Remarks by Ambassador Bill Tweddell
at the Remembrance Day Service
The Episcopal (Anglican) Church of the Holy Trinity, Makati City
8 November 2015
• Excellencies of the Diplomatic and Attaché Corps
• Assistant Secretary Roy Deveraturda, Department of National Defense – and may I endorse the comments just now of my British counterpart, His Excellency Asif Ahmad, about the pivotal role played by General Roy – as we call him with affection and respect – in the response to Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda which struck two years ago today with such devastating effect. We Australians are very proud to count General Roy among the alumni of Australian Defence studies.
• Distinguished guests
• Ladies and gentlemen
This year, 11 November marks the 97th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the First World War. I am honoured that Bishop Arthur Jones asked me to do the address today to commemorate this solemn occasion – in the church, my spiritual home, in which I have been worshipping for the past four years. My thanks also to my British counterpart for his embrace of that notion.
My apologies to those in the regular congregation who are still in shock at the sight of me in a suit!
My father served during World War Two in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as an Army Engineer and I grew up in the North Queensland Army Garrison city of Townsville. Dad had staged through Townsville en route to PNG. He fell in love with the place and lived there from 1956 until his death in 2011.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of attending the ANZAC Day Dawn Service each April 25 with my much-loved father in ANZAC Park in the Strand in Townsville – looking out across Cleveland Bay toward the Coral Sea, site of an epic World War Two battle, the winning of which helped keep Australia free – and of participating in Remembrance Day commemorations as, eventually, the Senior Cadet Under-Officer of the Townsville Grammar School Army Cadet Unit.
I am very much aware of the importance and significance of this solemn occasion. It is a privilege for me to deliver the 2015 Remembrance Day speech.
My British-born maternal grandfather served in the First World War in the fabled Light Horse.
The First World War was arguably the cataclysmic event of the 20th century. Globally, over 21 million people – combatants and civilians – died from all causes, in or from this war.
Australian Service men were, on average, 26 years old when they volunteered in 1914, and they came from rural properties, towns and cities all over Australia. From the suburbs of Adelaide, Brisbane, 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, to the tall forests and sandy scrub of Western Australia. Over 61,000 Australian soldiers died in the period 1914 to 1918, during what became known as the Great War – also known, prematurely and sadly, as the War to End all Wars.
The Armistice signed on 11 November 1918 brought to an end the bloodiest war in European history to that time. On that day, the Australian Corps on the Western Front was out of the front line, recuperating after an intensive period of operations that had begun on 8 August 1918 – particularly intense fighting, in which Australian soldiers won 20 Victoria Crosses, in this period alone.
But it is not just the cessation of the First War upon which we should reflect today. The circumstances created by the treaty, signed later at Versailles, to formally end conflict, and the cultural and nationalist foment in nations deeply affected by participation in the war, created conditions that, less than 25 years later, plunged the world into the second great war of the 20th century.
The outcome of the Second World War itself saw at least 40 million people die, with conditions in Europe and the North Atlantic at its conclusion leading to the Cold War, during which wars in both Korea and Vietnam were fought. We therefore cannot over-estimate and must not underestimate the importance of commemorating the Armistice that brought an end to the Great War – the event that was the precipitant of so many subsequent globally significant events.
The Philippines is, of course, itself no stranger to conflict, having experienced first-hand the tribulations and devastation of conflict for centuries before the First World War – commencing with the Battle of Mactan in 1521 and including the wars of the Spanish colonial period, the Philippine revolution of 1896 – 1898, and the Philippine-American War of 1899 – 1913.
In 1917, the Philippine Assembly created the Philippine National Guard with the intention of joining the American Expeditionary Force. By the time it was absorbed into the National Army, it had grown to 25,000 soldiers. However,
these units did not see action during the First World War. The first Filipino to die in World War I was Private Tomas Mateo Claudio who served with the US Army as part of the American Expeditionary Forces to Europe. He died in the Battle of Chateau Thierry in France on 29 June 1918.
