26 April 2023
On 25 April 1917, a Sydney newspaper reflected on the burgeoning Anzac tradition.
It said it was, “a tradition to be treasured. It means much in a time of crisis.”
Two years after the landings on Gallipoli, Australia and the world remained in a state of crisis.
Across the country, people feared for their loved ones on active service.
Here in France, Australians commemorated Anzac Day in the shadow of a recent disaster.
Just two weeks prior, in the fields outside Bullecourt, not far from where we stand today, two Australian brigades faced an impossible task.
On 11 April 1917, the Australian Imperial Force had been ordered to attack what must have looked like an impregnable German line.
Their defences were miles deep, cut through with dugouts and tunnels; strong points bristled with machine guns, and a battery of artillery stood at their rear.
The Australians were to attack this foreboding position without artillery support of their own.
Instead, tanks were to lead the assault.
But their failure, and the absence of artillery, set the scene for slaughter.
That day, more than 3,000 men would be killed or wounded in the futile assault.
Those who survived the initial onslaught and made it to the Hindenburg Line found themselves cut off.
Some had been surrounded; if they could, they retreated back to their own line.
Those who couldn’t had to choose between surrender or annihilation.
In an enormous shock to the Australian Imperial Force, almost 1,200 men became prisoners of war.
Ten hours after the initial strike, the survivors who could, limped their way back to their own trenches.
No doubt, on that Anzac Day of 1917, many minds must have turned to the events of this terrible morning.
Those who served here knew only too well what had happened in these fields.
And they knew the sorrow that thousands of families back home, on the far side of the world, must have been feeling.
But Bullecourt was far from the only battle a war-weary Australia had to reflect on that Anzac Day.
Many, with heads bowed, must have thought of friends whose graves might be high on the windswept hills of Anzac, buried in the muddy ground of the Somme, or resting here, in this earth, near Bullecourt.
That was Anzac Day 1917.
One week later, the Australians where again in battle at Bullecourt.
This time the fighting lasted a fortnight and when it finally stopped almost 7,500 Australians had been killed or wounded.
Today we remember all those who served in the First World War, and all those who have served since, through times of war and conflict.
We also acknowledge those in uniform today whose service may take them, or perhaps has already taken them, to theatres of war and conflict, or to the scene of natural disasters as they write this generation’s chapter of the Anzac story.
Still today, 105 years later, Anzac Day remains a tradition to be treasured.
It stands as a reminder of all that has been sacrificed through war, in the pursuit of peace.
And it stands as a chance to honour the service of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who answered our nation’s call.
Lest we forget.
Other related releases
Address to the Hunter Defence Conference, Hunter Valley NSW