Anzac Day 2017 address at Villers-Bretonneux Dawn Service

Tuesday, April 25 2017

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

"My Dear Mother and Father,

“In a very short time I am going into action again and as I may not have time later on I am writing to give you all particulars now. We are going to take a certain German stronghold in the Hindenburg Line …

“If I get through it all this time without a scratch I will think myself a lucky man but I am sure I will be either killed or wounded …

“I will do my duty as a soldier and fight to the bitter end…

I am your loving son, Denver"

What makes a man write these words? What forces him to a point without hope of survival to acknowledge his own death? What makes a man carry on regardless?

Lance Corporal Wilfred Denver Gallwey wrote this message to his parents believing that he would never write again. Like many with whom he served, this bank clerk from Queensland had accepted his fate on the Western Front.

He wrote looking at the bleak horizon that stretched out towards the town of Bullecourt.

He wrote of his world, where war seemed the only future.

He wrote believing there would be no tomorrow.

Yet he fought for a world where the war would end, not for him, but for others.

He fought for a world, not hoping to survive to see it change, but believing if he did his duty that it would change and for the better.

It was 1917 and this was the life of the Australian soldier on the Western Front.

One hundred years ago today, the First World War had dragged on for almost three years with no sign of victory in sight.

By now all Australians, either fighting on the front or awaiting news at home, had tasted the bitterness of war’s reality.

Australia faced a future with fewer sons, fewer brothers, and fewer fathers. The names of loved ones filled papers as killed, missing in action or wounded.

This was a year of Bullecourt, of Poelcappelle, of Passchendaele  – losses that a young nation had never considered in its darkest moments.

Even in success, the toll continued to mount at Polygon Wood and Messines, with thousands of Australian casualties.

Other battles etched on the walls surrounding us carried similar toll. In 1917 the Western Front saw Australian lives, hopes and dreams churned into mud, blood and death.

For Australian soldiers, the third year of the Great War was the worst they ever experienced.

More troops died in battle in 1917 and more were taken prisoner than in any other year.

There has never been a year when Australia lost more to war than 1917.

Men were consumed without remorse.

Men who had fought together through the Gallipoli Campaign, through the horrors of Fromelles and Pozieres, were killed without respect.

Two men, Herbert Palmer and Percy Chapman, had fought together since they were fresh faced Lieutenants in the 55th Battalion. War had forged their friendship.

On the 11th of March near Bapaume, Captain Herbert Palmer was killed in a mortar barrage.

Percy Chapman was promoted as his replacement the same day.

On the next, Percy Chapman disappeared from the trenches after being shown a mortar position threatening his men.

His body was eventually found days later as the Germans withdrew.

He was missing a limb, clutching his revolver, on the edge of an abandoned German mortar position surrounded by three dead German soldiers.

Having seen his friend killed, he fought to the bitter end to avenge him. Percy was buried next to Herbert.

Their grave markers and their tragic dates lay side by side. They tell the story of death that Australian’s witnessed in 1917.

The inevitability of death made many believe that it was only a matter of time before countries would simply be unable to continue.

Some thought that by the end of 1917, countries exhausted of lives would be forced to stop, that a peace must surely come.

It did not.

The machinery of war continued to improve with the development of tanks and planes and bombs.

This did not always lead to victories.

In 1917, it led to a loss of life that we pray we will never see the like of again.

As we stand here today, we might say that the end of their struggle was near. That they had but a little longer to fight. That the war was near its end.

But they did not know that, could not know that. In 1917, each day was expected to be just as the last.

And yet they fought on, men asked to take on an extraordinary task.

And in this darkest year, they did their duty and fought to the bitter end.

This is the legacy of 1917 bestowed by those who gave their all. It is a legacy that continues wherever Australian service men and women are deployed.

Lance Corporal Wilfred Denver Gallwey knew this. His belief that his service would outweigh his sacrifice carried him through the war.

Herbert Palmer and Percy Chapman knew this. Their belief in sacrifice and mateship sees them buried near here side by side – quiet heroes of our nation.

In 1917, those who served did not do so for themselves but for us. For a world where a bitter end may mean something greater, something better.

That our something better was born out of the sacrifice on the Western Front a hundred years ago is something our nation cannot forget.

As the stone of remembrance states as you enter this memorial.

“Their name liveth for evermore”

Lest we forget.

Media enquiries:

Minister Tehan’s Office: Byron Vale, 0428 262 894
Department of Veterans’ Affairs Media: 02 6289 6203

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.