As someone who has never served in the armed forces, never faced a shot fired in anger, and never lost close family members in war, I am in awe of the ANZAC generation who were tested almost beyond endurance.
The Prime Minister referred to Gallipoli and a number of other battles but reserved a special place for France.
Above all else, we should remember the Western Front, not just for its carnage, but also for Australia’s moment on the stage of history. When the last big German offensive split the British and French armies in March and April 1918, it was largely the Australians that plugged the gap and held the line. In the closing months of the war, the five divisions of the First Australian Imperial Force, fighting together for the first time, bested no fewer than 39 enemy divisions, took 29,000 prisoners, captured 338 guns and advanced over 40 miles of contested ground.
The AIF were less than a tenth of all British Empire forces but made nearly a quarter of all the gains. It’s the only time in history when Australian forces have engaged the main enemy on the main battlefront and made an appreciable difference to the outcome. When all is said and done, Gallipoli was a defeat; but the Western Front a victory. Victories, even terrible ones, should be no less iconic than heroic defeats.
He noted the government’s plans for an interpretive centre at Villers Bretonneux and went on:
We should be a nation of memory, not just of memorials, for these are our foundation stories. They should be as important to us as the ride of Paul Revere, or the last stand of King Harold at Hastings, or the incarceration of Nelson Mandela might be to others. We commemorate Anzac Day every year and will commemorate the centenary of Anzac over the next four years because the worst of times can bring out the best in us.
See also the speech of the Minister for the Centenary of Anzac.