Members of our community first gathered at this Memorial - under the Semaphore Angel - 95 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 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.
A little more than a hundred years ago, the streets of Adelaide had filled with celebration, joy and relief
-celebration that the Allies had won the Great War
-and relief that the relentless killing was finally over.
But, as the immediate euphoria receded and the survivors started arriving home, the joy gave way to a level of grief that is hard to comprehend today.
More than 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 – equivalent to us losing 300,000 young men, and welcoming home a million more with battle wounds and the ravages of disease.
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 – too many more dying at their own hand.
In an attempt to find occasion to come together, to grieve and to remember, Australia built two thousand monuments just like this one – in every suburb and in every town throughout a nation that was numb with grief and with shock.
And, to make matters worse, the world in 1919 was struck by the Spanish Flu – the worst pandemic to strike humanity since the Black Plague of the 14th Century.
As many as 100 million were killed by the flu – including some 15,000 Australians.
But the community mobilised on an unprecedented scale.
Here in Semaphore, local women formed the ‘Cheer up Society’ which hosted wounded soldiers for free meals and entertainment.
The RSL lobbied furiously for the best housing, healthcare, education and employment opportunities possible for their members.
Hundreds of soldier settler blocks were created in the Riverland, that largely remain there to this day.
New suburbs were built on the fringes of Adelaide.
Across the nation, works programs were established, like the Great Ocean Road in Victoria – to keep veterans busy and earning a living wage.
And, amidst all of the grief and upheaval, the community experienced a moment of joy and pride – when a couple of Semaphore lads, Ross and Keith Smith, made history in 1919 as the first aviators to fly from England to Australia in their famous Vickers Vimy aircraft.
But, despite all of those efforts from their families and community, returning home after years of unspeakable horror was enormously challenging.
On the 75th anniversary of the end of World War One, the then Prime Minister Paul Keating said at the War Memorial
“Out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy, and the inexcusable folly.
It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary.
They were the heroes of that war – not the generals and the politicians, but the soldiers and sailors and nurses.
Those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, and to stick together”
That spirit of ANZAC has run through every generation of ADF personnel over the past hundred years.
As we know, the war that was supposed to end all wars did no such thing.
Barely two decades later, the same nations embarked upon an even more deadly global conflict – a brutal, but necessary war to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War – a war that killed unprecedented numbers of soldiers – but which also saw millions of civilians killed through aerial bombings of cities and atrocities like the Holocaust.
Almost one million Australians served in that war – overseas and on the home front, as Australia came under direct attack for the very first time.
In a few weeks, the world will mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day – where the Allies landed at Normandy and started to push the Nazis back into Germany and, ultimately, to defeat.
While the Australian Army had long been withdrawn back to our own region, several thousand Australian airmen and sailors took part in that enormous offensive, including 18 Aussies who were killed in action on that day.
Less than five years after the Japanese surrender, 17,000 Australian troops were committed to the fight to defend South Korea.
340 of them never returned home.
By the next decade, 50,000 Australians were serving in Vietnam – another civil war that became a proxy, Cold War conflict, which was still raging 50 years ago today.
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.
Over the same period, Australians have served in a series of peacekeeping operations – globally and here in our own region.
Twenty years ago, the largest deployment of Australians since Vietnam took place in East Timor.
At its peak, this deployment involved 5500 Australians, numbering about half of an international coalition – that was commanded by Major General Peter Cosgrove – now our Governor General.
The delicacy and risks involved in this operation are hard to appreciate 20 years later – due mainly to the high degree of success achieved in restoring peace and order to the world’s newest nation-state.
On ANZAC Day, we remember the service and sacrifice of our forebears who fought in those long conflicts of the Twentieth Century or kept the peace in other theatres.
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.
But, one hundred years on from our nation confronting the awesome task of repatriating tens of thousands of young Australians returning from the horrors of World War One, we should particularly reflect on the ongoing struggles of our veterans today and 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.
Although, veterans are doing amazing things to support each other, all of us – Governments and private citizens – should reflect today on what we can all do to remedy this scandalous situation.