52nd Battalion AIF Memorial Dedication Service
President of the Redlands RSL Sub-Branch, Mr Alan Harcourt;
Distinguished representatives of service organisations; Ladies and gentlemen;
Described as one of the “treasures” of the War Memorial in Canberra is a yellowing paper rectangle which records the statement of Private Charles Butterfield to the British Red Cross.
In the spare language of the soldier, he describes the last time he saw his comrade, Private Alexander Fraser of the 52nd Battalion.
It was 100 years ago today, on the 24th of April, 1918, in Villers Brettoneux, just after the legendary attack had begun.
Butterfield said: “Almost immediately Fraser fell badly wounded by machine gun bullets in his abdomen. He was not conscious – I put him in a shellhole for shelter and got a British stretcher-bearer to attend to him.”
It says a great deal about the men of the 52nd Battalion that under fire, in darkest night, on unfamiliar ground, a man would seek first to find shelter and care for a wounded comrade, before plunging back in to battle.
On the plaque we dedicate today to the men of the 52nd Battalion, are listed their battles:
The list cannot capture the full extent and degree of the 52nd Battalion’s service to Australia.
They cannot capture the horror of the struggle at Mouquet Farm, described by the Official Historian Charles Bean as: “ [a] flayed land, shell-hole bordering shell-hole, corpses of young men lying against the trench walls or in shell-holes".
They cannot capture the bravery and audacity of what they achieved at Villers-Bretonneux, a counter-attack by night, at a few hours notice, whose success helped change the course of the war.
They cannot capture the grief of the Potter family - three of their sons killed in action in just one day, a tragedy which stops the heart.
So many of the men of the 52nd were Queenslanders – from Brisbane, Redlands and beyond, and the pride and grief of their families resonates even unto this day.
We honour each and every one of the 649 men who died and the 1438 men who were wounded in the service of Australia as members of the 52nd Battalion.
As Charles Bean wrote: “[Their story] rises as it will always rise, above the mists of ages, a monument to great-hearted men; and for their nation, a possession forever.”
And so, in this place sacred to memory, we dedicate this plaque to the 52nd Battalion, and we promise, always, that We Will Remember Them.