House debates

Monday, 9 November 2020

Statements by Members

Remembrance Day

10:35 am

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 11 November, 102 years ago, the guns fell silent across the Western Front of World War I. At 5.45 am, representatives of the allied powers in Germany signed an armistice that entered into effect at 11 am of that same day. The conflict, which had taken six million lives, was finally over.

The trauma of the world's first truly international and industrial war is hard to overstate. The entirety of northern France, Belgium and millions of lives were torn apart by hundreds of millions of munitions. To this day, bits of bombs and mines are discovered every year in those fields.

Australia, despite its relatively small size, sent a contingent of 416,000 men to the British war effort. Of that group, 62,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.

The end of the war on 11 November in 1918 did not end the trauma of war. It lingered on in the experience of many men who returned home physically and mentally scarred. In 1914, Ryde had 3,500 homes. From those homes, 2,000 people volunteered—nearly two-thirds of homes sent a son, brother or father: think about that for a second. The effects this war had on our communities are unimaginable even in today's strange world of the pandemic.

It should not be overlooked that the vast majority of Australians who served were very young. The average age of volunteers was only 24. Horrifyingly, a very large percentage of Australians were only 18 or 19 years of age. These bright and strong young men went off to war, many not to return.

While the war ended on 11 November, it was followed soon after by the Spanish flu pandemic, which devastated the world in ways we can now understand. We must also remember that the signing of the Armistice did not end the war. Struggles and suffering continued across the former battlegrounds, including in Armenia, reeling from their recent genocide, and of course the war to end all wars was followed by the Second World War within two decades.

Every Remembrance Day we gather as a community and reflect on the sacrifices made by thousands of those brave men and women in the First World War and in subsequent conflicts. It was an Australian journalist, Edward Honey, who first proposed holding a two-minute silence in 1919. The idea was adopted by King George V who personally requested all people of the British Empire to stop for two minutes on the hour of the Armistice to pay respects to the war dead. We have observed that silence every year since, and rightly so. Although there are no longer any living veterans of the war left, we must not forget the horror of war and the price at which victory was purchased so many years ago.