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Remembrance Day Address: Australian War Memorial, Canberra



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PRIME MINISTER

REMEMBRANCE DAY ADDRESS AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA 11 NOVEMBER 2011

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(Acknowledgments omitted)

On May 5 this year, a frail old man died in Perth.

The sort of death that happens in nursing homes every day.

But this was no ordinary loss.

With the passing of Claude Choules, the final link to World War One has been broken.

Around 70 million people fought in that dreadful conflict.

Mr Choules was the last.

A mighty bond, worn down to a single slender thread, itself now broken.

An age ended.

Its sole surviving voice forever mute.

Claude Choules was there on this day, 93 years ago.

The day the guns fell silent.

The day that peace began.

But if November 11 was the end of war, it was the end of innocence too.

Never again the ‘laughter of unclouded years’.

The armistice forged that autumn morning was a bitter, partial peace.

But then again, it always is.

Because human nature is weak and the summons to war lies never far away.

That is how this memorial to one war came to be opened in the midst of another.

And how hardly a day has passed since 1941 when Australians have not been abroad on active service, half of that time in combat operations.

The truth is we are a good nation in an imperfect world.

A people of peace so often called to war.

Fighting other nations, but really fighting deeper foes:

Tyranny, injustice, persecution and greed.

Never for national gain.

Never for purposes other than what we judged to be right.

Surveying these walls and the immense sadness of 102,000 names written on them, it is right to conclude that our nation - and especially the young people of our nation - have always accepted the cost and burden of war, as seen in Afghanistan this very day.

If we pay that price willingly, we never pay it lightly.

Because war is a profound responsibility for any nation to undertake.

Is it not surprising that men like Claude Choules and Charlie Mance who saw the worst of war became the most fervent sons of peace, and so often shunned observances such as this.

They knew what we only see ‘through a glass darkly’.

Privy to the joyless irony of conflict:

that the aim of war is peace - and the price of peace is all too often war.

An unbearable paradox witnessed by endless rows of pale, identical gravestones, and mud-soaked fields that even now still yield up their dead.

There are many tributes to war - memorials, wreaths, poems and songs.

All of them reaching for the unsayable.

All of them falling necessarily short.

Perhaps the only memorial that fully touches the enormity of war is silence.

It was in silence that so many of our veterans wrapped themselves when they came back.

Having seen and done things too awful to ever bring into the sanctity of their own homes.

Or to share with people who could never understand.

The things of which there is nothing left to be said.

Things for which words and symbols fail.

And contemplation remains our best and only gift.

In the wisdom and dignity of our silence, therefore, let us not forget.

It is little enough to ask of us who gained so much, from those who gave so much.

So in our still and grateful hearts, let there be only silence.

That on this day, and on every day, in every month and season, we will remember them.

Lest We Forget.