Stephen Smith MP
Minister for Defence
Anzac Day Service
Commonwealth War Cemetery
25 April 2013
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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.
Distinguished guests, our Thai hosts, ladies and gentlemen.
I especially acknowledge the presence of former Prisoners of War and their families and friends who have joined us here this morning.
I am honoured as Australia’s Minister for Defence to join you at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery to pay homage to the men and women who sacrificed their lives in the service of their country.
Today is a time for us all to remember and reflect.
We remember the sacrifices of the Anzacs ninety-eight years ago on the shores of Gallipoli, and we honour the sacrifices of all our peoples who have suffered and died in wars past and present.
We honour all Australians and New Zealanders who have served in uniform across more than a century.
We remember the sacrifices of all Australian men and women who have served and the more than 102,000 Australian service men and women who have died in wars and conflicts, on peacekeeping duties, in disaster relief and on humanitarian assistance missions.
Today we honour our service men and women currently serving on operations in Afghanistan, and on peacekeeping and security missions around the world.
Of the nearly 10,000 Australian Prisoners of War who worked on the Thai?Burma Railway, more than 2,800 did not survive the ordeal.
Many of those are buried here at Kanchanaburi. The head stones along rows of silent graves tell the story of a generation lost.
Young lives shattered on the Thai-Burma Railway through overwork, ill?treatment, neglect, beatings and disease.
Stories abound of their courage, their strength in adversity, their bonds of mateship, their ingenuity, and their compassion.
POW Stan Arneil tells us that the POWs never stopped caring for one another; taking turns sitting in the makeshift wards of bamboo hospitals on what they called ‘death watch’. It was a point of honour among Australians that ‘no man died alone’.
They were not alone then. They are not alone here today.
A veteran’s prayer is that their children and our nations never again have to witness the horrors of war.
As the POWs from the camps established in this very area will surely confirm, war is not glorious.
The losses among our POWs would have been far higher but for the help of local Thai villagers, who risked their own lives to assist the prisoners.
Australians will forever be grateful for the assistance of these generous and brave people living on and near the Thai-Burma Railway, as they selflessly carried the injured along the steep and slippery path to medical help.
We will never forget their selfless courage.
We remember the hundreds of thousands of Asian labourers – relocated from Malaya or the then Dutch East Indies as well as conscripted Thais and Burmese – who were forced to work on the Railway.
An estimated 75,000 Asian labourers perished. They do not lie in rows of marked graves, but their loss highlights the tyranny and injustices of war.
The Australian sacrifices that we honour today helped forge our national identity, helped forge our natural characteristics and helped set our national values and virtues.
A nation egalitarian in spirit and independent by nature.
A belief in a “fair go” for all and in not leaving the weak or vulnerable behind.
Optimism about what can be achieved by ingenuity and hard work.
And the courage to work together to achieve in the face of adversity.
The traditions forged at Gallipoli, and later by the POWs who suffered and sacrificed on the Thai-Burma Railway, have become an indelible part of our history.
Today those traditions continue to inspire us as we join in enduring respect and gratitude for the fallen.
Lest We Forget.