Our obligations to those who served27 November 2019
With more than 100 years' experience of transitioning veterans back into the community, we must remain focused on veteran employment and support.
Colonel Matt Richardson, Commander of the Combat Training Centre in Townsville gave the following address on Remembrance Day 2019.
At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns of the Great War at last fell silent, the fury of conflict was replaced by a deafening silence. In that fragile gap between the sounds of dying and the cries of relief, we were faced with all we had done, all we had lost, all we had sacrificed.
In that silence, we met a truth so obvious and so terrifying we swore we would never take up arms again.
One owes respect to the living. To the dead, one owes only the truth.
We vowed never to forget.
For those whose memory we gather here today…
For those who returned home, many with broken limbs, minds and spirits.
For the families who have lost loved ones in whole or in part.
For those who continue to serve.
From we who remain, who live, and on behalf of those who will follow… we salute you.
We are now and forever in your debt. We built monuments – massive pillars of stone and metal – placed at the very heart of our nation, towns and cities, so they might stop us daily in our tracks. We collected names, carved them into the walls in a constant effort to save those who we failed from the faithlessness of no known grave.
And we pledged to gather in our communities each year at this hour on this singular day of Armistice, of Remembrance, so that we may fall silent again and again.
As the war to end all wars concluded at this hour, on this day over a century ago, 60,000 Australians had paid the ultimate sacrifice. This, from a population of fewer than five million.
A total of 416,000 men and women had enlisted and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner, along with the 60,000 who were killed in action. We left thousands of dead lying on the steep hills of Gallipoli, in the blood-soaked fields of Flanders and the searing deserts of the Middle East.
We had experienced massive casualties in the world’s first war of industrial proportions. The returning men and women were haunted by the ghosts of those left behind and the ghosts to come. Some 60,000 more would die within a decade or so from war related injuries, both physical and psychological.
Albert Jacka, our most decorated soldier from the war, transferred his leadership from the battlefield to local council, but he succumbed to his wounds and died at 39 years of age.
Pompey Elliot, one of our greatest war time commanders, who was wounded on 25 April 1915 during the landing at ANZAC Cove, took his own life in 1931. He was perhaps weighed down by all those men he left behind, coupled with bearing grief for the returned men whose livelihoods he fought so hard for on the battlefield, getting destroyed by the Great Depression.
Despite hopes that it would usher in a lasting peace, the Great War was sadly not the war to end all wars. By the time this memorial before us was dedicated, another war was upon us.
The original ANZACs who left our shores in 1914 have been followed by those who fought in the deserts of Africa, the jungles of Kokoda, who risked their lives in the skies over Germany and in the waters of the Mediterranean and the Pacific, who struggled in the mountains of Korea and the mud of South Vietnam, and who battled the dust of Uruzgan.
To all who have served our nation in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations, and to those of you who serve to this day all around the world, we owe you a debt of gratitude as a nation and as individuals.
We honour the 102,000 who have lost their lives in war for us. For our tomorrows, they gave their today.
They believed in country over self. They believed in each other when all seemed lost. They respected their chain of command, but it was their character that drove their actions, as it is today.
Although it was hard to see during the fog of war and even harder to appreciate the scale of sacrifice, they nevertheless changed the world, together.
For we and they are people of peace and freedom. They cannot be separated. Because freedom without peace is agony and peace without freedom is slavery and we will not tolerate either.
Peace, freedom, respect, tolerance, kindness, compassion and integrity. These qualities are alive in our nation precisely because we hold them as precious.
Let us go back 100 years ago to 1919. Australian soldiers returned home from far away battlefields changed, to a society that it itself had been scarred by the losses to a population that did not have an intimate knowledge or understanding of the war time experience.
Some soldiers took up government farm grants, in a country where life on the land is never easy or worked on infrastructure projects such as the Great Ocean Road.
As General Monash identified, preparing for and finding gainful employment is the critical element of successful integration back into civilian life.
Now, with over 100 years’ experience of transitioning veterans back into the community, the government, veteran support groups and the broader community must remain focused on veteran employment and support. The effort must be coordinated as divide and conquer serves no purpose and only delivers a fragmented outcome. It is our legacy to meet our obligations to our veterans.
At services such as this, we repeat the words ‘Lest we forget’. We should never forget. We will never forget.
We must remember our obligations to those who served – to those who return from conflicts with broken bodies and minds. We must commit ourselves as a nation to work with them to ensure their return to Australia is a worthwhile and lasting experience.
In silence, we commit ourselves to standing… shoulder to shoulder with those who have returned home.
Lest we forget.