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Speeches

The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

SPEECH

25 April 2018

Speech - Anzac Day Dawn Service at Polygon Wood

Ambassadors, Mayor, Alderman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

We stand among the silent headstones today to remember the men of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the dawn landings at Gallipoli on 25 April, 1915 – which, in so many ways, were the crucible in which our two national identities were forged.

This very special day of commemoration has grown into recognition of all military service by Australian and New Zealand Defence personnel, and their courage, character and sacrifice.

Anzac Day is not an occasion to glorify war. It is a day of reflection. It is a day on which we thank those who have served and continue to serve our nations in the pursuit of freedom and peace.

It is a day where we thank the families and loved ones of those who currently serve for their resolute support. It is a day where we recommit to working to prevent such atrocities from happening again.

World War One was characterised by commentators of the day as “the war to end all wars”. In the summer of 1914, more than 65 million troops from three empires were mobilised.

Four years later, the world had suffered more than 20 million military and civilian deaths and 21 million wounded. Of men aged 18 to 42, almost one in two enlisted and of those who served overseas, one in five was killed in action.

Between March 1916 and November 1918, nearly 300,000 Australians served in the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front. Twelve thousand of them perished here in Belgium.

Buried here among more than 2000 headstones, lie 564 young Australian soldiers of whom only 160 are identified. The other 404 Diggers are “Known unto God”.

Of our diggers in World War I, Charles Bean, Australia’s most famous war correspondent, war historian and driving force behind the establishment of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, said:

“They do not intend to be thought or spoken of as heroes. They’re just ordinary Australians, doing their particular work as their country would wish them to do it. And pray God, Australians in days to come will be worthy of them”.

They might not wish to be regarded as heroes but in our hearts and minds, they most definitely are. Their courage, tenacity and dedication to the service of our country are unimaginable. Of the many remarkable stories, I would like to share one in particular with you today.

Harold Roland Hill, a 19-year-old telephone mechanic from Toowong in Queensland enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in June 1915. He landed at Gallipoli on 4 September 1915.

Harold survived the Gallipoli campaign and, like so many of his mates, was sent to fight on the Western Front. A talented and resourceful soldier, he was promoted to Lieutenant in early 1917 and found himself, along with the rest of the Australians on the Western Front, here in the Ypres Salient in that terrible campaign that came to be known as “Passchendaele”.

Harold Hill was killed on 4 Oct 1917 on the first day of the Battle of Broodseinde [pron: Broots-end] Ridge.

He was only 22 years old. Eyewitness accounts from Red Cross files paint a vivid picture:

“Lieutenant Hill led the 7th Brigade Signallers advance party over the top, near Zonnebeke about 6.30 am. I was quite close to him when he was severely wounded during the heavy barrage, and was taken by stretcher-bearers to the Menin Road Hospital near the Comforts Fund. He was the Signals Officer on our Battalion. A young man about 22 years old, he was highly respected by the men of the Battalion.”

Another account reads:

“I helped to bandage Lieutenant Hill. He was so badly wounded in the head and hit almost all over his body too, that he could not have lived much more than an hour if that. Afterwards, I heard that he lived nearly two hours. He was unconscious. The wound in the head alone would have prevented his recovering. I had to leave him and go with the Battalion who were advancing. He was a fine made broad chap, 6 foot and about 13 stone. The other officers called him “Harry”.

Lieutenant Hill lies here in this cemetery (XXVI. A. 11) [Minister indicates direction of the grave]. His epitaph reads “I’m all right Mother Cheerio”. It is believed that this epitaph, which is engraved with quotation marks, are the last words he wrote to his mother.

Australia’s sense of national identity owes much to brave men like Lieutenant Harold Hill and the thousands of other Australian soldiers that served here in Belgium, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice.

Australia was not alone in its effort and loss. Today, we reflect on those who have gone before us, and also remember that Australia, New Zealand and Belgium will forever be bound by our shared history and our shared sacrifice.

Lest we forget.

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) can be reached 24 hours a day across Australia for crisis support and free confidential counselling. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546). VVCS is a service founded by Vietnam veterans.