Bankstown RSL ANZAC Commemoration
On Tuesday it will be 102 years since the first Australian soldiers landed at Anzac Cove.
It will also be 101 years since the first Anzac Day March. 101 years ago, 5000 Gallipoli veterans marched here in Sydney.
100 years ago we were in the thick of battle and the blood and terror of the Western Front at places like Bullecourt in France and Passchendaele in Belgium.
It was a terrible year. We lost 60,000 men in World War One. We lost 30,000 in 1917 alone.
Back here in Bankstown, the suburb of Milperra was created as a Soldiers Settlement for men returning home from Gallipoli and the Western Front.
It’s 75 years this year since Singapore fell and thousands of Australians became prisoners of war. Darwin was bombed, the first of more than 100 bombing raids on the northern parts of Australia over the next two years, and we beat the Japanese, first at Milne Bay and second at Kokoda.
It’s also our first year without Jack. Jack Bedford.
This service – held every Sunday before Anzac Day – will never be the same without him. His back as straight as an ironing board and his occasional mistakes at the microphone.
This time last year he was in Waratah Private Hospital. He made it to Anzac Day and died a few days later.
I think of him every day. I named my little baby son after him.
Anzac Day isn’t really about anniversaries or foreign battles. It’s about people like Jack and the men and women we see around us today.
Jack was one of the lucky ones. He lived to the ripe old age of 95. A lot of others weren’t so lucky.
In 1941 he was in Tobruk in Africa when a German fighter flew overhead, machine guns rattling. Jack jumped into a ditch. His mate, Eddie, jumped on top of him. Eddie was killed. Jack survived.
The actions of his mate gave Jack another 75 years. And he used them well.
Another old mate of mine, Dick Payten, turned 96 the other day. He’s a Kokoda veteran. Still going strong. Still got his driver’s licence. Still organising Anzac events. And he is still reciting poetry.
Like Jack, Dick also lost his best mate a long time ago. He was killed when a US aircraft failed to take off at Jackson Airfield and hit a fuel depot.
A few years ago, I took Dick back to PNG and we visited his old mate’s grave.
This is the poem he recited:
THE GIFT OF YEARS
Well old friend here I am – I told you I’d be back
And as usual mate I’m bloody late, its 70 years down the track
And for the last time here I stand in this familiar Kokoda land
Back with the mates I left behind, fixed forever in their time
And of all the ghosts of all the boys that haunt this lonely place
Only one of them wears your cheery grin and your Bankstown joker’s face
But when I stand in old forgotten dreams of helpless young men’s dying screams
I feel your arm give my hand a shake – and your voice says “Steady, mate”
Well the country that you died for, mate, you would not know it now
The future that we dreamt of, mate, got all twisted up somehow
The peace that we were fighting for, the end to stupid senseless war
So it couldn’t happen to our kids – well old mate, it did
But thank you for the gift of years and the flame that brightly burns
For the time you bought and the lessons taught – though often wasted & unlearned
“Lest we forget” cry the multitudes, as if I ever, ever could
So forgive an old man’s tears – and thank mate for the years