Camden Remembers
Soldiers' Memorial Macarthur Park
Remembrance Day Service 2013
Address by Andrew Loomes

Andrew Loomes
Good morning, I would like to start proceedings by paying my respects and acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place, and also pay respect to Elders both past and present. I would like to extend this respect to any Indigenous Australians here today.

Today, the 11th day, of the 11th month is a day to remember, a day to mourn, a day to give thanks, a day to pay respect - a day to pause and reflect. To understand how we commemorate this particular day, we need to move back in time to 1914, when as a young nation, 13 years after federation, Australia's strong ties with Britain, our mother country, led to our support of the British empire and her allies in the what was then considered to be the 'war to end all wars'. The then Labor leader Andrew Fisher courageously showed Australian pride as a nation and our loyalty to Britain by saying- 'Australians will stand beside our own to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling.'

An astounding 50,000 Australian soldiers applied to fight for King and country. Many were not much older than my own age of 16, which today is a shocking and confronting thought. Many of these young men would have been at this stage, planning for the rest of their lives, perhaps it could have been further education, employment or even a family. However, they put their lives on hold, to fight in the 'Great Adventure' that was supposed to be over 'before Christmas'. They chose to fight for their own country, something that needs to be acknowledged and commended. After training in Cairo, these Australian recruits - the First Australian Imperial Force or AIF, went to fight on the shores of Turkey, a far away land, in what is famously known as the Gallipoli Campaign. On the 25th of April 1915, they set foot onto the beach, now commonly known as ANZAC cove and a legend was born.

Much of this battle and the subsequent battles on the Western Front in Europe were fought from the trenches. This is where, amongst all the tragedy and loss of life, we can remember our soldiers as steadfast and dignified. They showed immense Australian pride, respect and loyalty for their fellow soldiers. We can be proud of the way our soldiers conducted themselves, not only on these two battlefields but also in Palestine and Egypt, and the characteristics they developed which defined them as quintessentially Australian. As a reflection of the importance of these Australian qualities, and in particular the mateship shared, I would like to share with you the words of an unknown digger:

"I didn't join out of patriotism. I was looking for what I'd lost; the feeling of a lot of mates all working together, relying on each other, for some other reason that making dividends for the shareholders."

The tragedies of war cannot be accurately described by any other than those who lived it. We do know the soldiers experienced pain, suffering, fear and feeling like they may never see their loved ones again. I would like to read to you a letter written by Lieutenant John Alexander Raws, addressed to a friend on the 4th of August 1916. This letter describes the effects of constant battle, the fear of dying and the emotional strain inflicted upon the soldiers when seeing a fellow soldier die. The letter says:

" I write from the battlefield of the Great Push with thousands of shells passing in a tornado overhead, and thousands of unburied dead around me. It seems easy to say that, but you who have not seen it can hardly conceive the awfulness of it all.

My battalion has been in it for eight days, and one-third of it is left - all shattered at that. And they're sticking it still, incomparable heroes, all. We are lousy, stinking, ragged, unshaven, sleepless. Even when we're back a bit we can't sleep for our own guns. I have one puttee, a dead man's helmet, another dead man's gas protector, a dead man's bayonet… It is horrible, but why should you people at home not know?"

Indeed, these hardships and unspeakable experiences throughout the war not only affected the soldiers, but also the family and friends they left behind. The pain and suffering that was inflicted upon these families is something I find hard to comprehend. I'd like to take this time to specifically remember the families of our soldiers, and the families of anyone who has died due to an armed conflict. You are not forgotten. Your loss is our loss, and we shall mourn together.

After 4 and a half long years of fighting an armistice agreement was signed just outside Compiegne, France, to end the First World War. So, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918, firing ceased. This is why we pause at this time, on this day.

The number of lives that were lost during the war was horrifying. 21 million people were wounded and at least 5 million civilians died from disease, starvation or exposure. 9 million soldiers died while serving their country. This means that at least 9 million families were left without a father, mother, daughter, son, brother or sister. However what this doesn't take into account is the number of survivors that had to live with the physical, emotional and mental scarring from the terrifying experiences of war. In many cases soldiers never completely recovered.

Traditionally, Remembrance Day has specifically focused on the effects of World War 1 only. However, in the modern world it has rightfully become a day to remember all people, of every culture, race, country or background, who died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts.

What can we say of the contribution of those who have lost their lives in these situations? In answer, I would like to reflect upon an excerpt of a poem written during the war by writer and poet, Marion Knowles:

"Honourably he died,
Doing his "little bit";
None stand his grave beside,
And yet, because of it,
The world is nobler far,
And liberty more great;
More clear is Honour's star,
Less mean, ignoble Fate."

In so few words, this piece of writing reflects upon the sacrifices made by Australian troops - much like other soldiers who have served around the world. This is why I believe that remembrance day is so important, as it reminds us of the sacrifices made, the lives lost and the tears shed, in order to better the lives of those left behind. In the eyes of the soldiers it may have been their duty to serve, but today we remember that it was their sacrifices that deserve our thanks. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to our soldiers, both those who have served in the past and those still serving today. We truly appreciate your efforts in the service of this great nation.

As part of today's youth, who has never fully experienced the tragedy, terror, and suffrage of a time of war, I can only seek to learn and understand the hardships of those affected by war and the extent of sacrifices that were made so that Australians like myself, and like you, can enjoy liberty and democracy in the beautiful country that we share.

So let this remembrance day spread far beyond today, let us forever keep those affected by armed conflicts in our minds, in our prayers and in our hearts.

May we remember them always.