and Fourth Australian Divisions engaged in fierce fighting with German forces at Pozieres in France - at a cost of 23,000 Australian casualties.

And in the thick of this fighting were many Queenslanders. The 26th Battalion was raised at Enoggera in April 1915 and initially served at Gallipoli. The Battalion then deployed to France where it mounted the first assault by Australian troops on a trench on the Western Front, in June 1916. It fought its first major battle around Pozieres two months later.

In a conflict which saw so many heroes, singling out one individual for mention is to offer but one example of the courage, determination, grit and selflessness of so many. One such exceptional soldier was a Brisbane surveyor, and a gifted athlete who had played rugby for Queensland, Captain Vivian Stewart Cooper DSO MC of the 26th Battalion. There is an image for us all to see.

At Pozieres, in August 1916, Captain Cooper earned a Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry in action. In a ferocious fight, he repulsed a determined enemy attack on his position, killing many and personally taking as many as twenty prisoners.

Two years later, again displaying disregard for his own personal safety, and against tremendous odds, he led attacks on a number of enemy machine gun posts, resulting in a large number of enemy dead and the capture of 30 machine guns. For this action, he was awarded a Military Cross.

Captain Cooper, that Brisbane surveyor and talented Queensland rugby player, survived the war and returned home a hero. He was a gallant and courageous Anzac whose actions exemplified finest qualities of the more than 416,000 Australians and 100,000 New Zealanders who fought for Empire that century ago. 

As we well know, the “War to End all Wars” did not achieve that objective.

In the ensuing century, Australia committed almost a million men and woman to the global conflict of World War Two. Soldiers, sailors and airmen then served in conflicts in Korea, Malaya, Indonesia, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australia has also, since World War Two, contributed personnel to more than fifty United Nations and other multilateral peace and security operations.

Anzac Day is not just about remembering the past. Today I pay particular tribute to our dedicated and professional Defence personnel – 2,200 currently overseas supporting Australia’s interests, in places like Afghanistan, throughout the Middle East and as far afield as South Sudan, and in operations protecting our nation’s borders and offshore interests – all of these people putting themselves “in harm’s way” every day, around the world.

And just as Queenslanders have never forgotten the bravery of the men who stepped ashore in that cold dawn at Gallipoli, more than a century ago, today we continue to keep in our minds these Service men and women, operating now so far away from home and family.

And in honouring, as we do this year, a centenary of beneficial work by what we now know as the Returned & Services League of Australia, the “RSL”, we must rededicate ourselves to acknowledging and supporting those who have returned from conflict, plagued by injuries, both physical and psychological.

Heartbreakingly, psychological injuries can be just as devastating as physical injuries. We must never forget veterans with war wounds which are not readily visible, or their families and friends.

Our central mission today is to give thanks to all who have served, and serve, in our Defence Forces.

And so, gathered now as a community united in honour of sacrifice, a community deeply committed to a cohesive society positively aligned, we continue today the great unbroken Anzac Day project of remembrance, embarked upon and entrusted to us all, 100 years ago.

And we continue that cause when we remember, with immense gratitude, the enormous sacrifices made by so many, to help protect the way of life which we value so very greatly.

Lest we forget.