Remembrance Day Address 11 Nov 2017

Maj Simon Formby – Queensland University Regiment  

Today we celebrate the 99th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice which ended the First World War.  That war, which destroyed empires, changed the old order and has had a dominant effect on Australian cultural and political history ever since.  Over 1/3 of Australian men of fighting age served in the War and 1 in 10 were killed or injured.  

These men were the fit, brave, adventurous and motivated.  The loss of so many has affected the development of Australia.  And yet they fought for a democratic ideal.  Australia in 1914 saw itself as part of a Global British civilisation, which brought the ideals of liberal democracy, fair play and the rule of law to all parts of the world. These ideals are what they were fighting for.   

Late 1917 was an uncertain and tumultuous time. The Battle of Beersheba on 31 Oct 17 lead to the British forces taking Gaza on 7 November.  The October revolution occurred on 5 Nov.  On 6 November 1917 Empire forces from Canada took the town of Paschendale ending that most bloody and destructive of battles. The Bolsheviks Stormed winter palace on 7 Nov.  

One hundred years ago today, on 11 Nov 1917, Australian troops, including Aboriginal Australians, who were so badly treated when they returned home, in the desert column, as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, were moving into positions in preparation for the next attack on the Ottoman Turks.   

The Ottoman Turks are preparing defensive positions of Jerusalem and Hebron. Jerusalem fell to British forces on 1 December 1917.  The first European troops in Jerusalem since 1187.  On the Western Front, German artillery is firing in Paschendale.  In the East, the Germans are advancing towards Riga, and the Austrians are advancing slowly on the southern front in their successful battle of Caporetto.  

The Allied victory was not assured. There were small numbers of American soldiers on the western front, but the vast majority did not arrive until spring 1918.

 By 11 November 1917 many thousands of Australians had died.  Many thousands more would still die.  The treaty of Brest-Litovsk is yet to occur.  This treaty ended the war on the Eastern front and allowed the Germans to move a million men to the Western front.  The great German Spring offensive of 1918 including the battles of Villiers-Bretineaux and Hamel were yet to occur.   

Forward 12 months and the German war machine is exhausted.  Lubendorf finally realised that the German empire was going to be defeated. He recommended that the Germans sue for peace.  

 On the Western Front, Australian troops were out of the front lines at the Armistice.  It would seem that the last Australian killed in action died on 4 Nov 1918.  Though many would die of wounds and disease, and at their own hand, in the years to come.

 On Nov 8 1918 Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated. At 5 am on Nov 11 1918, 99 years ago today Armistice was signed and came into effect at 11am.

 Despite the fact that both sides had known since 9 November that the armistice would be signed on 11 November 1918. On the western front Fighting continued right up to the last moment.  On that day there were over 10,000 casualties of whom 2300 died.   

The last French man died at 1050, the last British Empire soldier, a Canadian, George Price, was shot at 10:58, a minute later the last allied soldier, an American Henry Gunther, was shot. Officially the guns fell silent at 11am on 11 November 1918.  

Allied troops occupied Constantinople on 13 Nov 18. Elsewhere fighting continued in Africa until as late as 23 November 1918, when the news of the Armistice reached the front in Mozambique and German East Africa. The Civil War is beginning in Russia. Australians will fight in Northern Russia until late 1919.  

But today is the Armistice; the official end to the slaughter.  Today is not a day to celebrate war; it is a day to mourn tragedy.  A tragic war that could have been avoided if the politicians had wanted to.  But the reality is that, in September 1914, much of Europe wanted a war.   They just did not expect the war to be as all-consuming and brutal as it was.  

I do not condemn all wars.  Some war is just and an unfortunate necessity.  While we must be prepared to confront those who would be tyrants and impose oppression on ourselves and others; all war is tragedy.   

Australians are currently deployed on land, sea and in the air in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf, in Sudan. Egypt, Lebanon and Israel, in the Pacific Islands, assisting in surveillance and bomb disposal in border protection off north-west Western Australia.  

Australian soldiers now, like in 1918, face many years of physical, mental and psychological pain which, like in 1918, stems from the hardship, heroism and horror of warfare.  It is the Families of those Australian soldiers, now as in 1918, who will carry the burden of that loss and injury long into the future.  

In a short time we will have a minute’s silence.  When we commemorate and mourn the tragedy and loss of WW1 and all wars, let us commit ourselves to the ideals of democracy, fair play and the rule of law, for which they gave so much.  

Lest We Forget. 

 

 

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