Today, Australian and New Zealanders come together to commemorate our own fallen from not only that war, but all of the conflicts that we have been involved in. This is our own personal Remembrance Day. From that morning when our ANZACs fought their way up to the cliffs at Gallipoli, our two countries have fought side by side and died side by side through many conflicts, gaining the reputation of fierce but fair fighters and earning respect from both allies and foes for our tenacity and our compassion. For two small fledging countries at the start of the Great War, Australia and New Zealand committed an exceedingly high percentage of troops to the war, but they also suffered some of the highest casualty rates. From a population of just 4.9 million people, 332,000 Australian served overseas between 1914 and 1918. 60,284 Australians lost their lives, or 18% and 98,950 New Zealanders served overseas suffering 18,058 losses, also 18%, whereas the average of our allies was 10.6%.
The sacrifices made by our two countries during the First World War was massive. We can see the cost of that war in our own small community here on the cenotaph in front of us. If you multiply that by all the towns and cities that have the names of their fallen on their memorials throughout our two countries, you come to understand the sacrifice that these men and women made for us in the name of freedom. The statistics are staggering but do not show the true impact of that war on our people.
It was not only the fallen that made a sacrifice of their lives, but also the men and women who returned home. Many came back with wounds from bullets, shells or the lingering effects of gas. Thousands succumbed from their injuries over the year to follow. Men suffered the physical pain from shattered or amputated limbs, shrapnel and bullets left in them as they were too risky to remove. Re-constructive surgery was in its infancy, being born out of necessity to try and rectify the horrific disfigurement caused by explosives and high velocity rounds. The sights, sounds and smells that the veterans had endured through that war left deep psychological wounds. Thousands returned with ‘shell shock’ or as we know it today, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Alcoholism was common in veterans to help subdue the memories and the nightmares but this also led to high rates of domestic violence. Suicide was high among the returned especially as a result of anguish and survivor guilt or the frustration of being unable to provide for their families. Unemployment was high as soldiers tried to fit back into old jobs and society after being institutionalised in the military, the handicapped and dependant suffering the most as war pensions were meagre. In the rural areas, including ours, Soldier Settlements schemes were introduced to get the men onto land, but most of these were set up for fail from the start. Then, before they knew it, the Great Depression came along.
Families suffered immensely, not only with the previously mentioned problems, but many sons were missing, vanished without a trace, presumed dead and with no known grave. They grieved as well as they could but there could be no closure and there were always more questions than answers in their quest for information regarding their loved ones.
It is said that not one Australian family was left unaffected by the Great War, and unfortunately this was to be repeated on a similar scale 21 years later with the start of the Second World War, affecting the next generation of Australians and New Zealanders.
We see the names of our fallen from both wars here in front of us, but to see the real sacrifice that our small community endured, I encourage you to view the Honour Rolls in our town hall. These Honour Rolls show the true extent of how much these wars affected Dumbleyung and our surrounds. Those that did not return paid the supreme sacrifice, and gave up their lives so we can live in peace and freedom, but for those ones that did return, they sacrificed a large part of their young loves for the same cause. This is also true of all the conflicts that our countries have fought in. Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and the numerous peace keeping missions that we’ve been involved in. These are all important to us. Our veterans from these conflicts and operations have had to deal with most of the issues that affected our countrymen in the First World War.
This is why we gather here today, on our ANZAC Day, Australia and New Zealand’s Remembrance Day, to reflect and remember our fallen from all our battles and also to show respect and appreciation to our surviving veterans who also made sacrifices so we can enjoy peace, freedom and prosperity on our wonderful countries.
Speech by Stephen (Gough) Hughes and read at the 2019 Dumbleyung ANZAC Service.