The resilience of the Filipino people, as we saw nowhere more vividly with Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, and their tenacity in the face of adversity, embody the personal qualities that, in Australia, we identify with the soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force who, with their New Zealand counterparts, formed the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during the First War. These first Anzacs have become associated with the ‘Anzac virtues’ of courage, endurance, ingenuity, self-sacrifice and mateship. But, in truth, these qualities are not uniquely Australian, nor, if I may say so, New Zealanders, or unique to the First World War – they are shared by all people who unite for a common struggle.
It was a great honour to co-host, with my New Zealand counterpart, His Excellency David Strachan, the Anzac Centenary commemoration at Libingan ng mga Bayani (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) last 25 April. To share such an historic occasion with my Filipino colleagues and close friends in the diplomatic community, in a country with which we have a long history of military cooperation, will be a lasting memory of my time here.
Nearly a century on, with, like many of the nationalities represented here today, Australia’s last surviving First World War veteran having now passed on, it is useful to reflect on the thoughts of those who had just learned of the cessation of four continuous years of war.
On 11 November 1918, Australian soldier, 6080 Private Reynolds Cleve Potter of the 21st Battalion, wrote:
“This morning at 11, word came through from headquarters to the effect that the Armistice had been signed by the German delegates; that hostilities were to cease as from that hour. At the time I was instructing a class on the Lewis gun; but as soon as the news was read, they, with one accord, said they would do no more work; and went out to kick the football.”
For those back home in Australia, it was little different. The signing of the Armistice was a time for rejoicing at the end of hostilities that had impacted upon every country town, every regional centre and every city. This was indeed a day to celebrate, and the language used evoked the era – of its inherent belief in the strength of Empire and of a victory of the principles of freedom over military despotism. The newspapers of the time offer us a window into the public consciousness:
The Sydney Morning Herald, pondering the newly-realised peace, penned these words:
“Hundreds of thousands of men will today be relieved of a constant burden of mental and physical suffering, hundreds of thousands of their kinsfolk will at last be free of the daily anxiety which has been theirs ever since their sons and brothers went into the firing line. There will be many whom the news of this victory will not save from personal grief. […] The Australian people will recognise that to [the dead] they owe their safety, that through them their honour stands high among the free peoples of the world. ”
In Brisbane, the city of my birth, The Brisbane Courier reported there was “great and widespread enthusiasm, which as the night wore on merged into an incongruous rivalry between sheer noise and the hearty singing of patriotic songs and hymns.” Bands played, songs were sung and speeches were attempted as the strains of four years of war were suddenly released. Such scenes of joy and relief were repeated across Australia, and indeed, the world, as the news broke.
With nearly a century having passed since that first armistice, Remembrance Day has gradually evolved into a commemoration for service personnel who have been killed in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. This is a natural progression because of the passage of time and subsequent conflict; however, it is, I think, important that we do not lose sight of the original purpose of Remembrance Day – as a commemoration of the end of the Great War, and a hope that such war may never again be visited upon humanity.
Although history tells us that has not been the case, I urge you to remember the original reason to commemorate Remembrance Days: that on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918, fighting in the Great War ended.
I have chosen my final words of reflection on the great cost of war from the Melbourne newspaper The Argus, in which was published the following words on 12 November 1918. Although specifically referencing the Australian context, they transcend national boundaries and are, indeed, timeless and relevant to all:
“In Flanders’ fields, in Palestine, Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, the Balkans, Italy, Belgium – in all the countries where Australians have fought or camped or trained – are the rows on rows of crosses, the rows on rows of unmarked mounds, the nameless unknown places where sleep our gallant, glorious dead. No matter where their bodies lie, memories of their lives and their sacrifices are enshrined in the hearts of their countrymen, and living thus in hearts they leave behind is for them a fitting immortality. ”
Lest We Forget.