As dawn broke on the 25th April 1915, hundreds of Australian soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, stepped foot on the darkened beach of a rugged cliff-strewn peninsula known as Gallipoli.
They were far from home, for within months of the commencement of the Great War, Australian men in their thousands had volunteered to join our armed forces to fight in far distant lands.
From every community, from every walk of life, Australian sons and fathers, husbands and brothers, answered the call of patriotic duty.
They left behind those they loved and cherished the most.
By the end of the war to end all wars, over 60,000 were killed – never to know the joy of being reunited with family and friends.
While the war lasted 4 long years, and while Australians distinguished themselves as courageous, valiant, skilled and selfless in battle after battle, across the Middle East and the Western Front, it was the Gallipoli campaign that captured the imagination of our country.
By the time the ANZACS reached Gallipoli in 1915, they had undertaken military training, however there was little that could have prepared them for what lay ahead.
Under attack from Turkish forces in the opening moments of the beach landing, their optimism was nevertheless astonishing.
British war correspondent Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett wrote of the dawn landing:
[these] athletes proceeded to scale the cliffs without responding to the enemy’s fire…
I have never seen anything like these wounded Australians in war before.
Though many were shot to bits, without the hope of recovery, their cheers resounded throughout the night….They were happy because they knew they had been tried for the first time and had not been found wanting.
The cliff the ANZACS could not scale was the courage, discipline and tenacity of the Turkish army, determined to defend their homeland.
A bloody stalemate ensued.
The battle-front was a short distance from the landing beaches.
In places, the trench lines of both sides were just metres apart – separated by the unburied bodies strewn across the ground between – no-man’s land.
The ANZACS were hemmed in. They endured unspeakable conditions, but they were resilient.
They took risks. They refused to give up.
It was not until December 1915, after 8 months of hell, with some 11,400 ANZACS killed and some 24,100 wounded, that the ANZACS were ordered to retreat.
A terrible loss was endured – an extraordinary legend was born.
Indeed, just one year later, on 25th April 1916, around 2000 ANZACs marched through the streets of London, to commemorate the first anniversary of that fateful landing.
Another chapter in military history had been written, a new nation tested and defined.
The 25th of April is etched into our calendar as a most sacred national day – not by government edict or decree, but through the deep understanding of generations of Australians that this horrendous sacrifice was made in our name and for our nation – our freedoms, our democratic values and our way of life.
Australians have found meaning, and inspiration in the story of the ANZACs.
Take Len Hall, a 16 year old boy from Subiaco in my electorate of Curtin in Western Australia.
In February 1915, he put his age up to 17, and boarded a transport ship bound for Egypt.
Noticing a girl in the farewelling crowd, he plucked an emu plume from his slouch hat and gave it to her.
Weeks later Len was fighting as a machine-gunner in Gallipoli.
At the Battle of the Nek in August 1915, his job was to fire over the heads of the soldiers as they were ordered over the parapets and into enemy fire.
He witnessed the slaughter of the WA 10th Light Horse Regiment – described as the flower of the youth of Western Australia.
Len also served in Palestine, and in the Battle of Beersheba and rode with Lawrence of Arabia in the assault on Damascus.
At the end of the war, he returned home.
A woman greeted him at the welcome home march.
“Excuse me sir, would you like your plume back?”
Len later married Eunice and they raised a family.
Len died in 1999, aged 101 – one of the last ANZACs.
As we gather here this morning, we each pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who have carried on the ANZAC tradition for the past century and more – that spirit of courage, mateship, endurance and sacrifice that has forged our national character and identity.
Here, at this most treasured and honoured site, we thank the people of Turkey for welcoming us back each year and acknowledging our shared history and friendship.
This is where we can pay our respects – in silent contemplation of the enormity of the debt we owe to those who fought here.
Gallipoli makes us proud to be Australian.
LEST WE FORGET.