ANZAC Day Students’ Commemoration Ceremony
Our Premier the Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP; Representing the Opposition Leader, Mr Tim Nicholls MP; Distinguished representatives of the Australian Defence Force and service organisations; students; ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour to join so many young Queenslanders today at this very special place in Brisbane, and in doing so, to acknowledge also our ancient indigenous culture, with expression of respect for Elders past and present.
This year marks the last centenary of the end of the First World War, which, mercifully, ended in November 1918.
And seeing these young faces around me reminds that this so-called War to End All Wars was a young man’s conflict. Australian soldiers who served in that war were, on average, just 24 years of age.
Jim Martin had joined the army in April 1915, claiming to be eighteen, the minimum age for enlistment. In fact, he had been born two days after Australian Federation in January 1901. He was not yet fifteen when he died.
Or Private Walter Massingham from Townsville, who enlisted at sixteen and was killed on the Western Front two months after his seventeenth birthday.
We might want to believe that only a tiny number of teenagers like Jim and Walter succeeded in misleading the authorities about their age.
But the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour of ‘boy soldiers’ who died on active service contains over 160 names, including fifteen from Queensland, most of them country kids.
We find this unimaginable now. But, at that time, you could not instantly check someone’s age via a computer or smartphone.
And many of these teenagers had begged and cajoled their parents into giving written permission for them to enlist.
We cannot readily comprehend, a century later, how these teenagers saw going to war as a big adventure, perhaps a chance to travel to exotic places, to be part of something bigger than themselves.
And, ultimately, for the honour and duty of defending Australia and the British Empire.
It was not only the very young who lied about their age. Men in their fifties also enlisted – by claiming they were under the maximum enlistment age of 44.
We know with hindsight that, for most of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of any age who fought for Australia in 1914-18, the great adventure turned into a living nightmare.
They fought air battles in dangerous, rickety aircraft. They fought ferocious battles at sea, like that of HMAS Sydney against the German Cruiser Emden in 1914.
The ANZACs fought in the searing heat of the Middle East, the murderous ridges and gullies of Gallipoli, and the freezing cold and mud of the Western Front.
They endured appalling conditions, the loss of close mates, and the constant threat of death or wounds. But they endured. They did their duty to their country with extraordinary grit and determination.
We have a duty too – a duty to remember their service, their sacrifice, courage and mateship, with sombre pride and immense gratitude.
And not only them. We honour all Australians who have served in their country’s armed forces since Australia became a nation in the year Jim Martin was born. We honour those who serve, some of them in combat zones, even as we stand here today.
It is our duty also to ensure that they are all remembered by succeeding generations of Australians.
That is why, as Governor, speaking for all Queenslanders, I take great pride in the willing presence of so many young people here today.
I look to you to carry the memory of those first ANZACs, and their successors, deep into the 21st century, and to inspire succeeding generations to follow your lead.
I have every confidence that, because of you, Australians not yet born will always remember those to whom we owe so much – with the simple but profound words: Lest We Forget.