Skip to navigation

Speeches

The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel

SPEECH

Friday, 20 December 2019

Peace at Gallipoli Service, Shrine of Remembrance

IT is more than a century since the last Australian soldiers slipped away from the Gallipoli peninsula in December 1915.

In Australia, news of the evacuation produced conflicting emotions.

Those whose relatives had survived the campaign felt only relief at their having escaped Gallipoli.

‘The dread’, said a man whose son was at Anzac, ‘had passed’.

For the families of the dead, the families of those who, said one veteran, had ‘lost their best blood’, there was no such consolation.

Their concern, shared by the men at Anzac, was a deep, profound anxiety at leaving the fallen behind.

After eight months of fighting, the graves of the dead would soon be in enemy soil.

‘It was a sad day for us’ remembered one veteran, ‘Every man of the … 1st Division has someone, whom he honoured and respected, lying in one of those solitary graves at Anzac’.

One officer said, ‘It is bitter to leave so many of our dead heroes in their lonely graves in this foreign soil’.

But he recognised what many, from the men in the ranks to the most senior officers, felt to be true: that there was nothing more to be gained by remaining at Anzac Cove.

As they faced this wrenching separation, men spent time tending the graves of their friends.

Two days before he departed Anzac, an Australian padre, William Dexter, went up the gullies and through the cemeteries, scattering silver wattle seed. ‘If we have to leave’, he wrote in his diary, ‘I intend that a bit of Australia shall be here’.

Veterans of the Gallipoli fighting and people at home took comfort in the belief that the Turks had been an honourable foe.

In Melbourne, readers of the Argus newspaper were assured that the enemy would regard the graves ‘with all due reverence’, and that throughout the campaign they had shown ‘respect for our dead’.

But with the war against the Turks continuing, anxiety and suspicion remained through the years that followed.

After the war ended in late 1918, Australians and other Allied troops returned to the Dardanelles.

None were more well-known around Australia than the country’s Official Correspondent to the war, Charles Bean.

His Historical Mission found that the Turks had indeed proved themselves an honourable foe. The Allied graves were undisturbed.

Then began the exhausting, unpleasant labour of recovering the bodies of the unburied dead, identifying those who could be identified and exhuming graves for consolidation into central cemeteries.

For those who lost friends or loved ones on Gallipoli, the work of these men brought solace and comfort.

The sites of remembrance on the peninsula that have been a focal point of Australian commemoration for decades are their legacy.

Each year, Australians visit these sacred sites at Gallipoli and are welcomed into the country by our friends and it reminds me of the words of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was a commander of Ottoman forces at the Dardenelles during the First World War and later the founder of modern Turkey

You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

Today we honour the fallen, and all those who served on Gallipoli in 1915, and we reflect on the long, shared history between our two countries.

Lest we forget.

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Cedric Szigeti: 02 6277 7820
DVA Media: 02 6289 6466

Office of the Hon. Darren Chester, Canberra ACT.

Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling provides support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families. Free and confidential help is available 24/7. Phone 1800 011 046 (international: +61 8 8241 4546) or visit www.OpenArms.gov.au