Speech of the Australian High Commissioner to Ghana
Anzac Day, 25 April 2014
Christiansborg War Cemetery, Osu, Accra
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Thank you for joining us this morning at our Anzac Day service here in Accra.
Each year, Australians and New Zealanders gather on 25 April, to pay tribute to the men and women who have served our countries in wars and conflicts, and on peacekeeping operations. And just as Australia and New Zealand have never entered conflict on our own, so too our commemorations are shared with others. Our ceremonies around the world are graced by the presence of former and current allies and friends, and former foes as well. And of course, Turkey has a special place in Anzac Day because of its origins. Thank you all for being here.
Anzac Day is the anniversary of the day in 1915 - ninety nine years ago - when soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. They were part of the Allies’ plan to encircle Germany via Constantinople. The first landings took place just before dawn, which is why we have our dawn service now. In Australia and New Zealand, and in Turkey too, there are commemorations later in the day as well. But the dawn service always has a special meaning.
Gallipoli was by no means the first battle that Australians and New Zealanders came to. But the test of a hopelessly misconceived, and mismanaged, military campaign was so extreme, that it almost wiped out the memories of the earlier Anglo-Boer war in South Africa. And it overshadowed even the ghastly realities of the later Western Front and the nightmares of the Second World War.
For the ANZACs and other Allied forces - troops from Britain, France and its former colonies of North Africa, India and Newfoundland (now part of Canada) - Gallipoli was a disaster.
I visited the Gallipoli peninsula last month. In broad daylight, and in very peaceful circumstances, it was impossible to imagine how anyone could have thought the Allies might succeed. Equally, it is impossible to imagine how horrific the fighting was, in that terrain, in those numbers, at such close range. Lone Pine, where at least 9000 soldiers died, is the size of a football field. In other places, Turkish and ANZAC trenches were separated only by a few metres. All in all, Gallipoli claimed around half a million casualties from both sides, including at least 130 000 dead.
This morning we are not celebrating our defeat, or Turkey's victory. The best we can take from the Gallipoli experience has been the best of human values, which were on display there and which have inspired us ever since. At Gallipoli our soldiers showed values of mateship, courage, equality, and self-sacrifice. These are ideals we aspire to today.
Australian historian Les Carlyon notes that the Anzac tradition means different things to different people. But he sees some common elements. He says the Anzac tradition means "refusing to give up, no matter how hopeless the cause. It means looking after young mates, keeping your sense of humour, improvising and making do”. He sums it up: "(t)he ANZAC tradition is about character, perceived and real".
Let's remind ourselves, though, that ANZAC is not just about the best, and worst, of Gallipoli. The generations that have followed have kept this day to commemorate all conflicts that have touched us.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. The original Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was formed on 1 November 1914. This was the moment when contingents from all Australian states, and New Zealand, sailed in a single convoy, from Albany in Western Australia towards the Middle East.
This year is also the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.
At the end of that war, the international community established the United Nations with the UN Security Council as the principal organ for the maintenance of international peace and security. Australia's non-permanent membership of the Council will conclude at the end of this year. We have valued the opportunity to contribute to the work of the Council, and to work more closely with West African states during our term. We have seen real progress in Sierra Leone, progress too in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, while in northern Mali, the government and the United Nations are working hard to establish peace.
Anzac Day's emphasis on commemoration, quite naturally, falls mostly on the fighting forces. We honour their service and we thank them for it. Over time we have also come to recognise the contributions of others, both in and out of uniform. Nurses and other women working behind the front lines, for example - though the role of women in the armed forces is evolving and has become much more active than before.
We also recognise the impact of conflict on families at home, hurt by loss or by the continuing suffering of the combatants who returned. We honour them all.
And while we honour, and remember, those who have been touched by conflict, Anzac Day is also a day of renewal. Our focus on the ideals of ANZAC invites us to renew our commitment to the values I mentioned earlier, of mateship, courage, equality and self-sacrifice. For Australians and New Zealanders overseas, this commemoration of Anzac Day can remind us that, even at this distance, we remain part of our extended communities. I hope this is true for all of us here.
To emphasise the importance of commemoration for all of us, at home and around the world, I have here some crosses setting out messages from children visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. After the service we will place the crosses on the graves of the two Australian servicemen buried here at Christiansborg.
Finally, I am relieved to say that Anzac Day is not all gloom. After the solemn commemoration, comes breakfast with friends, and for many, an afternoon of sport and games. Here in Accra, the Australian and New Zealand community has organised a barbeque tomorrow. I look forward to being there.
And so, ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls, we here in Accra take our place in the commemoration world-wide of Anzac Day in 2014.
Lest we forget.