ANZAC Day Students’ Commemoration Ceremony
Today, we gather as proud Australians to mark the anniversary of a battle that has become not just a piece of military history but a brutal event that let the world know we Australians are people who are resourceful, disciplined, courageous and put a mandate on friendship.
From the ANZACs’ letters home and interviews after the battle, we may gain some insight into what they were feeling as they rowed those final metres to the beach of what is now known as Anzac Cove.
Some of the soldiers in uniform that day were just 15 years old. They had misled authorities about their age, pretending they were 18, so that they could join up with their mates.
They wanted to be with friends they had played sport with, knew from the neighbourhood, or sat beside in the classroom. There was a feeling they would face this challenge together and they were determined to look after each other.
Those young Australians rowing to shore through an early morning sea mist in 1915 were not aware of how devastating war would really be and how much they would need to rely on each other to survive.
The first vessels ended up nearly two kilometres off track, they landed at the wrong beaches. But there was no way back. The order to set off was given. Now it was up to them.
They scrambled ashore, wading through chest-deep water, desperate to hold their rifles high above their heads and keep their ammunition dry.
Unable to defend themselves as bullets and bombs churned the surf and shredded the sand around them, one soldier later wrote “It was just horrific, all the bullets and the shrapnel… and that went on for hours and hours.”
By the time the sun was up and the fog had cleared, hundreds of lives had already been lost. But those who made it to the shelter of the Gallipoli cliffs did not think of giving up. They fought on: gallantly, bravely, honourably. It was here, thousands of kilometres from home, that the spirit of our nation was born.
Those who survived the terrible days at Gallipoli have since passed away. They generously shared their stories so we can all learn from their experience.
No matter how heroic many of these stories may be, they all have the same conclusion: there are no winners in war.
The Great War was said to be the war to end all wars, but the human suffering had only just begun: two decades after the guns fell silent on the Western Front, the world was again dragged into conflict.
Nearly 417,000 Australians served in the First World War. More than 60,000 never returned. One million Australians, both men and women, served in the Second World War — 500,000 overseas. Almost 40,000 never saw their families again.
Today, video games try to give players a computer-generated idea of what combat could be like. But it will never come close to what those who served on the frontline faced.
The loss of mates, the hardships of living in a trench, the heartbreak of parents hearing their son will never come home, or children not playing games again with their fathers, can never be included in these computer simulations.
May I say especially to our students here today:
ANZAC Day is one of Australia’s most important national commemorative occasions for a number of reasons. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by our forces during the First World War. But it is also the moment to honour all those who served our nation and lost their lives during the First World War, the Second World War and subsequent conflicts. And finally, ANZAC Day serves as a reminder — a reminder that peace is a precious gift that we should never take for granted.
I take great pride seeing so many young people here today.
Today is a time to reflect on the qualities of past generations, who in hardship displayed courage, discipline, self-sacrifice, resourcefulness and mateship.
The legacy of the first ANZACs and their successors helps us to remember to learn from the past.
While they guaranteed that peace a century ago, we as its beneficiaries-must be ever vigilant as they would rightly expect, and as society develops this challenge sits increasingly upon our youth.
I encourage all students, as you leave here this morning, to make good use of the peace established by the service and sacrifice of our first ANZACs and their successors, and in doing so inspire your own and future generations to follow your lead.
Lest we forget.