Battle of Menin Road Dinner
It is a pleasure and a privilege to join you to commemorate the Centenary of the Battle of Menin Road, and as your Representative Colonel, to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of the 25th and 49th Battalions in the Third Battle of Ypres. It is an additional honour, one week on from last Friday’s high memorable Patron’s Dinner, to once again be with you here at this fine establishment, our still inherently military institution, the United Service Club.
Kaye and I were privileged to visit Menin Gate, and the cemetery at Polygon Wood, officially, in October 2014.
As we will hear in greater depth from Captain Tuffley, the Battles of Menin Road and Polygon Wood marked the introduction of the tactic of ‘bite and hold’; of continuous advance behind an artillery barrage.
In September 1937, the Queensland Digger published extracts from the diary of a soldier who fought in the Battle of Menin Road.
The writer was unidentified, but he appears to have been a member of the 25th.
He tells us what it was like to live through that massive artillery barrage at the start of the battle.
“Exactly at 5:40 our barrage burst. Jee-rusalem! Like the crack of doom! The ground shook. My eardrums throbbed and vibrated till I thought they would burst. We get up stiffly, our rifles with fixed bayonets slung over shoulders, fags in mouth, and over we go, walking and smoking.”
As he recounts the grim reality of trench warfare, one word recurs, again and again.
And that word is “we.”
Not I, not me, but “we”.
That spirit – of “we” the Battalion, of trust and courage and looking out for your mates, of doing the job and doing it right – that is the shining thread running from those men of the 21st and 49th Battalions to those gathered here tonight.
That is their legacy to us.
Australia paid a heavy price for victory in the battle for control of the farmland of Ypres.
The two AIF Divisions sustained 5,013 casualties in the action at Menin Road.
At Polygon Wood, there were 5,770 Australian casualties.
We honour their service, we remember their sacrifice and we respect their victory.
At the very end of Charles’ Bean’s official history of the Great War, he wrote:
What these men did, nothing can alter now.
The Good and the bad; the greatness and the smallness of their story,
It rises….it always rises; above the mists of ages.
A monument to great hearted men, and for their nation – a possession forever.
Every Battalion has its stories.
These are ours.
In the centenary of these two great units, now one, we acknowledge a shared lineage of honour.