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Speech

Dawn Service, Anzac Cove

Issue date: 
Saturday, 25 April 1998
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Nga mate, haere, haere, haere - Those who died here, may you rest in peace.

The Hon Philip Ruddock, Your Excellency Mr Ekrem Ozsoy, Governor of Canakkale, friends from around the world.

We stand here today on hallowed ground. It is hallowed ground because of what was won and what was lost at this place. For here, and near here, thousands, tens of thousands, of young men, bled and died - 'poured out the red sweet wine of youth' as the poet put it. They gave themselves to the call of duty, to a cause they believed to be right and just - in defence of homeland, or of the values of homeland, whether that home was just a few miles away, here in Turkey, or across Europe in Britain or France, or on the other side of the world, in India or Australia or New Zealand.

Gallipoli is a memorial to those who fought and to those who died, to heroism and to sacrifice, to duty and to steadfastness. It is, too, a memorial to the futility and the wastefulness of war.

But it is more even than that. It is a symbolic place. Quite paradoxically, it symbolises reconciliation, friendship between peoples, our common humanity. How well that is expressed in those magnificent and moving words of Kemal Ataturk, the victor at Gallipoli:

"Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehemets to us, where they lie side by side in this country of ours. You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are at peace. After having lost their lives in this land, they have become our sons as well."

For Australians and New Zealanders, the symbolism of this place goes even deeper, is even more personal. It brings our people, young and old, on a pilgrimage, year after year; for each of us who comes, a very special experience, a very great privilege. For us, beyond the inherited memories of families bereft of husband, brother, son, friend - and there were few families that were untouched - for us, Gallipoli symbolises nationhood. Our individual national identities, separate and distinct though they are, remain bound by unbreakable ties: our shared memories of this place are still one of our strongest bonds.

It was at this time, on this day, 83 years ago, that the ANZACS, the men of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, landed on this beach, now immortalised as Anzac Cove. Over the next 8 months, there was a desperate battle, as one side fought to clear the Peninsula of its defenders, while the other fought with equally grim determination to clear it of its invaders. And while eventually the battle went to the defenders, and the Turkish homeland was held secure, the exploits of our forbears have become legend for us. And when we come to see for ourselves this narrow beach, these sharp ridges and steep ravines, now that we can better imagine the ghastliness, the horror of it all, we can surely say that the ultimate victory here was that of the human spirit: how valour, comradeship, ingenuity, good humour and endurance were expressed in the face of almost unbearable hardship. These are qualities that we hold dear, that have shaped our nations, that go to make us what we are.

Both New Zealand and Australia contributed troops to the Boer War in South Africa at the turn of the century, but Gallipoli was our first major involvement in an overseas campaign. It was truly a baptism of fire. The landings at Anzac Cove were made not by professional soldiers, but by mostly raw recruits, lads from the towns and off the farm, some just teenagers, with only the most basic military training. A total of 2,721 New Zealanders lost their lives here, another 4,752 were wounded. The Australians buried 8,587, and suffered 19,367 wounded. This would have been a dreadful toll for any nation, but was especially so for two young nations, with small populations, on the other side of the world. A generation of our finest young men was decimated. Many who would have been leaders were among the fallen. And as Rupert Brooke wrote, " and those who would have been, their sons, they gave, their immortality." The loss, the agony, the sadness of apparent failure, were felt deeply across both countries for decades afterwards.

Gallipoli was only the beginning. Australians and New Zealanders went on to France, where the casualties were even more appalling. But we had come of age. We had been confronted with the stark reality that our remoteness did not and does not isolate us from the tide of world events. We had realised that even small nations can make a significant difference. And so as the years have passed, we have accepted unhesitatingly the responsibilities of good international citizens. That of course has been at a price too: there are New Zealand and Australian graves in Greece, and in Crete, in the North African desert and in Italy, in Burma, Papua New Guinea, the islands of the Pacific, Malaysia, Korea and Vietnam. And now we contribute to peacekeeping operations around the world.

All this is proof given and reiterated that our countries have never regarded ourselves as remote or selfish beneficiaries of democratic freedoms. Australians and New Zealanders can stand with dignity and self-respect because we are peoples who have given as well as received in the cause of freedom, who have stood by our allies, who have responded forthrightly and resolutely to our obligations and fulfilled them to the utmost.

In New Zealand, the years immediately following the first World War produced little poetry, music, art or prose about the war: only a multitude of stone cenotaphs, rolls of honour, memorial windows; and Anzac Day parades. As early as 1916, New Zealanders began to assemble at dawn on 25 April, as did Australians, at first to remember those who had died here at Gallipoli, but then as time and wars went on, to remember all who had fallen in war. And so today, back at home, services of remembrance will have been held in almost every city and town, and they have been or will be held in many, many other places, as dawn moves across continent and island to bring in this new day.

When I was a boy, hundreds of old soldiers marched proudly, but with tears in their eyes, to the beat of muffled drums. But as the years took their toll, their numbers diminished, and in fact, last December, New Zealand's one surviving Gallipoli veteran passed away; the last surviving Australian just before. But the places of the old soldiers have not remained empty, as many feared, but instead they have more and more been filled by later generations, who have not known the awfulness of war. Among them are you, who are gathered here today, especially you young Australians and New Zealanders who have come in your hundreds or thousands to make your own personal pilgrimage, to pay your own personal homage.

This surely is because as our still-young nations mature, and make our way among the family of nations, our own history and heritage become all the more significant; and because as we see the calamities about us, we realise, and we are anxious to acknowledge, the debt we owe to those who gave us the freedom, the security and the prosperity we now enjoy. And as today we remember them, we are, I am certain, committing ourselves to the cause for which they died. Freedom and all its virtues can so easily be lost by simple indifference. But who, standing here on this hallowed ground, watching the light filter through the darkness until it illuminates the world, will stand by and allow that to happen?

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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