Remembrance Day speech for Exeter RSL
November 11TH 2008.
This is the ninetieth Remembrance Day since the signing of the Armistice which ended World War One on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.
It has evolved into a day to remember Australians who have died in all wars, but the image of the bloody First World War seems to dominate our minds, with its mud and trenches and horrific killing.
Five times as many Australians died on the Western Front in France than at Gallipoli.
In all, 61,829 Australians died in the First World War, 53,993 of them in battle. 137,013 were wounded in action, more than 16,000 were gassed.
It is appropriate that on this ninetieth anniversary that a new war cemetery for Australian and British soldiers recently found in a mass grave is to be established for those who died in Australia’s first battle on the Western Front, at Fromelles in northern France on the 19th of July, 1916.
Australia’s fifth division was devastated during a misconceived attack on what’s known as the Sugar Loaf Salient. 5,533 Australians were killed or maimed as they bore the full force of German counter attacks
We remember them among the 100,000 Australians who died last century on this day, with the symbolic silence at 11 o’clock, accompanied by other symbols of Remembrance Day---Flanders poppies, rosemary, the lone piper playing the Scottish lament, Flowers of the Forest, and the symbols of military sacrifice well evoked by Eric Bogle in his song, No Man’s Land on the death of 19-year-old William McBride in 1916:
“Did they beat the drums slowly,
Did they sound the pipe lowly, did the rifles fire o’thee as they lowered you down,
Did the bugles sing the last post and chorus?”
In 1997, Governor-General Sir William Deane issued a proclamation formally declaring 11 November to be Remembrance Day, urging all Australians to observe one minute's silence at 11 am on 11 November each year to remember those who died or suffered for Australia's cause in all wars and armed conflicts.
The emphasis on “suffered” is mine; in commemorating the dead---and all those who took part in World War One and most of those who were in the Second World War are dead, we sometimes forget those who were maimed.
Our present Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, has just visited Fromelles, and what’s known as the Cobbers’ Memorial, marking the rescue of injured mates---those injured at the beginning of those Western Front battles.
Many who did not die in battle were horribly maimed, physically and mentally. We must also remember those on this day.
More than twice as many Australians were maimed on World War One as were killed.
Some of us saw them grow old, physically or mentally damaged and often unable to talk of their experiences.
For most of us, World War Two is closer and more immediate.
We know some of those who took part. Our families remember some who died.
Some of us have lived with those who survived, damaged.
We see them die each year, taking their private memories with them.
It will not be many years before no one who took part in the Second World War remains to help us keep our collective memory alive; it will be up to us.
On this ninetieth Remembrance Day, let us remember those who were maimed, as well as those who were killed in battle.
Lest we forget.