The Hon Andrew Gee MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
Minister for Defence Personnel
Leon Byner: But I thought you’d be interested in hearing some comments from our Veterans’ Affairs Minister about – from his point of view what Remembrance Day means to Australia.
Andrew Gee: Well, Remembrance Day is one of the most important days on our national calendar, and it’s a day when we pause to remember all of the men and women who’ve served and sacrificed so much for our nation. And, in particular, those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.
Leon Byner: We, of course, go back to those who fought on the Western Front more than a hundred years ago. But, of course, the commemoration is not just for them but it is also many others in the armed services who since then have also given their lives and their service.
Andrew Gee: Absolutely. It is a day to reflect on the service and sacrifice of all men and women who’ve served our nation in uniform and remembering the more than 100,000 Australians who have lost their lives fighting for Australia, our values and our freedoms. We need to remember that we are a free and democratic country, but those freedoms were secured through the service and sacrifice of generations of Australians. And we mustn’t forget that.
Leon Byner: Yes.
Andrew Gee: We also, by paus and remember today, we reaffirm and recommit to that national duty of remembrance that currently rests with our generation but which in time we will pass down to the next generation. Today is about reaffirming and fulfilling that sacred duty to remember. Which is why we’ve been working hard to make sure that our schools are properly resourced so that younger Australians can understand about that service and about that sacrifice and just what it means and the fact that we are a free and democratic country but that those freedoms were secured through that service and sacrifice of generations of Australians, and it must never be forgotten.
Loen Byner: Explain to the people of SA the significance of the gesture – and it’s an important one – of buying a poppy today.
Andrew Gee: Yeah, well, during the First World War the poppies did grow in the battlefields of France. And they were a burst of colour in a very dark and devastating time. It has become a symbol of remembrance – buying a poppy and/or wearing a poppy. I would just encourage folks today, if they can, to buy a poppy from Woolies. You can also buy them from any RSL sub-branches. And all of the proceeds go to the RSLs and also veterans and their families. So if you can’t get to a place where you can buy a poppy, go online to poppyappeal.com.au and donate to receive a virtual poppy.
But the Flanders poppy has long been part of Remembrance Day that marks the Armistice of the 11th of November 1918 and is being used increasingly as part of Anzac Day observances as well. And, as I said, those poppies were amongst the first plants to spring up in the devastating and devastated battlefields of northern France and Belgium.
Leon Byner: How important do you think it is for our culture to acknowledge this?
Andrew Gee: Well, it’s vitally important. I think that the men and women who served and sacrificed so much for our nation didn’t ask for much in return. In the end, it came down to really just one thing – that we never forget. That we always remember what they did for Australia and how much they sacrificed. So it is vitally important that we pause and reflect on that today and that we fulfil that commitment to never forget them. That’s all that they asked.
If you go to any village or town or city in Australia you’ll see a memorial, and those memorials started to spring up around the nation even as World War I was ongoing. They were designed as a place of reflection, as a place to grieve, and they were also a reminder to the wider community of the devastating loss of that conflict. On Remembrance Day we reflect on the devastating loss of all conflicts. And there is not a community in Australia which is not touched by war in some way. In the First World War, which ended 103 years ago, we lost over 60,000 Australians. And it’s often said that that war decimated the flower of a generation, and it really did.
Leon Byner: Yes.
Andrew Gee: Some of those memorials are small and modest; some of them, like Bathurst Carillon where I come from, are large and imposing. But all of them speak to the loss and devastation and horror of war. And from not only the First World War but go back – the Boer War, I think our first engagement was the Sudan conflict, right through to the present day and the conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East. We have a long and proud record of service, and we are lucky – so very lucky – to live in such a free and democratic country, but that freedom that we enjoy and that we wake up to every morning has a price, and it was secured through the service and sacrifice of all of those men and women who’ve come before us and served our nation in uniform.
So today, wherever you are, I’d just ask that folks pause and reflect. Go to a service at your local community if you can – many sub-branches are holding them now that we’re coming out of COVID – but if you can’t, you can watch the National Remembrance Day Service on TV, or just in your own workplace, at your desk or wherever you are at home, just stop for a minute at 11 o’clock – it doesn’t have to be 11 o’clock – but just pause and remember. That’s all that those men and women asked, and it’s the least that we can do given all that they have sacrificed for our nation.
Leon Byner: That’s the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Andrew Gee, reflecting on the importance of Remembrance Day.
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