Address by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
Anzac Day 2015 Dawn Service
Libingan ng mga Bayani (The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier)
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City
25 April 2015
“The Centenary of Anzac”
Honourable Eduardo Batac, Undersecretary, Department of National Defense;
Other senior members of the Government, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police;
Veterans and serving Defence personnel;
Colleagues from the diplomatic and attaché corps;
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, the Centenary of the Anzac Landing, is a very special time for all Australians and New Zealanders, and marks one of the most significant national commemorations to take place in our lifetimes.
Each year on 25 April, Australians gather to remember the soldiers who were killed at Gallipoli and, by extension, the more than 120,000 Australians who have lost their lives in service to our nation.
Traditionally, ANZAC Day begins with a Dawn Service, at which Australians and New Zealanders remember the landings that began with the invasion of Ottoman Turkey exactly 100 years ago. On that day, 749 men of the Australian Imperial Force were killed in action, or died of wounds inflicted soon after they leapt ashore on the little, shingly beach soon to be called Anzac Cove.
Those who died on 25 April 1915 are certainly among those most often referred to in addresses delivered today across Australia, New Zealand and far beyond our two nations. They are mentioned in the abstract, as carriers of the Anzac virtues of courage, endurance, ingenuity, self-sacrifice and, mateship.
They were, on average, 26 years old when they volunteered in 1914, and they came from rural properties, towns and cities all over Australia’s mainland states and from far beyond. From the suburbs of Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney to the furthest reaches of the bush, including the steamy rain forests of far north Queensland to the wide salt-bush plains and wheat-lands of South Australia, and the tall forests and sandy scrub of Western Australia.
One of these men was Corporal Joseph Stratford, a sugar cane cutter in his mid-thirties, who had volunteered in Townsville, North Queensland, my own home town, in October 1914. Many believed that Joe was the first man to set foot on the Gallipoli peninsula. He was in the first rowing boat to make it ashore under fire.
According to witnesses, he led from the front, jumped out of the boat, dashed up the beach and the scrubby ridge, as energetically as any of those in the first wave, to silence a machine gun that was killing his men.
His mother, Alice, waiting at home in Queensland was not to receive confirmation of Joe’s death for another year, despite numerous reports that he was still missing in action. She took some consolation from eye witness accounts that he was the first Australian ashore on Gallipoli.
The records state that Corporal Joseph Stratford, 1179, B Company, 9th Battalion, labourer, “threw himself on a machine gun”, no trace, died 25 April 1915.
In 1980, his nephew Fred composed a stirring poem celebrating his uncle’s achievement:
The skies that arched his lands were blue.
His bush worn winds were warm and sweet
And yet from earliest hours he knew
The tides of victory and defeat…
The bugles of the Motherland
Rang ceaselessly across the sea
To call him and his lean brown band
To shape imperial destiny
Today marks exactly 100 years since the landing at Gallipoli, and, to truly appreciate the significance of the day, we must understand the men of 1915 as individuals, not just slogans and assertions of the wider commemoration of ANZAC Day.
These men would never know that the bay in which some of them were to die was to be called Anzac Cove and would become a pilgrimage site for thousands of Australians and New Zealanders many decades on. These men would never know that the landing in which they died was doomed from the start, and would be recorded by historians as a military failure.
However, this military failure, the storming of the beach under fire and the scaling of the steep hills while the air – as one account put it – “was alive with shrapnel” became a defining moment for our nation – a young nation which otherwise lacked the dramatic storming of a bastille or a hard-won fight for independence.
According to Charles Bean, Australia’s official war historian at Gallipoli:
“Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never know defeat”.
The British Empire, Dominion and French forces suffered severely at Gallipoli. More than 21,200 British, 10,000 French, 8,700 Australians, 2,700 New Zealanders, 1,350 Indians and 49 Newfoundlanders were killed. The Allied wounded totalled over 97,000. Turkish losses numbered close to 60,000.
In Australia and New Zealand, people could only look on in disbelief at the mounting casualty list. And yet Gallipoli was just the beginning of what was to become a long road for Australia and New Zealand soldiers in the Great War. Further deployments took them on to the more costly battlefields of the Western Front in France and Belgium – where the death toll numbered in the tens of thousands and where Australia would lose 2,000 men on a single day.
During the past century, ANZAC Day has gone beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is now the day on which we remember Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
Their legacy, the Spirit of Anzac, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity.
Australians and New Zealanders share the knowledge that, in times of crisis, we have acted together to defend freedom, our shared values and our common interests. And we stand ready to do so again.
On this day, the Centenary of Anzac, the past and all its meaning is once again brought home to us.
Lest we forget.