Monday 25th April 2016
Anzac Day Speech
Anzac Day Service - Exeter RSL
Fromelles on 19 July 1916 was the first Western Front battle involving Australian troops. The operation aimed at seizing German positions started at 6 pm and lasted until the next morning. A short but incredibly deadly battle.
Three Brigades of the Australian fifth division had to withdraw in the face of overwhelming German counter attacks. It sustained almost 5,500 casualties, almost 2,000 dead and was wrecked as a fighting formation for many months.
The 5th Division had endured the worst-ever Australian military disaster.
The battle of Pozieres started four days later on 23 July and lasted until 5 August 1916. It involved the Australian divisions of the Anzac Corps.
Perhaps because they were experienced battle hardened Australian troops the Battle of Pozieres at first was much more successful.
However, by the time it ended the Australian 1st Division had 5,285 casualties, and the 2nd Division a devastating 6,848.
It’s fitting that these centenaries remind us of the horrific casualties Australians suffered on the Western Front.
In his last Anzac Day address Tasmania’s late Governor Peter Underwood said, and I quote:
“ANZAC Day is a day on which we should ask those hard questions about the meaning of wars, their causes and outcomes, in order to become resolute about peace as well as resolute about fighting, when fighting is genuinely necessary and an unavoidable act of self-protection.”
“And if we do that, ANZAC Day will become more meaningful, because after all, that was what ‘the dead were fighting for.’
The catastrophic Australia casualties on the Western Front in 1916 should indeed make us resolute about peace as Governor Underwood said.
The battles in the trenches on the Western Front resulted in most of the 60,000 Australian dead and 156,000 maimed in the First World War. I shall repeat those numbers: 60,000 dead and 156,000 maimed.
As Peter Underwood said in an earlier speech:
“Remembrance and honour alone will neither bring nor preserve the peace for which they thought they died.”
He’s right of course; we must try to use future Anzac Days not only to remember but to find ways of creating a peaceful World.
While we are gathered here at Exeter saluting those who died in numerous conflicts, we also dwell on those who returned from conflicts damaged, and those less fortunate than ourselves who need our help.