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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 (101 KB)

Saturday, 19 July 2014


Note:  A linguist will support the Minister on the day by simultaneously translating this speech for French speakers. As a result this address comprises more short sentences than would be used for an address to an Australian only audience. 

[Greetings omitted]

In this cemetery lie men once lost, now found, but never forgotten.

We gather here today, at long last, to finally honour 20 Australian soldiers, lost in battle 98 years ago, and to recognise their service and sacrifice in our nation’s name.

We extend to them the honour which has always been their due, but which the circumstances of war and death have to date prevented.

Far away from the hell of war waited families at home in Australia, anxious for news from the front.  Sadly, the news from this bloody battle would scar a nation, small communities and families alike for a generation.

Far too many of the men who fought in this battle still have no known final resting place.  Until now, that included the 20 Australians we are honouring today.

For almost a century their country and their families knew little of the circumstances of their death.  Their wives, parents and siblings would go to their graves knowing little more than that their husband, son or brother was ‘missing, presumed dead’ at Fleurbaix. 

In this French field, far away from the safety and familial comforts of home, Australians fought to build a better world, a safer world, a world free of tyranny.  Thousands would fight here, thousands would die here.

The war took these men in the prime of their lives,  the future of their nation, the men who would forge a new nation’s identity on the world stage.

These men we honour today were of that great generation of Australians who volunteered to serve their nation with such distinction in the First World War. When our population was less than five million they were among the 420,000 Australians who went into uniform. 60,000 Australians died in this war, more than 46,000 of them here on the Western Front.  Far too many of them have no known grave.

We will never know what might have been had they not fought in the war.  What careers they might have followed, what other great things that they might have achieved: for themselves, their families or for our country. 

They volunteered to serve their nation.  Their nation never forgot them, nor did it forget their sacrifice.

One of the men we especially remember today is Private Edgar William Parham.  Some of his family are here today.

Edgar Parham was a 37 year old baker from Gawler in South Australia, serving with the 32nd Battalion when he was mortally wounded at Fromelles.  He was married to Ethel, together they had three children. On his final leave before embarkation in 1915 Edgar received from his mother a compact Bible with a few loving words inscribed.

Two decades later, in 1937, a German veteran recalled that Parham, in his last moments, handed the German his Bible. The German had put the Bible in his kit and forgot about it. Before the German soldier died, he asked his brother to retrieve the Bible and send it back to the Australian soldier’s family.

Edgar’s mother, then aged 87, had her lost son’s Bible returned to her.  In an act of faith she sent the German soldier’s brother a Bible inscribed with her thanks.

Today, with our thanks, the nation gives Edgar William Parham the dignified final resting place his mother dreamt of all the rest of her life.

Today marks the end of a five year program of forensic and other investigation which to date has identified 144 Australians.   I acknowledge with gratitude the efforts of the British Government to this joint Australian and British project.  The expertise and commitment marshalled by both our nations for this project in historical research, archaeology, anthropology, forensic science and genealogy has been truly remarkable. 

I acknowledge the determination of Lambis Englezos to the discovery of these men which lead to the establishment of this cemetery.

I also wish to acknowledge the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who not only commissioned this new cemetery five years ago, but care so diligently for cemeteries across Europe and around the world.

The presence of so many people here today, families, friends, servicemen and women, representatives of  governments and the local community, reminds us all that the cost of war continues to resonate across the generations in our families, communities and nations. 

That we live free today has come at a cost.  Our freedom was paid in the blood of the men who lie here.

After the roar of that great battle here 98 years ago subsided, the wounded and dead were brought back in behind the lines.  Sergeant Simon Fraser of the 57th Battalion famously tells us of the soldier who, lying in no mans land in the days after the Battle, yelled out ‘Don’t forget me, Cobber’ when the stretcher bearers came searching.

We haven’t forgotten you, or your cobbers, mate.  We are proud of each and every one of you.  You are among our nation’s finest.  We salute your sacrifice, we honour your memory and we revere your service for evermore.


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 (101 KB)