Bass Hill RSL Memorial Service
Bass Hill RSL
Friday, 25 April 2014
100 years ago the world went to war.
By the time it ended 37 million people were dead, including 60,000 young Australians.
The war lasted for four years, but its impact has ricocheted like a pinball throughout the last century.
It triggered the rise of communism in Russia, and the rise of Hitler in Germany.
That in turn led to the Second World War and the Holocaust.
We are still feeling the consequences of World War One today in the Middle East – that was carved up by European powers after the war.
Australia was a very different place 100 years ago.
We had a population of less than 5 million. One in every two men of military age joined up, more than a quarter of a million went overseas and 1 in 5 never came home. Including 31 boys from Bankstown.
Bankstown was a small semi-rural town. The railing line had just come through and gas street lamps were being installed.
The Empire Theatre had just opened and we had a drama club – the Bankstown Repertory – an opera company and a symphony orchestra.
After the war ended, Bankstown Council bought some land south of the railway station called Fripps Paddock and they renamed it Memorial Oval.
It’s a memorial to the 31 young men from our local area who went off to fight on the other side of the world and never came home.
They also erected a memorial and etched their names on it. That memorial is no longer there, it’s currently in storage at Bransgrove Road Council Depot at Panania.
These 31 men deserve to be remembered.
Next year, on the 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli, a year from now, we are going to return the tablets that bear their names to their original place at Memorial Oval. It’s just one of the things we will do next year.
Next year, after the dawn services like this, held right across Bankstown, we will invite all local residents to come together at Memorial Oval.
There, at about lunch time, the big electronic scoreboard will become a big screen TV ad we will watch as the sun rises on the other side of the world, at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli.
It will be an important moment for our country – and this is an opportunity for us all to be part of it.
Gallipoli wasn’t the first time Australian’s fired a shot in anger in World War One.
That happened on our own shores on the edge of Port Phillip Bay in Victoria.
On the 5th of August 1914 Fort Nepean at Portsea fired a round from its 6 inch Mark VII to stop a German freighter from leaving Port Philip Bay.
It happened just hours after war was declared. The ship was turned around and seized and the crew were arrested.
A month later Australian soldiers took Rabaul – what was then German New Guinea.
Six Australian soldiers were killed in the fighting, and 35 Australian submariners were also lost when our first submarine mysteriously disappeared off the coast Rabaul.
Seven months later the ‘lock of the lid of hell’ was opened on the beaches of Gallipoli. 621 Australians were killed on that first day – Anzac Day.
More than 1000 were wounded. 8000 more died clinging to the cliffs of Gallipoli over the next nine months.
It was a disaster. Gallipoli was full of folly and mistakes. But it is also the story of courage and mateship of men that were asked to do impossible things – on both sides. And the special bond created between them.
There’s a great story about the Turkish soldiers throwing cigarettes into the Australian trench, the Australian soldiers throwing cans of Bully Beef into the Turkish trench, and the Turkish throwing the Bully Beef back with a note: “Cigarettes yes. Bully Beef no.”
In the midst of all this horror and all of this bloodshed, a special kind of bond was created between two groups of people trying to kill each other.
They respected each other. And that respect has only grown over time.
This is an important part of the Gallipoli story.
To help tell it, next year I am taking four young Anglo Celtic Australians and four young Turkish Australians to Gallipoli to walk in the footsteps of these men.
One hundred years ago their great grandfathers were in the same place. Fighting each other. Killing each other.
We are going to climb the cliffs they climbed, walked through the trenches they sheltered in, walk through the blood-soaked, sacred fields they died in.
We will pay tribute to them at the headstones that bear their names. And we are going to do it together.
A few years after World War One ended Australia’s greatest General Sir John Monash made a speech at an Anzac Day Service and he said:
“When the AIF has passed away, let us hope that the Australian people will for all time keep sacred the memory of this day.”
I think he would be proud that we have done this – and we are.
But we have to do more than just remember these men.
As I tell the trekkers I take overseas, we have an obligation to live a life worth of the sacrifice these men made for us.
An obligation to help ensure nothing like this happens again.
And an obligation to not just remember those who wore our uniform, but to also look after those who wear it now.
That for me is the real meaning of Lest We Forget.