Minister for Defence - Commemorative address - Anzac Day - Bullecourt, France

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The Hon Kevin Andrews MP

Minister for Defence

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25 April 2015

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“Bullecourt represents for Australians a greater sum of sorrow and of honour than any other place in the world”, wrote a man who survived the fighting here in 1917.

There were few that travelled further from their homes to serve in the Allied cause than the Australians. And here, at Bullecourt and in the now beautiful fields that surround this village, more than 10,000 of them were killed or wounded.

For the Australian Imperial Force, this was the scene of a terrible defeat and, a few weeks later, a hard-won and very costly victory.

Early on 11 April 1917, two Brigades of the 4th Division broke into enemy trenches near here without artillery support.

At home the newspapers declared it ‘an almost unbelievable feat’.

But before the day was over, the survivors were back in their own trenches. Three thousand Australians had been killed or wounded in about eight hours of fighting and more than 1,100 were taken prisoner.

While first Bullecourt, as it is now known, dealt Australians a devastating blow, on 3 May 1917 Australian and British troops attacked again. This time the fighting lasted two weeks. One officer remembered going into battle here as like entering ‘the gaping jaws of hell’.

Three Australian divisions passed through what has become known as Second Bullecourt, said to be the most intense trench fighting of the war. For two weeks the world’s newspapers followed the fighting here and people celebrated the victory – never really understanding what it had cost.

Though they suffered grievous losses at Bullecourt, some men found solace in comradeship born in battle. A 1st Battalion man described Bullecourt as one of the Battalion’s toughest fights and said that it “raised our morale and espirit de corps almost more than anything that had gone before.”

But the cost was high, and one that went beyond the immediate toll in lives. So severe were the casualties that after Bullecourt there were no more plans to add an extra division to Australia’s order of battle, and little hope that Australia could continue to replace its front-line losses with volunteers.

Four years of fighting took a terrible toll on Australia and while it didn’t end with Bullecourt it did change something.

In the 1970s, as the last of the men who fought and survived the First World War grew into old age, Bullecourt became a site of remembrance. In the decades since, Australians have been welcomed here and remain humbled by your nation’s dedication to commemoration.

Here in Bullecourt, in the local memorials, in the museum, in the memorial park, in Peter Corlett’s Bullecourt Digger, and in the services like the one we attend to today, we are reminded of the cost of war and the sacrifice of our peoples in the service of peace.

I affirm today, that which we have know for nearly a century. The French Republic’s commitment to honouring those who fought so hard for so long in a common cause, is matched in equal measure by Australia’s.

Such are the ties that forever bind our nations.

We shall never forget.

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