Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
Anzac Day Dawn Service
25 April 2013
***Check against delivery***
President of the Australian Senate, Senator the Honourable John Hogg, Australia’s Ambassador to Thailand, James Wise, New Zealand’s Ambassador to Thailand, Tony Lynch. Veterans and their families who have travelled from Australia to be with us today. Our Thai friends.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great privilege for me as Australia’s Minister for Defence to be at Hellfire Pass on this special day for Australia and New Zealand.
As we meet here in the soft light of early morning, we are honoured by the presence of former Prisoners of War who have joined us with family and friends.
Being in this place will be a deeply poignant reminder for them of their own endurance, of fallen mates, of their bond with those who suffered alongside them, of those who helped them survive.
We gather at this hour on this day to remember the Anzacs who leapt ashore at Gallipoli and who landed on history’s page on 25 April 1915.
It is a day we remember all those who suffered during times of conflict or crisis, whether Service personnel or civilians, whether Australian, New Zealander or Thai.
We remember those members of our Australian Defence forces who served in conflicts ranging from the Boer War to our ongoing operation in Afghanistan.
We remember those who continue to suffer physically or mentally from the trauma of war and we remember and acknowledge our debt to them and their families.
Most solemnly, we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The spirit of Anzac Day, kindled on the rocky shores of Gallipoli in 1915, has become a vital part of our national heritage.
C.E.W. Bean described the Anzac spirit as standing for “reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship, and endurance that will never own defeat”.
These qualities are part of our country’s national ethos and imbue all aspects of our national life. They are qualities that are in evidence across the length and breadth of our country and our continent.
They are values and virtues shared by our New Zealand brothers and sisters.
They are the qualities those Anzacs, who were interned by the Japanese military and who suffered extreme hardship at this Pass and on this Railway, relied on for their very survival.
Work commenced on Hellfire Pass in April 1943.
A place aptly named for the night scene of POWs struggling with their awful task in the light of carbide and bamboo fires.
Through their pain and sacrifice, the pass was completed by August.
In those few short months an estimated 700 Allied POWs had died on this small section of the Railway.
Gone now are the shouts of “speedo!, speedo!, speedo!” as the guards forced the pace of construction on the Railway.
Gone now are the cries of anguish and the sound of metal on hard rock.
Gone now are the scenes described by Bombardier Hugh Clark as having come from a scene “out of Dante’s inferno”.
Gone now is the smell of sweat, blood and acrid smoke.
The conditions in which the Prisoners of War toiled on the Railway were brutal and inhumane.
Poorly fed and forced to work day and night in harsh and intolerable conditions.
Battling disease and subjected to horrific cruelty by their military captors.
According to Japanese records, four million cubic metres of embankments were constructed. Three million cubic metres of rock was shifted by hand. 14 kilometres of bridging was constructed.
Twenty per cent of the Prisoners of War who worked on the Thai-Burma Railway died. 12,500 young lives cut short. 2,800 Australians who never came home.
An estimated 270,000 Asian labourers were also forced to work on the Railway. 75,000 did not survive.
It has been said, a life lost for every sleeper laid.
Those Prisoners of War who did survive suffered crippling damage to their health. Many died after the war at a significantly higher rate than veterans of other theatres.
The endurance of the Australian and New Zealand Prisoners of War and the way they looked out for each other still rightly inspires our two nations.
Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop, despite being tortured himself, was one of many Prisoners of War who stood up to brutality to protect those who became sick and weak.
Like many who showed extraordinary leadership and courage, he continued to serve his country and his mates after the war. He fought tirelessly for proper post-war support for Prisoners of War.
He won recognition for those Thais, like his friend Boon Pong, who risked their lives to bring food and medical supplies to the Prisoners of War. His friendship with Boon Pong went on to forge even stronger bonds between Australia and Thailand.
Weary Dunlop’s ability to forgive his captors later in life and promote reconciliation with Japan was also an act of courage and greatness.
The sun will shortly rise through the trees above reminding us of the hope that lies in the dawn, and of the need to remember.
On this day we take time to honour all Australians and New Zealanders who have served in uniform.
We recognise the contribution of the men and women of our Defence Forces who serve today in peacekeeping and on operations around the world. Their distinguished service makes them a standard bearer for those who follow.
We remember today the young Australians and New Zealanders who have fallen in Afghanistan. We honour their memory and share a tragic sense of loss. Our thoughts are with their loved ones.
Today, as every year, Australians throughout the world gather to commemorate Anzac Day and remember lives lost.
We also celebrate our national characteristics, our values and our virtues: the notion of a fair go, of looking out for one’s mates, of a sense of humour in adversity and perseverance, and the sure and certain knowledge that however bad our circumstances might be, there is always someone else worse off who needs a helping hand.
In the words of Weary Dunlop, “in suffering we are all equal”.
Lest We Forget.