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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 3033


Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (12:28): Can I firstly acknowledge and thank those who have already spoken in this debate. The last two speakers I heard, the member for McEwen and the member for Murray, both raised very relevant issues for all of us, pertinently, of course, referring to the history of Remembrance Day, initially Armistice Day. This year does mark the 100th anniversary of the battles on the Western Front, the Battle of the Somme; the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan; from my own part of Australia, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin; and, most appropriately, the 75th anniversary of the Australian War Memorial, that great national place and iconic museum. It is more than a museum: it is a place for us to honour those who have served and continue to serve.

Earlier this year, I had the great privilege of being in attendance at the 100th anniversary commemorative events on the Western Front, including those that gave us an opportunity to remember those battles of the Somme. The Battle of the Somme commenced on 1 July 1916. The British offensive started north-east of the town of Albert. They had 60,000 casualties. Then, on 19 July, in a feint the Australian 5th Division entered the battle of Fromelles. In the space of 24 hours, there were 5,000 casualties, almost 2,000 dead. It was the worst 24 hours in Australia's military history. Then, on 23 July, commenced the battle of Pozieres at Mouquet Farm. It lasted until 3 September. There were 23,000 Australian casualties during that period.

I use these figures only to emphasise that this was really butchery. This was not war as we appreciate war in the sense that people make judgements. This was a war affected by poor leadership, bad strategies and poor tactics, one where leaders actually sent people to certain death. We know the impact that that has had on the Australian nation. During the First World War, we had 416,000, or thereabouts, Australians who served overseas; 60,000 of those were killed and 156,000 were wounded. The member for Murray reminds us that a further 60,000 died in the following two years after the Armistice.

When we are remembering these things, we have to understand what we are talking about. This is about human sacrifice—sacrifice for us. Whilst we can be critical—and I am very critical—of the First World War and the strategies involved, we cannot fault the courage and bravery of those men who served for us, on our behalf, and sacrificed all. It is worth contemplating what this has meant to families. Almost every Australian family was touched in one way or another by the First World War and those battles and the loss of life.

There were some very, very good people, men and women, who worked for us on the Western Front. A Victorian farmer, Sergeant Simon Fraser, was a member of the 57th Battalion. He made some brave efforts to rescue many hundreds of wounded men. He sent a note back on 31 July 1916. In one part he says:

We found a fine haul of wounded and brought them in, but it was not where I heard this fellow calling so I had another shot for it and came across a splendid specimen of humanity trying to wiggle into a trench with a big wound in his thigh: he was about 14 stone weight and I could not lift him on my back, but I managed to get him into an old trench and told him to lie quiet while I got a stretcher. Then another man about 30 yards out sang out, "Don't forget me cobber." I went in and got four volunteers with stretchers and we got both men in safely.

The magnificent Cobbers memorial is a statue of that soldier carrying another wounded soldier, a copy of which is now at the Cenotaph in Melbourne.

It is worth reflecting on a couple of headstones very briefly. Sergeant PJ Ball Military Medal from the 44th Battalion of Australian Imperial forces has this is on his headstone:

I fought and died in the Great War to end all wars. Have I died in vain?

On another headstone of a digger at Villers-Bretonneux, Private W Calhourn of the 48th Battalion, is:

Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten.

Lest we forget.