Queenslanders united in project of remembrance
Kaye and I are currently in France representing Queensland at major ceremonies commemorating the centenary of significant battles on the Western Front.
Pheasant Wood is a green and peaceful place.
It is a new cemetery for the young soldiers of Australia and Britain who fell in the Battle of Fromelles – “they who shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old”.
Their place of burial was forgotten as the war for the Western Front raged on, though their service and sacrifice lived in the memory of Australians.
After their burial pit was rediscovered in 2008, the bodies were carefully exhumed and a new cemetery was built to lay them to rest with full military honours.
The Battle of Fromelles was the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history.
There were 5,533 casualties in a single night.
Hellfire rained down. Trenches clogged with Australian dead.
On this hundredth anniversary, Kaye and I stood with the families of the soldiers who were killed, and with representatives from Australia, Britain and France, to recall that terrible battle.
Gallipoli was a baptism of fire, but the Western Front was where the Australian Imperial Force “engaged the main army of the main enemy in the main theatre of war”.
Victory on the Western Front brought the Great War to a close.
57,705 Queenslanders served in the First World War from 1914 to 1918.
Nine Queensland Battalions served on the Western Front over 33 months. Fittingly, the Colours marched on at the commemoration at Fromelles were the 31st Battalion Colours, from the 31st/42nd Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment. Also, the Australian Army Band was joined by the Voices of Birralee choir from Brisbane.
Of the more than 295,000 Australians who served on Western Front, 46,000 lost their lives and 132,000 were wounded. In those other words associated with the Ode of Remembrance: “They went with songs to the battle, they were young; Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow; They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted; They fell with their faces to the foe.”
I will soon leave for the commemoration of the Battle at Pozieres, the place that, in the words of official historian Charles Bean, is “more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other spot on earth”.
Kaye and I will lay poppies in memory of the Queenslanders who gave their lives in the service of our country.
Courage, fortitude, selflessness, comradeship and dedication to the common good are the enduring threads running from the Australian Imperial Force to modern Australia.
In my two years thus far as Queensland’s Governor, I have seen these qualities in the honour paid by our Armed Forces to the memory of the Australian Imperial Force.
I have seen them at services of remembrance, from our biggest cities to our smallest settlements.
Every Anzac Day I meet them in the students who, with grave and serious intent, seek to make sense of this monumental sacrifice and turn it to the greater good.
Queenslanders are united in the great project of remembrance, and it is an honour, with Kaye, to represent them.
Lest we forget.