‘Lest We Forget’

Anzac: The Ranks Grow Thin

Supplied courtesy of the © Robinvale Sentinel

Anzac Day however, is still being remembered 72 years on by not only those who were left to grow old, but also the younger generation, which was evident at the services held in Robinvale and Euston last Saturday.

Ex-Servicemen from Anzac to Vietnam observed Anzac Day in Robinvale, and although the ranks of diggers were a little thinner, so too were the onlookers that lined the route. The Robinvale March took place in blazing sunshine, headed by the Robinvale Highland Pipe Band, followed closely by a vehicle carrying Mr. Bill Cornford, an original Anzac who only recently turned 100 years old.

The main body of ex- servicemen followed, together with Guides and Scouts.

At the Cenotaph, the gathering was addressed by guest speaker Mr. Ken Wright M.L.C. who said: All over Australia people are gathering to commemorate Anzac Day.They will have two things uppermost in their minds. To honour those who served and particularly those who gave their lives. To pledge our resolve to care for the widows and children, and those ill and incapacitated from war service.

In particular, I stress that Anzac Day in no way glorifies war — war is useless, horrible and costly in every way. History has shown however, there are times when a nation must fight to preserve its freedom and way of life. The first Anzac Day was in 1915 at Gallipoli in Turkey, when Australia won an important place in world history. Great Britain and France were locked in a gigantic battle on the western front, a battle that became a stalemate, extremely costly in human life. Turkey had entered the war on Germany’s side and the Dardenelles blocked the allies’ access to Russia’s Black Sea ports.

If the Dardenelles could be taken, Russian grain could be imported to hungry Europe and much needed arms and ammunition sent to our Russian allies. The story of the landing at Gallipoli is well known. Everyone was under fire, the Infantry, the medical corps, the cooks, the padres, in fact everyone.

Our men displayed the finest qualities of courage, sacrifice, comradeship and self reliance. As it was impossible to advance without more men that could not be spared, Gallipoli was evacuated after eight months without the loss of a single life. However, 10,000 Australian and N.Z. soldiers remain there forever in their lonely graves. The magnificent qualities of our men became known, and Australia was recognised as a nation. In my opinion, Gallipoli was not a failure or a defeat. On the contrary, Gallipoli took pressure off the Russians and kept Russia in the war until 1917. Valuable time was gained by the allies, for the manufacture of munitions, equipment and armaments and men were enlisted and trained. Bulgaria was kept out of the war for a vital six months and the Turkish invading forces never reached Egypt. By this time, Russia did sign a peace agreement, the hundreds of thousands of victorious German troops pouring into the western front were balanced by American troops entering the fray, and the high morale of other allied forces, particularly the A.I.F.

However, but for Gallipoli, the war could have ended quickly and disastrously.

After Gallipoli, our five divisions in France became the finest and most feared force on the western front. But this was not achieved without great loss and suffering. Two weeks in the trenches or in an attack were the equivalent of a lifetime of danger – and hardship.

By 1918, the Australians now under the command of Sir John Monash as an army corps, were recognised as the finest fighting force in the world and their espirit de corps, courage, comradeship and self sacrifice were outstanding. World War I was to be the war to end all wars. Tragically, this was not be, as our men and women made the same sacrifices in World War II, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam. They showed the same courage, determination, mateship and self reliance as their fathers and grandfathers. Few of us here today have not lost a close relative, particularly in World War I.

My father and his six brothers all served. One lost his life defending Villers Bretonneux – Robinvale’s twin town. For the past 30 years, I have researched my uncles’ involvement in the war.

In 1979, I was able to visit Villers-Bretonneux and was humbled by the respect and admiration the French people on the Somme have for Australia. The school children regularly visit the lovely cemeteries in which most of the 60,000 of the finest of Australia’s youth who paid the supreme sacrifice in World War I are sleeping. President of the R.S.L. Bruce Ruxton is at Villers-Bretonneux for the Anzac Day ceremony, further cementing our special relationship. Bruce has been fearless in expressing views on matters important to us, and I agree with much of what he has said.

We should spare a thought for the mothers and wives who waited and worked at home dreading the visit of the minister or the telegram telling of their sad loss.

Why did our men go? Was it a love of fighting? Was it a search of adventure? Was it a desire to travel? No, if it was, such motives quickly went. Whilst they would call it patriotism, that is what it really was, standing by their mates, doing their share to preserve our way of life and keep this country free.

What can we learn from our service men and women? Loyalty, our family, workmates, service, community organisations and service clubs, courage in our own lives, in sickness and adversity.

It is a national disgrace that so little of the history of those who served is taught in our schools. Magnificent paintings of war scenes have been banished from state parliament. Had we lost either of the great wars, we wouldn’t even have parliament.

Freedom has weakened our resolve and will power, and many of us have settled for a life of indulgence and immorality.

Every young Australian should do a period of National Service. The discipline and community service would be invaluable.

Let us have pride in our nation. We have our problems, but we have much to be thankful for. Finally I have vivid memories of my visit to Villers Bretonneux and the school adopted by Victoria, that has inscribed in each classroom, “Never Forget Australia.”

In the same spirit, I urge you all, never forget the sacrifice and magnificent example shown by the finest of our young men and women who served in the armed services of this great nation, and in particular, those who paid the supreme sacrifice.

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