Skip to navigation

Previous Ministers' releases and speeches - Senator The Hon. Michael Ronaldson

Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC
Special Minister of State

PDF version (318 KB)

Monday, 4 August 2014
VA044

ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS- 100 YEARS SINCE THE START OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR
**CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY**

It is a great honour to speak today at this, Australia’s most iconic institution, our nation’s home of commemoration.

It is an institution which, by design, is devoid of pretence and which, as such, truly reflects the deeds and sacrifices of those who are honoured in its cloisters.

They were ordinary men and women who did extraordinary deeds in the face of both catastrophic military defeats and the most stirring of victories.

On this day, one hundred years ago, the First World War began.

The war of 1914-1918 was to become the largest and most costly conflict the world had known - “The Great War” involved the mobilisation of 70 million men in uniform worldwide.

They fought in a global conflict that drew in over 100 countries, caused the disintegration of old empires, and reshaped the political order for much of the twentieth century.

Over thirteen million people died, nine million of them combatants. Over one-third of all the soldiers killed were “missing”, or had no known graves. Many millions more were maimed physically or damaged mentally, adding to the enormous cost to all nations involved.

417,000 Australian men enlisted during the war – amounting to almost half the eligible male population of the country – and over 330,000 of them embarked for service overseas.

Almost two-thirds of those who served abroad became casualties, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) having the highest proportion of battle casualties of all the forces of the British Empire.

Over 60,000, or one man in five of those who served abroad, died on active service.

Of the 264,000 who returned, more than half had suffered through their wounds, both physical and emotional.

For Australia, the effects of the war were profound and enduring.

Together with the loss of those who died and the devastation to the living, the war left our young nation in mourning.

It devastated rural and regional Australia for a generation.

Entire families lost their next generation of sons, either in the war itself, or in the years that followed as the war took its toll.

Yet, the nation took pride in the fact that Australian soldiers had played a pivotal role in the allied victory of 1918 that liberated the invaded nations of France and Belgium.

Today marks also the beginning of our nation's four year commemoration of these cataclysmic events that so shaped our sense of what it means to be Australian.

It will be a defining period in our nation’s history, as we seek to better understand where we fought, when we fought and reflect on the values we fought to defend.

At the end of it all, Australia’s official First World War historian, Charles Bean wrote:
What these men did, nothing can alter now. The good and the bad.
The greatness and the smallness of their story rises….It always rises.
Above the mists of time as a monument to great hearted men.
And for their nation – a possession forever.

We owe it to those who gave their lives, the families who mourned them, our generation and our nation's future - to remember extraordinary service and sacrifice made in our name, during the First World War and through the century since.

Lest We Forget.

 

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) and Veterans Line can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free and confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046

PDF version (318 KB)