‘Lest We Forget’

What Anzac Day Means To Me

 “Hell Ship” Survivor to attend Anzac Service
Mr. Ray Wheeler, Guest Speaker

Supplied courtesy of the © Robinvale Sentinel

In all civilised societies, regardless of creed and culture, history shows that the act of remembrance is a large segment in the process of learning.

Using the powers of remembrance wisely can in many instances avoid making the same mistakes further on down life’s long trail.

We Australians with but a short period in the world’s recorded history have much to remember on this Anzac Day.

Very soon after Federation when our fledgling Nation was still in its teens, the cream of Australia’s youth, its young men and women, answered the call to arms to protect that great emerging Australian way of life, the freedoms of which we are proud and still cherish today.

Before World War I ended, some 58,900 Australians were to give their lives at Gallipoli, Ypres, Mons, Beersheeba, Paschendale and Bullecourt to name but a few battles well remembered for their human sacrifice and in a myriad of other places on land, sea and in the air.

116,000 were to return to their native soil wounded or gassed, 88,000 had severe illnesses; 4,100 were declared missing or POW’s.

All who returned carried the physical and mental scars of war for the rest of their lives.
A short 20 years later, the call went out again. The freedom of many nations was threatened by the Nazi-Fascist juggernaut and, in 1941, by the fanatical bushido military caste of Japan.

Australia was quick to respond and once again the cream of Australia’s youth answered the call.

You, who are here today, to remember, will well recall the Nation’s efforts in the 6 years that followed.

The Hitler war machine along with Mussolini’s Facist Military junta were quick to over run Europe and the Middle East including North Africa giving the opportunist Japan confidence to take over the Far East, the borders of India and the Pacific area to the very doors of Australia.
In the European conflict, Hitler was stopped when he failed to make a successful channel crossing to England and Mussolini’s forces failed in desert warfare. The Japanese were stymied on the ocean in the battle of the Coral Sea and on land by our own Australians on the Kokoda Trail in the Owen Stanleys in New Guinea.

When the European conflict ceased with the surrender of Italy followed by the unconditional surrender of Germany, the war in the East ended quickly with the beginning of the nuclear age as seen in the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the first atomic weapons used by man.
On August 15, 1945 the world was at peace, casualties in the Second World War were immense and in that era, if possible to total, would surely run into tens of millions.

However we do know that during the Second World War in excess of 34,000 Australian men and women gave their lives; 23,000 were taken prisoner of war; 25,000 more returned home wounded or sick and 8,600 perished in Japanese POW camps.

For the first time, our growing nation was to feel and witness the ugliness of war on its doorstep with Darwin and northern cities and towns including Townsville being bombed by the Japanese and Sydney being shelled by submarines, our civilian population was to suffer its first war casualties.

With 100,000 dead, 200,000 wounded and disabled, 30,000 taken prisoner, the legacy of two World Wars, taking in mind that Australia’s small population of less than 7 million in 1939, affected in no small way every Australian family during the years 1914 to 1945. Add to these figures the casualties of the Korean War, the Malayan insurgency, the Borneo confrontation and the Vietnam War, the descendants of Australia’s original pioneers have so much to remember.

Today, with our multicultural society, we have all those other facets of war and aggression among us.

Survivors of the Holocaust, the attempted extermination of the Jewish race; the settlers from the captive nations; the displaced persons from the wars who had no home to return to; finally culminating in the “boat people” who still head for our shores, all contribute to an Anzac Day when we all join in remembering man’s inhumanity to man and those of our own who served and lay down their lives so that we might live in freedom.

Added up, we have much to remember this day both individually and collectively.

What are the lessons we Australians must learn?

Firstly, I believe we must maintain a strong defence presence for the weak are always first to suffer.

Secondly, it should be the duty of all Australians who bear allegiance to this Nation Australia, be it their birth place or adopted land, that allegiance should bring with it a duty of service to the nation, entailing training for all adults in some defence capacity.

Thirdly, we should not use the words ethnic or multicultural, we should all be proud to be first and foremost an Australian.

Migrants to Australia have always been welcome and the best of what they bring with their culture will almost in all cases filter into the Australian psyche and enhance it.

We should be striving for One Country, One People, One Language, and only when we achieve this will we realise the great potential that lies latent in this, our Nation.

It is now 76 years since World War I, less than 700 who fought in that war survive today.

It is 53 years since the Second World War began and 25 years down the track from the Vietnam War.

Our defence forces have been allowed to run down; however I believe that the quality of our equipment and the training of our personnel cannot be criticised, but at this point in time we would find it hard to put a division of well trained and equipped troops to defend our vulnerable north or even sustain any regional conflict for other than a short period.

We who today remember, should each be lobbying our elected politicians to redress this deplorable state and demand that the lessons so dearly learnt in Australia’s past be remembered so we are better prepared to deter any potential enemy from forcing its will on our Nation.

It is most disappointing that, along with defence cutbacks, the Veteran community are bearing more than their fair share of fiscal pruning of their hard won benefits.

With the Repatriation Prescription Benefits Scheme being more and more aligned with welfare not compensation, many of the dearer and more sophisticated drugs that so many chronically ill disabled veterans depend on now need approval of some faceless bureaucrat whom he has never met.

It makes this veteran wonder who really is his doctor, his local medical officer who is well acquainted with his disabilities or the faceless bureaucrat.

Add to this the latest provisions on deeming? applied to a veterans savings, the charging of fees along the lines of welfare recipients for pharmaceuticals for entitled veterans, one would be justified in reminding today’s politicians that they are forgetting, not remembering the very people whose sacrifices made it possible for them to hold office today.

The forthcoming budget only days away would hold more pruning of veterans entitlements and benefits, this at a time when most are in their twilight years and arguably the most traumatised group of Australians who do not need this added worry and confusion.

However, let us rededicate ourselves today to those freedoms founded by them we commemorate; they are, justice, liberty, fair play and equality for all.

May we strive to preserve that which is uniquely Australian and forged by Australian’s intolerance of all tyrants and aggressors.

Let us pray there are no more wars, but in doing so, remain steady in our resolve to defend our Nation and its heritage.

“At the going down of the Sun and in the morning, we will remember them”

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