Source: Australian Embassy Bangkok
The New Zealand Ambassador Taha Macpherson
Air Marshal Leo Davies, Australian Chief of Air Force
Vice Governor of Kanchanaburi Mr Bor-won-sak Wan-it, Director of Armed Forces Development Command Major General Num-pong Kong-pun, Embassy and Defence representatives, friends from our host country Thailand, distinguished guests, and all who have travelled from near and far to be here this ANZAC dawn.
Welcome to you all. It is an honour to have this opportunity to address you this morning.
We are particularly honoured, and deeply humbled, to have with us today at Hellfire Pass, Mr Harold Martin, an Australian veteran and former prisoner of war who worked on the Death Railway. Those of you lucky enough to have had a chance to speak to Harold last night would know that his memories of this place – and that time – are undimmed, even by the passage of 75 years. Sadly, Harold could not be joined this year, as he has been for many years, by his good mate Neil McPherson, another former prisoner of war. Neil McPherson passed away just a month ago. His presence here this morning is sadly missed.
For Harold – we thank you for sharing this time and this place with us.
For this is a very special day, in a very special place. Every year on 25 April, ANZAC Day, we gather here to remember and to bear witness to the challenges to the human condition once endured on this very spot.
It is peaceful and tranquil now – somewhere to reflect, in the quiet of the dawn, on what took place just more than 75 years ago.
I cannot even try to evoke in words what it must have been like in 1942 and 1943. It was described, truly, as a living image of hell itself.
Only those here at that time – like Harold Martin – could truly know and understand the extremes of human emotion experienced in Hellfire Pass.
Every ANZAC Day, Australians and New Zealanders remember those who served, and sacrificed, in all conflicts, past and present.
At around 4.30 am on 25th of April 1915, the first soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp, the first ANZACs, landed in the Ari Burnu area on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. By the end of that first day, over 16,000 men had surged ashore, and more than 2,000 were dead or injured.
These men did not seek immortality; but their conduct on that day, and in the subsequent months of hardships endured on those fatal shores of Gallipoli, has set them apart in our nation’s consciousness. Australian’s and New Zealanders are quite rightly proud of the Anzac tradition, proud of the service provided by our first ANZACs and the manner in which they conducted themselves. Their courage, initiative, loyalty and selflessness has come to symbolise the best of both countries.
Following World War One, many returned veterans would gather at memorials in the quiet before dawn, in the quiet before the main Anzac Day parades, to reflect among the comrades with whom they shared a special bond, and to remember the mates they had left behind.
And whilst Anzac Day commemorations began in 1916 as a way of honouring those who had died at Gallipoli the year before; today we also recognise that Anzac Day has come to symbolise more than just the first Australian and New Zealand soldiers, who fought so valiantly at Gallipoli. Anzac Day has come to symbolise all men and women who serve in Australia’s armed forces; all those who fight and make sacrifices for this country; all those who continue to uphold the Anzac values.
Through World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, UN Peace Keeping Missions and other military operations – the men and women of Australia’s Navy, Army and Air Force have continued to serve Australia with pride, and remain true to the courage, dedication and loyalty demonstrated by the men of Gallipoli in 1915.
Today we meet at dawn to continue the practice established by our first ANZACs, to show our respect for the service of our veterans, to honour the sacrifice they made; and to demonstrate, in some small way, solidarity for the hardships they endured.
But we do not mark military success, or even a battlefield, here at Hellfire Pass. This was instead a place of horrific cruelty and inhumanity, as tens of thousands of prisoners of war and Asian labourers toiled to construct the Thai-Burma railway over those months through 1942 and 1943.
This railway was achieved at such human cost, that Hellfire Pass has come to represent the suffering of all prisoners of war.
But it also represents the victory of the human spirit – the qualities tested and shown at that time of intense hardship and suffering; respect and compassion, even where almost all human dignity had been stripped away; courage, leadership, mateship, innovation and inventiveness, and even humour.
Today we also honour those from other nations who shared in these traumas of war. At Hellfire Pass, we bear witness to the many thousands of British, Dutch, American, Malay, Burmese, Javanese, Singaporean and others who shared the struggle, and suffering, alongside the Australians here at that time.
The quiet of the Dawn Service gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the sacrifice of those who have served, those who continue to serve, and those who will serve in the future.
The cost of war, the human cost, has been immense. Not just for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also for those who carry the physical and mental scars of war long after the fighting has stopped; for the family members who support them; and for the family members and mates left behind.
We demonstrate our gratitude by remembering their sacrifice and by honouring the values they first fought for over 100 years ago, and continue to fight for today. This is the payment we make against a debt we can never fully repay.
Lest we forget.