Wednesday, 9 November 2016
We cannot steer a proper path for our future if we disregard our past. Friday is the 11th day of the 11th month; it is Remembrance Day. And on the 11th hour of that day every year, Australia stops to honour our past and the sacrifices our service men and women made for our future. This year we commemorate the 98th anniversary of the armistice, when the guns fell silent, signifying the end of World War I. Four years of war had come to an end.
Known as the Great War for good reason, its scale was unprecedented. It ignited the mobilisation of 70 million people across many nations and 13 million people died—nine million of them combatants. More than a third of all the soldiers killed were 'missing' or had no known graves. Three hundred and thirty-two thousand Australians fought in the Great War with the First Australian Infantry Force, 60,000 died and 152,000 were wounded. With a population of about four million, Australia had, proportionate to forces fielded, the highest casualties in the British Empire. While the armistice came as a great reprieve to those at home, for the men on the front it was tempered with great loss. Too many of their mates had been killed. 'One sits and ponders sadly of those many pals who are gone to that home from which no wanderer returns,' lamented Corporal Roger Morgan of the 2nd Battalion.
On the Western Front, in Gallipoli and in the desert, Australians encountered the mass killing power of modern industrial warfare. But in battle after battle that war machine could not threaten the bonds of mateship and the Aussie spirit that held them together. At Fromelles, where more than 5,500 Australians became casualties in a single night, mates searched no-man's-land for days afterwards to recover the wounded.
Australia lost many young men, such as Port Lincoln lad, Corporal Arnold Harry Leane of the 27th Battalion, killed in action on the battlefield on 5 November 1916 aged just 20; Burra labourer Private Hedley Trevilyan, 10th Battalion, killed in action in France on 10 June 1916 at the age of 21; and Kadina carpenter, Private William Horace Lamshed, 10th Battalion, killed in action on 20 September 1917. He was just 23 when he died. In my electorate of Grey, where these young men came from and where some of their families still live today, every town has a memorial with their names on them. Lest we ever forget. There are so many names; the impact on small communities must have been enormous. I was in Hawker the other day, and there were, I think, 60 people lost in action from World War I from this tiny town of 250 people today.
Our war dead are scattered across far-flung lands. They lie in over a hundred cemeteries. Every one of the names on the Roll of Honour and in the Remembrance Book was somebody's husband, son, father or brother, leaving behind a wife, mother, daughter or sister grieving for their lost lives. Their lives were precious to their families, to Australia and, above all, to those who gave them. They never had the chance to grow old or to watch those dear to them grow old. But Australia's First World War dead fell for a cause and their sacrifice must never be forgotten. Those men knew if the struggle were lost, Australia would be a very different place. They knew that future Australians would not be able to rejoice because their country was free and its destiny was theirs to determine. These brave volunteer soldiers fought and died to prevent that happening. They held to the ideals of mateship and country.
Remembrance Day is observed in 23 countries across the world and is a day to be reminded that there is nothing glorious about war. It is the responsibility of all of us to encourage young Australians to seek a greater understanding that the freedom we enjoy in this country relies on the bravery of our forces past and present. To understand the legend of Australians at war, forged on the rock-strewn slopes and ragged gullies of Gallipoli, in Europe and the Middle East, is to gain an insight into the Australian psyche: a gallant and honourable defeat against almost insurmountable odds.
Remembrance Day also commemorates all those who have fallen in other wars for Australia. There were 39,652 Australians killed in action during World War II, 340 killed in Korea, 521 in Vietnam, 42 in Afghanistan and two in Iraq—a total of 102,824. To families who have made the greatest sacrifice of all, we must guarantee that Australia never forgets. We must also affirm that we are willing to defend the rights and principals of our free functioning democracy. (Time expired)