ANZAC Day address 2018

April 25, 2018

Members of our community first gathered at this Memorial - under the Semaphore Angel - 94 years ago today, to commemorate the Australian and New Zealand troops – the ANZACs – who landed at Gallipoli in 1915


But they also gathered to remember the service and the sacrifice of all those who served in World War One – the war that was supposed to end all wars.


Today – as our community comes together again – we not only remember the ANZACs who walked off the farms and out of the factories to fight at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.


We also gather to reflect on the service of Australian men and women right through our nation’s history, including those members of the ADF who are serving overseas this very day.


The events of 1914 marked more than just the beginning of World War One.


From that year, until the Berlin Wall fell 75 years later, the world was afflicted by almost constant conflict between the major powers.


Conflict that saw more men, women and children killed through war in just 75 years than had been killed in the rest of human history.


Generation after generation of Australians was called up or conscripted over the course of those 75 years to serve in the Twentieth Century’s series of major wars.


The scale and the frequency of the calls that have been made on our young men and women to serve Australia – and the losses that inevitably occurred – have left deep scars on our community – while, at the same time, profoundly shaping the character of our young nation.



As well as continuing the commemoration of the Centenary of ANZAC, this year marks a number of other important anniversaries in Australia’s military history.


At last year’s Service, we remembered the beginning of the Battle for Australia 75 years earlier - a fight for the nation’s very survival – against an enemy that, at the time, seemed unstoppable.


Throughout 1942, Australian troops fought pitched battles against the Japanese Army along the Kokoda Track.


And, by the dawn of 1943, the Japanese Army had been driven back into the sea.


But, while Japan was turned back from Australia, the Pacific War continued to be fought fiercely – often with blatant brutality - for another two and a half years.


Seventy five years ago next month, a Japanese submarine flouted all the laws of war by torpedoeing the Australian Hospital Ship, the Centaur, killing 300 people just off the Queensland Coast.


Later that year, perhaps Australia’s best-known soldier during the War, Thomas – or ‘Diver’ – Derrick, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his role in the assault on Japanese forces at Sattelberg in New Guinea.


Derrick was the only South Australian soldier during World War Two to receive both the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Conduct Medal, awarded during the North Africa campaign.


Tragically, Derrick was killed in action only weeks before the Japanese surrender in 1945.



As we know, though, the defeat of Japan and Nazi Germany was almost immediately followed by the onset of the Cold War – placing the world under a long and constant risk of nuclear war, and sparking a series of hot wars around the globe.


Less than five years after the Japanese surrender, Australian troops were committed to the fight to defend South Korea.


17,000 Australians served in the Korean War.


340 of them never returned home.


After three years of fighting, sixty five years ago this year, a ceasefire was signed on the Korean Peninsula, though the war has never formally ended.



By the next decade, 50,000 Australians were serving in Vietnam – another civil war that became a proxy, Cold War conflict.


Fifty years ago this year, in 1968, the Tet Offensive was launched by North Vietnam and the Vietcong, engaging Australian forces - including my father – right into the heart of Saigon.


While the Tet Offensive was a military defeat for the North, its widespread television coverage in Australia and the US began to turn the tide of public opinion against the War.


More than 500 Australians were killed in Vietnam.



Since Vietnam, ADF deployments have been concentrated in the Middle East and Afghanistan – in conflicts far more contained than those we saw in the Twentieth Century - involving a smaller, professional defence force instead of a nationwide call to arms or conscription.


We pay tribute to the young Australian men and women serving in today’s ADF – especially those deployed overseas, building on the service of ADF personnel over the past quarter of a century in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and all other places in which our forces serve.


And we remember the more distant service and sacrifice of our forebears who fought in those long conflicts of the Twentieth Century.


Some of those conflicts had a clear moral purpose.


Others remain hotly debated still today.


But in all of them, Australian servicemen and women displayed the character forged in those early days at Gallipoli, Kokoda and elsewhere– a relentless spirit of courage under fire, persistence, mateship – and even good humour.


