Speech by Ambassador Amanda Gorely
at the Anzac Day Dawn Service
Libingan ng Mga Bayani, Taguig
25 April 2016
A few years ago I attended an ANZAC day dawn service in Picton, a small town on the very northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. It was an unusually still morning for that often windy part of the world and we gathered at the water’s edge before the memorial to the fallen – the same humble memorial which takes pride of place in every small town across Australia and New Zealand.
As the weak dawn light reflected on the limpid waters of the Marlborough Sound, an elderly Maori woman began to wail at a high pitch stopping in our tracks those of us who had congregated for the service.
She was performing a traditional Maori song – a waiata tangi – a plaintive lament to give expression to deep feelings of grief.
This woman’s haunting cry was not an official part of the service, but it embodied for me the sense of sadness and desolation of this day of remembrance more powerfully than any words could do.
But alas I have only words at my disposal this morning.
Australians and New Zealanders meet at this hour, on this day, every year to honour the heroism, tenacity and resilience of that group of young men whose units were sent to Gallipoli. From town and country, the outback and the fjordlands, of European descent and indigenous – off they went to a war far from our shores.
There they joined British and French forces and fought in a campaign it was hoped would shorten the duration of the war. But like many judgements made in war, it would prove incorrect.
The overwhelming strength of the Turks defeated the allies. There was catastrophic loss of life on both sides. Today we honour those men who fell and were wounded. We acknowledge their many acts of bravery and heroism. We mourn the senseless loss of life of a generation of rowdy, adventurous boys who were cut off in their prime far away from their homes and the loving embrace of their families.
We also remember those non-military personnel who were there with them and bore witness to the horror – including the nurses and doctors, the journalists, photographers, writers and poets.
Platitudes can provide little comfort for the desolation caused by lives so senselessly cut short. However I am always struck by the poignancy of the words of Turkey’s first President, Kemal Ataturk, which are carved into a marble plinth on a windswept cliff reminiscent of Gallipoli, at the Ataturk memorial overlooking the Cook Strait in New Zealand. He said:
“You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries - wipe away your tears: your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well”.
The fine sentiments expressed in these words touch so powerfully on the essence of parental grief but also serve to remind us of the futility of war. For in the end, we are all human beings with the same vulnerabilities and frailties.
It is said that the independence of Australia and New Zealand as nation states was forged in the fires of Gallipoli and that our national characteristics are embodied in the larrikin spirit and loyalty of the ANZACs. Well it may be so. However, I can’t help but wonder whether the ultimate sacrifice by so many was too great a price to pay for validation of our nascent nationhood.
We must resolve anew to keep the flame of their memories alive. It is indeed inspiring to see so many young people taking part in dawn services in Australia, New Zealand and indeed at Gallipoli itself.
We also take this moment to pay tribute to the 2000 or so Australian servicemen and women currently deployed on operations around the world - very often still alongside New Zealanders and personnel from other nations here today. They are in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arabian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, Lebanon, South Sudan and the Sinai.
I was in Canberra for the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing last year. By the 25th of April there is a chill in the early morning air in Canberra and the dawn breaks slowly in resplendent blood red hues. The evocative waft of eucalyptus leaves and the rambunctious call of cockatoos greeting the day leaves us in no doubt of where we are.
This year in Manila the tropical heat of this early morning hangs heavy in the air and we are no less moved. Still we stand together in solemn union remembering those who gave so much so that we could have so much - our liberties and freedoms – our very lives.
Lest we forget.