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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2835


Senator SANDY MACDONALD (10.30 p.m.) —In view of the fact that the Senate will not sit again before the funeral of the unknown soldier on 11 November, I stand before the Senate tonight to pay my respects to the 102,000 Australian Defence Force personnel who died in active service overseas and who are buried in war graves around the world.

  I point out that 11 November 1993 will mark a very solemn occasion because the funeral of the unknown Australian soldier takes place at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on that day. This service will bring back old memories for many Australians and has a special significance for them. Eighty flags from all the nations that provided a last resting place for those men and women who died for their country will fly in honour of them. The inscription on the tomb will read:

An unknown soldier of the war 1914-1918. He symbolises all Australians who have died in war.

Commemoration services will also be held around Australia at the same time. It will be a time for all Australians to reflect on the past and spare a thought and a prayer for those families who were changed forever because of the supreme sacrifice of their kin.

  It would be appropriate, following this deeply moving day, if schools in all states re-establish the tradition of having two minutes silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in memory of our fallen. As a relatively young nation, we must be very cautious not to discard traditions that have a very deep meaning. Of the 102,000 Australians buried overseas, the majority of them were buried in countries where Australian troops fought major battles: France, Belgium and Turkey during World War I and Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Singapore in World War II. Many are also buried in the United Kingdom, which was the principal training ground and hospital area during the First World War.

  Staff of the Australian War Memorial are in France at this time to recover the remains of a single unknown Australian soldier killed in World War I. The remains will be exhumed in secret from a cemetery in France. They will then be presented officially to Australia at the French village of Villers-Bretonneux, which has become synonymous with Australian sacrifice on the Western front in World War I. The remains will be flown to Canberra and entombed forever in the War Memorial.

  The simple selection method will differ from the British, who chose their unknown warrior by placing a blindfolded British commander in a room with the remains of six unknown soldiers and asking him to make a random choice. But the symbolic nature of choosing somebody's unknown son, finally returning home from where he left so many years ago, remains the same. It cannot help but move the strongest and the coldest heart. So now 75 years to the day after the first world war ended he will finally be laid to rest and may he rest in peace.

  I will deem it a great honour to lay a single flower on the tomb of the unknown Australian soldier after the ceremony. It will cause me to reflect on the past and remember the sacrifices that were made to allow us to live in this wonderful free democracy we cherish today. I am sure the English poet Rupert Brooke would excuse me when I say of our dead soldiers, lying so far from home, that there is a corner of a foreign field that is forever Australia.