Qualities the rest of the world still identifies as quintessentially Australian today.



On this most sacred day in the Australian and New Zealand calendars - as we come together to reflect, and to pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of the past - we should also resolve to do better in supporting those who have served, and who are still with us today.


Because we know through long and bitter experience that stretches right back to the earliest Australian deployments, that returning to civilian life can be unimaginably tough.


That the trauma of combat stays with a soldier for each and every one of their remaining days on this Earth.


And that – for too many – it becomes too much to bear.


Even with all the advances we’ve made in mental health support in this rich nation, the suicide rate of younger veterans is twice as high as the community average.


And, while precise figures are hard to find, it’s beyond doubt that – each and every year right now – more returned service men and women are dying at their own hand than the number of Australians killed in combat during the entire 13 years of deployment to Afghanistan.


While veterans are doing amazing things to support each other, all of us – Governments and private citizens – should reflect today on what we can do to remedy this scandalous situation.


Friends, today’s services across the nation continue the commemoration of the Centenary of ANZAC that runs from 2014 to 2018.


In particular, we commemorate the events of the War’s final year.


1918 marked a crescendo of effort by both sides – the Germans able to use reinforcements freed up by the closure of the Eastern Front after Russia’s withdrawal from the War – and the Allies now able to count on two million newly-arrived American troops.


It also saw real innovation in strategy as commanders finally adopted new battle techniques to reflect the new technology.


Things came to a head with Germany’s Spring Offensive that tried to break Allied lines before even more Americans landed.


A key German target was Villers-Brettoneux, a small town overlooking the railway hub of Amiens, which 60 per cent of British troops and equipment moved through.


The Germans took Villers-Brettoneux in a tank assault on the afternoon of 24 April – one hundred years ago yesterday – and began preparations to plaster Amiens with artillery.


At 10pm that same evening, more than a dozen Australian Battalions attacked the German positions.


They did so in darkness, over unfamiliar terrain, and with no artillery preparation.


Fighting was beyond fierce – often conducted with bayonets.


By the following day, the Germans had been driven out of Villers-Brettoneux, and the Australians had earned themselves enormous recognition among the Allies.


One British general called it ‘perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war’.


It was soon followed by even more startling Australian victories, led by our greatest ever General, Sir John Monash.


But, while Villers-Brettoneux was undoubtedly a tactically brilliant and strategically important victory, it came at a huge cost.


More Australians were killed in those 24 hours than have been killed in combat in the 75 years since the end of World War Two.


One of those hundreds of men was Private Robert Banham, who lived around the corner from here in Ansell Street, just off Military Road.


An older soldier, Private Banham was 40 years of age, having volunteered as part of the 7th reinforcement of the 50th Battalion – leaving his wife, Clara, and their two young children, Bobby and Violet, back in Semaphore.


On the 24th of April at Villers-Brettoneux, Private Banham was wounded by a shell blast.


He died of his wounds the following day - ANZAC day 1918.


This morning, Private Banham’s great grand-daughter Jenny and her family will lay a wreath to mark the centenary of his sacrifice.


The War was finally over by year’s end.


Sixty thousand young Australians had been killed.


Of the 270,000 who survived, 170,000 had been wounded or suffered one of the many awful illnesses that flourished in the trenches.


The impact on a nation of just five million people is hard to imagine.


Widows and orphans were obviously devastated.


Those families lucky not to lose their husbands, sons and fathers were reunited with men they hadn’t seen for years, who had unimaginably deep physical and mental wounds.


Within a decade, sixty thousand of the men who returned home were also dead – most through wounds and enduring illness - some at their own hand.


One in three women of the time never partnered – there just wasn’t enough men, creating a generation known as the ‘maiden aunts’.


And, in an attempt to find occasion to come together, to grieve and to remember, Australia built hundreds of monuments just like this one – in every suburb and in every town throughout a nation that was numb with grief and with shock.


One hundred years on – we still come together under this Angel - to grieve, and to remember.