Anzac Centenary: An Address By 17-Year-Old Me

Today is the Anzac centenary, marking 100 years since Australian soldiers landed in Gallipoli in World War I. It is an extraordinarily significant day in Australia. So, it is a difficult day to be away from home. My mum and I always go to a local service in the morning on Anzac Day. This year, if I was home, I would have gone to a dawn service at the army base in Brisbane and then watching my boyfriend march in the city. Instead, I had to settle with watching a live stream online, some 14,800 kilometres away. There are many Anzac services taking place across the US, but unfortunately none in South Carolina.

Laying a wreath on ANZAC Day in 2010
Laying a wreath on ANZAC Day in 2010

Anzac Day has always had a personal connection to my family, as I am sure it does for most Australians. My cousin is a major in the army and has previously served in Afghanistan. When I was Vice-Captain in high school in 2010 (the same year he was deployed), I had the privilege of writing and delivering my school’s annual Anzac Day address. The day before I gave my speech, I received a surprise phone call from my cousin, wishing me luck. He had safely arrived home from Afghanistan just a few days earlier. It was an extremely touching moment – one that I always think about at this time of year.

I have included my Anzac Day address below, unedited from when I delivered it five years ago as a 17-year-old (which is why it refers to 95 years since Gallipoli). Since then, I have gained a much deeper understanding and appreciation for our military, so these words ring truer than ever. If I rewrote this speech now, there is a lot more I would include. My heart is definitely in Australia today. Lest we forget.

No matter how many years pass, the stories of the courage and determination shown by the men and women who served at ANZAC Cove continue to uphold extraordinary significance in our nation’s history and in our hearts. It is with the greatest honour and respect that we come together today to commemorate ANZAC Day. In doing so, we must remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom as Australians.

It’s true testament to these stories of bravery that we still revere the ANZACs some 95 years later. Sunday 25 April, 1915 saw 36 boats arrive at what we know now as ANZAC Cove, situated on the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula. It may be difficult to imagine ourselves in the position of the 12,000 Australian and New Zealand troops aboard these boats. However, the age of many of them did not differ greatly from our own. Their expectations of landing on a pleasant beach rapidly receded, as they mistakenly found themselves north in the difficult and desolate location. Consequently, they were faced with soaring cliffs and constant barrages of enemy fire and shelling. This horrific mistake cost the lives of more than 100 men before they even reached the shore. Efforts by the soldiers to improve the state of affairs were unsuccessful over the following months. The conditions in which they lived were inconceivable.

Characteristics of Australians were quickly defined in the Gallipoli Campaign and it is often considered the birth of our national consciousness. The larrikinism, inventiveness and perseverance exemplified by our troops in the face of adversity came to be well-recognised. One of the other traits, for which Australian troops became renowned, was the importance they placed on mateship. In the harsh conditions which surrounded them, the troops placed their lives in the hands of their mates. Perhaps the most eminent example of this is the tale of Simpson and his donkey. Within the space of 24 days, 300 wounded soldiers were rescued by Simpson, with the assistance of his donkey. Tragically, while he was out trying to save the lives of wounded troops on 19 May, he himself was killed by a bullet. Just as 8,000 other soldiers lost their lives in the Gallipoli Campaign, Simpson never made it home to see his loved ones.

In commemoration of the Australian soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their country, the annual pilgrimage to ANZAC Cove continues to draw hundreds of Australians each year. The uniting spirit of ANZAC Day comes from the fact that we are all touched with stories of courage shown by Australian soldiers, whether it be from our family, our friends or often recited stories such as Simpson and his donkey. For my family, we hear of the challenges which currently face Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, from my cousin who is deployed there. We witness first-hand the strain it places on families. That is exactly what ANZAC Day is all about – it is not confined to the brave tales of Gallipoli, but rather, to all of the men and women who have fought or who are presently fighting for the freedom of our country, for us – the individual stories which may not be written in history books, but embody the spirit of Australia nonetheless. Whether they served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam or are currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan – whether they were in the army, navy, air force or worked as doctors and nurses – the courage and selflessness shown by all Australian troops is remembered today and the grief of the families who have lost their relatives is shared.

However, this sentiment is not merely felt today or on Sunday. As Australians, every day of our lives, we appreciate the freedom for which our troops fought so hard. ANZAC Day is not a celebration of war, but rather, a day which serves as an opportunity for us to remember and appreciate the sacrifices made by those who have fallen before us, so that we can live in peace. The freedom we treasure is the ultimate gift given to us by the men and women who fought for our country and never came home to their family and friends. Today and forever, we will remember them.

My dad placing a poppy at the Australia War Memorial next to the name of his uncle, who died as a prisoner of war in World War II.
My dad placing a poppy at the Australia War Memorial next to the name of his uncle, who died as a prisoner of war in World War II.
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