I am pleased to welcome you all to the beautiful building that is the Australian Residence and extend that welcome also on behalf of my co-host, friend and colleague, Ambassador Ian Hill of New Zealand.
The 25th of April 1915 is beyond living memory. And yet here in Moscow, as in Villers-Bretonneux, in Ypres, in Wellington and Canberra, and in almost every town throughout Australia and New Zealand, people just like us are engaged in solemn ceremonies just like this – recalling those men and events that gave meaning to the name ‘ANZAC.’
We do this every year in dignified, reverent commemoration – not of war – but of the sacrifice and loss which is forever bound with the exploits of that day and the months that followed; exploits that took place on forbidding and unforgiving terrain in an unfamiliar and alien country, a country which, however, subsequently became a firm friend and valued partner, whose representatives we welcome amongst us here today.
You will have seen some displays featuring biographies of men with Russian names. This is a sample of a little-known part of our history, namely, that of the ‘Russian ANZACs.’ By the time the First World War broke out some 5,000 citizens of the Russian Empire had made their home in Australia. About 1,000 of these voluntarily joined the Australian Imperial Forces and some 800 served in its ranks overseas, fighting, and dying, for Australia and Russia. Amongst them were 35 men who waded ashore at Gallipoli on this day in 1915. We honour them, too, and are proud that they wore our uniform.
For more than a century – in fact, for most of Australia’s federated history – ANZAC has shaped our sense of self and how we see the world.
The values embodied in the name ‘ANZAC’ still speak firmly and clearly to us:
- courage – that drove the bold assault over open ground at Lone Pine;
- sacrifice – that saw a largely volunteer army sustain casualties during the ‘war to end all wars’ of almost one in twenty of our country’s population at the time;
- mateship and steadfastness – epitomised in the story of Simpson and his donkey, recovering wounded men under fire without regard to his own safety;
- respect for the opponent and a sense of a deeper humanity and compassion – expressed in the memorable truce to bury the dead on Whit Monday 1915, almost one month to the day after the landings at Gallipoli.
As Captain Aubrey Herbert of the Irish Guards – the man who negotiated that truce with Mustafa Kemal – recalled:
We mounted over a plateau and down through gullies filled with thyme, where there lay about 4,000 Turkish dead. It was indescribable. One was grateful for the rain and the grey sky. A Turkish Red Crescent man came and gave me some antiseptic wool with some scent on it… The Turkish captain with me said: ‘At this spectacle even the most gentle must feel savage, and the most savage must weep…’ I talked to the Turks, one of whom pointed to the graves. ‘That’s politics’, he said. Then he pointed to the dead bodies and said: ‘That’s diplomacy. God pity all of us poor soldiers…’
At 4 o’clock the Turks came to me for orders. I do not believe this could have happened anywhere else. I retired their troops and ours, walking along the line. At 4.07pm I retired the white-flag men, making them shake hands with our men… About a dozen Turks came out. I chaffed them and said they would shoot me next day. They said, in horrified chorus: ‘God forbid!’ The Albanians laughed and cheered, and said: ‘We will never shoot you.’ Then the Australians began coming up, and said: ‘Goodbye, old chap; good luck!’ And the Turks said: ‘Smiling may you go and come again.’
Cited in Les Carlyon, ‘Gallipoli’, pp 287-288
For our then still-young federation, these were the first generation. Sadly, that Turkish wish – that they should ‘smiling go and come again’ – was not to be realised for some 8,700 of them who lie in Turkish soil alongside 2,800 New Zealand dead. A further 25,000 ANZACs were wounded.
They are amongst the 141,500 Allied casualties of that eight-month campaign. Half these losses were troops from Great Britain and Ireland. France, India and Newfoundland bore the burden of a quarter of total Allied losses.
For Turkey the price was even higher: most estimates point to total losses of around 250,000 killed and wounded.
The sense of identity which the 25th of April 1915 helped mould has guided, inspired and supported Australians and New Zealanders through the terrible wars and conflicts that have followed and that, sadly, beset the world still.
Since those long-ago events on that distant peninsula, thousands of Australian and New Zealand men and women in uniform have served and upheld the spirit and values of ANZAC in Afghanistan, East Timor, the Solomons, Sudan and the Sinai. In fact, 65,000 Australian servicemen and women have participated in 50 UN and other multilateral peace and security operations since 1947.
Today we recall and honour the service and sacrifice of all of them.
Wars end, but our duty to remember never will.