ANZAC Day Commemorative Speech
John Williams, Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR
Vientiane, 25 April 2017
[Follows a reading at the dawn service of a letter home from Lieutenant William Sydney Duchesne, written from Mena Camp in Egypt prior to embarking for Gallipoli.]
Lieutenant Duchesne was one of many young men who lost their lives 102 years ago, on this day, when thousands of young Australians and New Zealanders landed on the shores of Gallipoli, at a stretch of beach we now call ANZAC Cove.
A land then unknown to most Australians. But a place of great significance today.
The Australian forces alone suffered 2000 casualties on that first day. More than 8,700 young Australians never left the Gallipoli peninsula.
Among the 100,000 Australian service men and women who lost their lives in conflicts in the 20th Century.
Duchesne’s final letter home reflects a strong sense of national pride, and it resonates with the courage and self sacrifice Australians associate so closely with our countrymen and women who have been forced to endure the horror of war.
Never were those horrors more confronting than in the futile fighting in the mud of Flanders 100 years ago.
From July to November 2017, over a half a million men from all sides of the conflict were casualties, as the British forces sought to break through the fortified German defences along the so-called Hindenberg line.
The battle was, in the words of British historian Alan Taylor, "the blindest slaughter of a blind war".
Constant rain, and flooding made worse by heavy artillery bombardment, turned much of the battlefield into a quagmire.
The British forces, including troops from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, extended their front a few kilometres, capturing the village of Passchendaele. But at enormous human cost, and with little change to the strategic picture.
The Australian forces suffered 38,000 casualties in several months of fighting.
Thirty-five Australians died for every metre of ground they seized.
One of them was Private Patrick Bugden, from a small town near Lismore, called South Gunderimba.
He was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross medal for gallantry after he was killed in action in September 2017.
Bugden twice led successful attacks on German pillboxes with grenades, and in the ensuing days led five forays out of the trenches to bring back wounded colleagues, despite heavy machine gun fire.
These were not professional soldiers, as we imagine soldiers today, but volunteers with limited training.
Australian correspondent in the First World War, Charles Bean, said of them:
“They're not heroes. They do not intend to be thought or spoken of as heroes. They're just ordinary Australians, doing their particular work as their country would wish them to do it. And pray God, Australians in days to come will be worthy of them.”
Worthy or not, 102 years on, Australians – and New Zealanders – continue to attend ANZAC Day services in large numbers.
As the dawn breaks this morning, the people of our two countries will gather to commemorate ANZAC Day in Christchurch and in Cairns, in Darwin and Dunedin, in Wyalla and Wellington, and in Turkey, Belgium and France, in Borneo, Singapore, at Hellfire Pass in Thailand, in Korea, Vietnam, and here in Vientiane.
We come together to pay tribute to all the men and women who have served our two nations in conflicts, and on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations across the globe.
And we celebrate the values and lessons they have left with us, beginning with the first ANZACs.
Courage, resilience, endurance, self sacrifice, a willingness to support others through the greatest hardship.
And most importantly, a love of peace, and a strong sense of the futility of armed conflict.
This morning we gather to remember those who sacrificed so much.
And to hope and pray that young women and men – regardless of their faith, ethnicity or nationality – never have to face the same horrors again.
Lest we forget.