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Speech at the ANZAC Day dawn service, Villers-Bretonneux, France



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Wednesday, 25 April 2012 VA032

SPEECH

ANZAC DAY DAWN SERVICE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL MEMORIAL VILLERS-BRETONNEAUX, FRANCE

People of France, fellow Australians, our New Zealand brothers and sisters, veterans, and especially, you our men and women in uniform, friends.

It is fitting that this ceremony follows that held this morning at Gallipoli.

Many who fought here were veterans of the Anzac landings and the battles that ensued.

Some had been wounded there, and all were affected by the tragedy and sacrifice of that campaign.

At Gallipoli, they had won a deserved reputation for courage, bravery, toughness and mateship.

Described in a poem in the December 1915 edition of Punch as:

"The bravest thing God ever made."

But none could have imagined the horror of Fromelles, Poiziers, Bullecourt, Passchendale and other battles too many to mention.

Or the wet, the mud, the extreme cold, the misery...

The memorial behind us is a stark reminder of the sacrifice made.

Inscribed on it are the names of almost 11,000 Australians…

Names of Australians who were killed during the bloody battles across this land now almost a century ago.

For many, these names bring you here today.

They were your grandfathers…great-grandfathers…great uncles.

And in the cemetery on the slope behind us :

one of "these silent cities of the dead";

are more than 2,000 graves, 780 of them young Australians who would never come home;

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They remain forever here in this sacred ground, lovingly held to the bosom of France.

With those at home left to suffer the loss, pondering what should have been.

As one, Wolla Meranda, so painfully put.

"They will never come back - our stalwart men! They will never come back - our splendid men! And beauty weeps in the land of the morn, For the flower of love that will never be born."

Of the more than 295,000 Australians who served on the Western Front, some 46,000 made the ultimate sacrifice.

The extent of our losses here was so profound, it would forever shape our view of ourselves.

Etched into our psyche, like Gallipoli, it is central to our national story.

The site on which we stand is especially significant.

On the night of the 24th of April 1918 and into the morning of the 25th:

The ANZAC anniversary;

Australian troops stormed the German positions and drove them from Villers-Bretonneux.

The battle marked the end of the German advance on Amiens.

And from here, would later begin the great offensive that would lead to the end of the war.

Two years after the war, Marshal Foch unveiled a plaque in Amiens Cathedral honouring Australian dead -

He expressed his thanks for:

“That wonderful attack at Villers-Bretonneux” and said:

“You saved Amiens, you saved France.

Our gratitude will remain ever and always to Australia.”

After three years of fighting on the Western Front, the lucky survivors returned home.

They did so with pride.

But with sadness that so many of their "cobbers" were left behind:

So many in graves known only to God.

There are many stories yet untold of those brave sons who made the epic journey,

to fight this war not of their making.

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One of those who fought so bravely here at Villers-Bretonneux was Private Daniel Hodgekiss of the 59th Battalion.

Dan was an Aboriginal man, originally from Port Woolunga in South Australia.

Charles Bean wrote of his courage in battle:

Describing how he stormed and silenced a German machine gun post single-handedly.

Beyond the telling in the Official History, his gallantry went unrecognised.

A month later, Dan was severely wounded, and returned home in 1919, permanently disabled.

Sadly, like many returned men, he lived an isolated life suffering from the scars of war.

He died of his war wounds in 1924, aged 38, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Mildura.

His grave was found by a local researcher a couple of years ago, who set in train a long overdue official commemoration.

Dan's story reminds us of the selfless deeds of bravery of so many.

Today is a day in which all Australians, regardless of their origins, can take pride.

We recall the service and sacrifice of so many over now almost a century.

We remember those who served with our allies, who also suffered considerable losses.

And we think especially of those men and women who today so proudly wear the uniform in service of our country.

And we are forever mindful of our responsibility to them and all those who have served.

The Australian story of war is not of generals, or geography or a tally of winners and losers.

Our story of war, then and now, is one of ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things.

They are stories to be told down the ages.

So many Australian families have stories to tell.

Stories like those of my four great-uncles who served here on the Western Front.

Two were among "The Men from the Snowy River."

Brothers Joseph and Simon Turner enlisted from Adaminaby in NSW.

Joe was killed in action while with the 35th Battalion on 29 July 1917.

He was twenty five.

He is buried at the Bethleem Farm West Cemetery near Mesen in Belgium.

His brother Simon, aged 30, was killed four months earlier, on the second of April at Noreuil, about 50 kilometres from here.

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He is buried at Lebucquiere Communal Cemetery, south of Bullecourt.

My family’s experience of sacrifice, loss and sadness is one shared by so many other Australian families.

Every town and district in Australia was affected by the Great War.

This Memorial stands as a permanent reminder of the sacrifice made by Australians in that War.

At the time of it's dedication King George the VI th, said:

“They rest in peace, while over them Australia’s tower keeps watch and ward.”

As Dorothea MacKellar wrote:

"What does the World our mother remember while empire dies?

Honour and dreams and courage, and everything else goes by,

Lost in the dust of her going, lost in time's whelming seas:

Mother, forgetful mother, you shall remember these!

Lest we Forget.

ENDS