Anzac Day 2020 Service
Address by Ambassador Steven J. Robinson AO
25 April 2020
We will remember them – even if we cannot do so in our traditional way – we will remember them.
I’m Steven J Robinson, the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines.
While we are unable to gather in our usual way at dawn on 25 April for our Anzac Day commemoration it is critically important that we still mark the occasion and remember what so many have done for us to ensure our freedom and our way of life.
There is a dignity, a poignancy in people, from all walks of life, coming together in the quiet stillness before dawn, in respect and remembrance. It is a time of solemn contemplation as we pay our respects to those who served and fought and sacrificed so much for us.
We can’t, of course, be physically together on Anzac Day morning because of COVID-19. We do, however, have the opportunity to pause a while to consider these Australians and New Zealanders - our ancestors, friends, family members, brothers and sisters - who have put themselves in harm’s way to serve us - their countrymen and women.
For many it is a time to cast one’s mind back – for me to remember my grandfather who was a mechanic in the Royal Air Force working on the early biplanes that flew over France in the First World War. Or of brave men I have known who have served in foreign countries, of close family friends in the Second World War serving on Catalinas flying up over Papua New Guinea and parts of South East Asia. Of men and women whom I have been proud to know, who has served in Korea, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan and Iraq and other conflict zones around the world. To also remember in my youth watching returned services personnel matching along Sydney streets - proud, a touch defiant, stoic, steeling themselves as they themselves remembered those who were with them in times of conflict, but who did not return.
The battle for Gallipoli, was where all this began 105 years ago – a Battle that saw us build unshakeable bonds and emerge as proud peoples - but mourning 8,141 Australians and 2,779 New Zealanders dead.
We particularly remember Gallipoli at this time of remembrance because the men who fought in that battle, forged, in bloody sacrifice, the bonds and values which our two nations hold most dear.
Witness to it all, Australia’s official historian Charles Bean, wrote at its end:
What these men did, nothing can alter now.
The good and the bad.
The greatness and the smallness of their story
It rises, it always rises…above the mists of ages, a monument to great hearted men, and for their nation – a possession forever.
Bean’s account of an Australian digger arriving at the front trench before the assault on Lone Pine says it all:
“Is Jim here?”
A voice rose from the fire step, “Yeah, right here Bill”.
“Do you chaps mind movin’ up a piece?” asked the first voice.
“Him and me are mates – and we’re goin’ over together”.
A generation later, Sergeant Jack Sim of the 39th battalion endured the desperate struggle on the Kokoda Track:
Some prayed, some swore with fear – but you couldn’t show it in front of your mates.
One of the boys got shot fair between the eyes right alongside me.
It was a perfect shot….terrible to be afraid.
Yet it’s the brave ones that are afraid and
still keep going.
That’s what they did, you know.
Scared bloody stiff and still kept going.
They were so young
They were so young
I loved them all.
Nearly 70 years later, an SAS Sergeant reflecting on the battle of Tizak in Afghanistan said:
To fail would be worse than death.
To let down your mates in combat….would be worse than death.
I don’t (even) know why I’m getting emotional about this….
Yeah, that’s it – that’s the essence.
You don’t let your mates down.
That is the essence.
Historians have argued that no Australians or New Zealanders have given more to shape our values and our beliefs, the way we relate to one another and see our place in the world, than those who have worn and who wear now – the uniform of Navy, Army and Air Force.
That they have given us a greater belief in ourselves and a deeper understanding of what it means to be – an Australian and a New Zealander.
That they, and especially the physically and emotionally wounded veterans amongst us and the families who love and support them, remind us that are some truths by which we live that are worth fighting to defend.
And while Anzac Day has emerged as a time to remember and honour those who wear the uniform in our name, and for the protection of our security, this year is somehow different. There is an added dimension – obvious to us all.
It may be glib to claim that all Australians and New Zealanders have been asked to display the ANZAC spirit during this time of fear, uncertainty, personal sacrifice and togetherness, but I can’t think of a more apt sentiment to describe what is required right now. If it helps then, invoke the ANZAC spirit when dealing with the difficulties and frustrations of our current day battle – the one against the spread of COVID-19. In this way perhaps we may honour the legacy of our ANZACs.
So on ANZAC Day this year Australians are standing in their driveways, on their balconys or in their living rooms, with a torch or candle, following the televised dawn service, to remember all those who have served and sacrificed.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Darren Chester has said that Australians are at their best when they come together to support one another and while we cannot physically gather to commemorate the service and sacrifice of our Defence personnel, we can show them our respect.
“We should think about all those who have served and died during their service in the Australian Defence Force, we should think about those who continue to serve in uniform today and we should think about those who love and support them in their service.”
I invite you to pause at any time during the day of 25 April, to take a moment of quiet reflection and acknowledge those who have served or who are serving today.
I find the words of Dr Brendan Nelson, AO, outgoing Director of the Australian War Memorial, delivered at the ANZAC dawn service address in Canberra in 2016 particularly poignant and relevant today.
Hope is sustained most by men and women reaching out in support of one another - ‘mates who go over together’ and though gripped with fear, don’t let one another down.
Their spirit is here.
This place, this day - is not about war.
It is about love and friendship.
Love of family, of country and honouring those who devote their lives not to themselves but to us; and their last moments - to one another.
After the bloodbath at Fromelles, Sergeant Simon Fraser spent three backbreaking days bringing in the wounded from No Man’s Land.
A lone voice pleaded through the fog, “Don’t forget me cobber”.
We never will.
For we are young, and we are free.
Lest we forget.