Speech of the Australian High Commissioner to Ghana
Commemoration of ANZAC Centenary, 25 April 2015
Christiansborg War Cemetery, Osu, Accra
Thank you once more for joining us this morning at our Anzac Day service here in Accra.
Each year we assemble here - as Australians and New Zealanders gather on 25 April around the world - to pay tribute to the men and women who have served our countries in wars and conflicts and on peacekeeping operations.
Our commemorations on Anzac Day are anchored to the anniversary of the day in 1915, one hundred years ago, when soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.
The first of those landings took place just before dawn, which is why we hold these dawn services. At home, and in Turkey too, there are commemorations later in the day as well. But the dawn service has a special meaning.
Centenaries have special meaning too. 100 years is too long for most humans to live, so very few people indeed get to celebrate a centenary of something they have experienced directly. There are no survivors left in Australia or New Zealand of men or women who served in the First World War. So the very powerful commemorations of World War 1 in Australia and New Zealand are not of something we have known ourselves. They reflect the commitment of communities which have engaged more and more with commemoration over recent years, and the commitment of Australians and New Zealanders, young and old, deciding to make themselves part of today.
We here in Accra are part of a very large global community taking part in Anzac Day commemorations. Thank you all again for making the effort to join us here, now.
As we know, Gallipoli was a disaster: a heavy defeat for the Allies, including our forebears from Australia and New Zealand. With them there were many more from Britain and France, and from French West Africa. Men came also from India and Newfoundland. Turkey’s losses were even greater. Added up, there were about half a million casualties from both sides, over just a few months, including at least 130 000 dead.
We do remember them.
From this disaster, and from the many other tragedies we knew over the next 100 years, we have come to focus each Anzac Day not on victory or defeat. Rather we have opened our hearts to acknowledge the ‘spirit of Anzac’, ideals of mateship, courage and self-sacrifice. These were evident at Gallipoli and they were evident again and again in later times and later conflicts where Australians and New Zealanders took their part.
In the 100 years since Gallipoli our Anzac Day commemorations have embraced all conflicts which we have known. There were many in the 20th century: two world wars; conflict in Malaya, Korea, Vietnam; peacekeeping and peace building operations in Asia too, and in Europe and the Middle East, and in Africa. The 21st century has so far seen less conflict involving us. We honour the service of our men and women through the past 100 years and around the globe.
West Africans, too, played a part in both World Wars, whether it was in the defence of France or the British Empire. We see their memorials here at the War Cemetery in Accra, and in other cities of the region.
On Anzac Day we try to recognise also the impact conflict has had on families, hurt by loss or by the continuing suffering of service personnel who have returned home. We think today of all who have been touched by conflict.
Let us remember them.
When we consider the cost of conflict we tend to count what can be counted. The number of dead and wounded. The physical destruction which has taken place. The changes in short and long term wealth and incomes. The fall of empires and the movement of borders and the flows of refugees and displaced people. For Australia and New Zealand these calculations have measured some terrible losses, but they have been mostly in casualties. They understate the cost of war to our communities, for there is something missing from the calculation. This is a huge loss, almost impossible to imagine, let alone to add up: the impacts over generations of lives cut off and damaged in war; human potential destroyed or derailed; in the thousands and with permanent consequences.
Perhaps this is what we sense more and more as the great disasters of the world wars recede into history: the loss cannot be measured and it is forever.
Or perhaps what we sense more and more, along with this terrible loss of potential, is our own good fortune. As the New Zealand writer Vincent O’Sullivan said: ’now and forever, home is good’.
We mourn loss; we honour service and sacrifice; we commemorate; we renew commitment to century old ideals: mateship, courage, self-sacrifice; and we are thankful for who we are and where we come from.
Let us remember, always.