Australian Embassy
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Km 4, Thadeua Road, Watnak (P.O. Box 292)

ANZAC Day 2016 Dawn Service

ANZAC Day 2016 Dawn Service, Vientiane

Speech by Australia’s Ambassador to the Lao PDR

John Williams


The Dawn Service, observed on Anzac Day, has its origins in an operational routine still observed by the Australian Army today.

The half-light of dawn plays tricks with soldiers' eyes.  From the earliest times, the half-hour or so before dawn, with all its grey, misty shadows, became one of the most likely times for an attack.

Soldiers in defensive positions were therefore woken up in the dark, before dawn, so by the time the first dull grey light crept across the battlefield, they were awake, alert and manning their weapons.

This was, and still is, known as "Stand-to".  It was also repeated at sunset.  //

And so it was in the Somme Valley in France, 100 years ago, when millions of young men readied themselves in the trenches of the Western Front. 

Full of fear.  Shaken by days of artillery bombardment.  Not knowing what their fate would be.  But fully aware of the frightening odds. //

If ever there was a battle to highlight the futility of war, it was on the Somme from the 1st of July until mid November in 1916.  

A battle of attrition, the British Generals had planned.  As if human lives did not matter.

British forces alone suffered 60,000 casualties in the first 24 hours of the battle.  One third of them killed. 

In attacks on the village of Pozieres in late July 1916, the 1st and 2nd Australian divisions suffered 23,000 casualties, including nearly 7,000 men killed.

From all the armies involved, there were over one million casualties in the Battle of the Somme.

When exhaustion, and the heavy mud of a wet autumn, caused the offensive to be abandoned in November, the allied forces had managed to advance only 12 kilometres. //

416,000 young Australians volunteered for service in World War I.  From a population then of 5 million. //  60,000 of them never came home.  Including 2,000 killed at Gallipoli on this day in 1915.

Of all the combatant nations in that horrendous five-year conflict, only New Zealand’s contribution of personnel, per capita, was greater.

No community, no family in either nation was unaffected.

Today remains a day of great importance to the people of Australia and New Zealand.

Each year, we gather on the 25th of April to pay tribute to all the men and women who have served our two nations – in wars, conflicts and on peacekeeping operations around the globe.

Despite the passing of time, ANZAC Day still resonates across our two multicultural societies – including for our younger generations. 

Because it honours human sacrifice and courage.  And because it helps us remember the futility of conflict, and to cherish more strongly our love of peace.  To focus on the qualities that unite us, rather than the inconsequential differences between us.

These sentiments will be echoed as the sun rises across the globe this morning.  In Australia and New Zealand.  In France, Belgium and Turkey.  In Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.  //

I would like to pay tribute today to the little-known activities of the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces here in Laos in the post-World War II era.

From May to June 1975, for example, a detachment of Royal Australian Air Force Hercules transport aircraft, operating in support of United Nations relief efforts, flew humanitarian missions in and out of Vientiane, in the immediate aftermath of the conflicts throughout Indochina.

91 flights delivering almost 450 tonnes of humanitarian supplies to those in need.  

The New Zealand Defence Force too have contributed significantly to this country’s socio-economic development – providing personnel to the UN Unexploded Ordinance Program in Laos in the late 1990s and early 2000s, supporting Lao demining and UXO efforts.

I wanted to pay tribute today to all the former members of the Australian and New Zealand defence forces – some of whom are with us today – who have used, and continue to use, their skills and experience to help rid the Lao PDR of mines and unexploded ordnance.  //

Thank you again for joining us this morning to remember those who have sacrificed so much in conflict. 

And to hope and pray that young men and women – regardless of their country, faith or ethnicity – never have to face the same tragedies again.

Lest we forget.