Remembrance Day

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (12:33): I rise to speak to this motion before the house today, but I also wish to amend it. The first three paragraphs of the motion currently read:

That this house—

(a) notes that Remembrance Day this year marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice to end the First World War;

(b) acknowledges the sacrifices made by many men and women in that and subsequent conflicts to help protect parliamentary democracy over the globe;

(c) thanks all organisations, like the RSL, who have worked hard over the decades to provide support and comfort to those who have returned from overseas conflicts and their families; and

I move:

To amend the motion by deleting (d) and replacing it with the words:

(d) calls on the federal government to do as much as practical to enable all returned personnel to fully reintegrate into our community once they have completed their service.

Remembrance Day this year, in 2018, has special significance. It marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending the First World War, which was fought between 1914 and 1918. In fact, many of our troops serving overseas were not actually demobilised until 1919.

One hundred years ago, on 11 November 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after four years of continuous warfare. With their armies retreating and close to collapse, German leaders signed an armistice bringing to an end the First World War. From the summer of 1918, the five divisions of the Australian Corps had been at the forefront of the allied advance to victory.

After many heavy and successful battles, by early October the exhausted Australians were withdrawn from battle. They had achieved a fighting reputation out of proportion to their numbers, but victory had come at a heavy cost. They suffered almost 48,000 casualties in 1918 alone, including more than 12,000 dead. In the four years of the war more than 330,000 Australians had served overseas, and more than 60,000 of them had died. The social effects of these losses cast a long shadow over postwar decades.

Each year on this day, 11 November, at 11am Australians observe one minute’s silence in memory of those who died or suffered in all wars and armed conflicts. The motion refers to the RSL, the Returned and Services League. That was founded in 1916 by returning Australian soldiers from World War I to continue to provide the camaraderie, concern and mateship shown among diggers during the conflict.

Early in the 1914-1918 Great War, it was evident that those returning from Gallipoli and the Western Front would require great support, along with the families of those who would never return. The ethos of compassion and service remains today as the motivating influence of the league. The purpose of the RSL is to help veterans and their families by offering care, financial assistance and advocacy, along with commemorative services that help all Australians to remember the fallen.

By 1918, death had lost its individuality. The high casualties suffered by most Australian battalions often reduced them to half strength. Constant reinforcements arrived, and many of them did not last more than a month. It was hard to have long-term mates because death was so common and so random. Sadly, death was not exceptional: it was a normal condition. Its uniqueness had an impact only on the soldier’s devastated family, and the advice to them normally came as a brief, bureaucratic letter.

In late 1918, after four years of unremitting bloody warfare, Germany—under a newly appointed civilian government and having endured heavy defeats over the previous four months—called for a suspension of fighting, an armistice, so as to secure a peace settlement. At 5.10am on 11 November 1918, an armistice was signed by the Allies and Germany, and the following order was issued to all opposing forces:

Hostilities will cease at 11:00 today, 11 November. Troops will stand fast in the line reached at that hour.

After 52 months of slaughter and loss, the guns of the Western Front finally fell silent—at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—on 11 November 1918. This moment was chosen by the Allies as the time for the official commemoration and remembrance of those who had died in the war. One hundred years on, it is quite commonly accepted that the war ended at 11am on 11 November, but that is not quite correct; that is when the fighting stopped.

An armistice is not a surrender, nor was this armistice the only one. There was a total of five armistices arranged between the Allies and the US and their enemies. The German army remained, on paper at least, a formidable force, as long after the spring of 1919, the situation was causing some unease in the face of growing political calls for allied demobilisation. The war finally finished partway through 1919, allowing Australian troops and all allied troops to finally be demobbed, and it changed the face of Europe and the face of the world, obviously, for decades to come, the nexus being broken, I guess, when World War II broke out in 1939.

I would like to take a few minutes today to give thought to all the services that will be held around South Australia, and indeed around the nation, this coming Sunday 11 November. Many of the RSLs in our small country towns will be holding services at that time. As members of parliament, we have been invited to many of them but, sadly, at one point in time we can only ever be in one place—and I notice the member for Light nodding. I have chosen this year to attend the service at Gallipoli Beach, a beach north of Farm Beach, north of Coffin Bay on the south-west coast of Eyre Peninsula.

It is so named after the Peter Weir movie made in 1980, I think. He made a movie about the ANZAC landing at the beach at Gallipoli in Turkey in April 1915. Peter Weir searched far and wide for a landscape to replicate that at Gallipoli on the Dardanelles and came across a beach north of Coffin Bay, on the West Coast, and filmed much of the battleground footage there. He also used many locals as extras, and one of the local showgrounds at Yallunda Flat was used for extra footage. It has been known by locals as Gallipoli Beach ever since. It is a rather quaint quirk of history that it has become quite a good fishing spot as well.

A few years ago, a group of local avid war historians came together and decided to form a committee and hold a service each and every year on ANZAC Day at Gallipoli Beach. I congratulate that committee because they have managed to hold a service on ANZAC Day, 25 April, at this particular site each and every year since 2015. They have commemorated in those four years the major battles in each individual year during the Great War. The final hurrah is this coming Remembrance Day. The venue has moved down the beach slightly because the committee has raised enough funds to establish a permanent memorial, as has been raised in many towns right across the state and right across Australia. However, this will be a reminder particularly of the work of this committee and also the legacy of local volunteers in the First World War.

The focus of this year’s ceremony is on the womenfolk particularly: the women who were left behind. Remember, it was mostly men who went to war. Certainly some women served in Australia’s armed forces, but in those days it was especially the men who served and they left behind mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters and daughters, so a particular focus of our thoughts this coming Sunday will be the women who were left behind, the support they gave their men while they were overseas and also the support they gave them once they arrived home. Of course, that was a critical part of re-establishing themselves into normal life. Some were never able to do that. We recognise that more today than we probably ever have.

My congratulations go to that committee, and in particular I would like to mention Lee Clayton and Kerry Richter as the drivers of that group. There was a larger committee that did a fantastic job over the last four years, and I congratulate them on that. They have turned it into a truly memorable site and had some truly memorable memorial services there, and I am looking forward to the one this coming Sunday.

 

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