Good morning ladies and gentleman it’s a pleasure to speak to you this morning and to introduce our guest speaker Dr Brendan Nelson.
We give our thanks to the Repat Foundation for inviting Dr Nelson to be with us today. The invaluable work the Foundation continues to do in supporting the Veterans’ Health community, in particular the funding of medical research and healthcare projects are immeasurable.
Established in 1942 as a hospital for soldiers returning from World War Two, for more than seventy years the Repatriation General Hospital has delivered a very special kind of care to South Australian veterans and war widows.
Every war and every loss hurts a nation.
This morning we reflect on a very sombre time in our nation’s history, when we learnt this great truth. The tragedy and loss of World War One affected our nation deeply. The loss of our best and brightest young people from a small population of just 5 million was devastating for this nation.
Those of us who have served in uniform and our families understand this, but so too do all Australians from the remote west to the far north. Regardless of heritage or family story, we are one as we remember those who died that we might live freely.
Just 100 years ago, we raised an Army of more than 400,000 service people, 330,000 whom were deployed overseas. By the war’s end over 60,000 had been killed – 5,565 of these were South Australians. They marched along King William Street outside the Town Hall full of hope, not knowing what lay ahead.
One in five never came home. The modern equivalent of losing a quarter of a million in battle. Very few Australian families and communities were left untouched. My grandfather and great uncles were among them. So were yours.
The Watherston family of Port Lincoln left four brothers and one cousin from one family.
Frank Watherston died of gunshot wounds he sustained at Gallipoli in July, 1915. Frank’s brothers Cyril, Edward and James all subsequently died within four months of each other in France during 1916 and then their cousin, Sydney Watherston, was killed in action in August 1918 while serving with 50th Battalion. An incredible loss for one family. Too great a burden for one mother to bear. Too great the loneliness and silence left behind.
The sacrifice made by these men and their mates must not be forgotten. Their deaths on foreign soil, far from the comfort of home and the people they loved is a story that was replicated across our country 60,000 times. Their service and sacrifice is etched in history, along with many others.
And if we could talk to the mothers, wives and children of those who came here what story would they have to tell? In war, there are no winners just those who suffer for perhaps a moment or for a lifetime.
Over the ANZAC Centenary period all Australians are reflecting upon these tragic events and the price we continue to pay. We also think of the men and women who continue to serve our nation today, and within them the flame still burns.
One man who will be leading this national compassion is Dr Brendan Nelson, who has served as the Director of the Australian War Memorial since December 2012.
Prior to this, he was the Australian Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and NATO.
Dr Nelson managed a major transformation in Australia’s relationship with the European Union and NATO, and forged deep links with the communities of Flanders, where almost 13,000 Australians lost their lives during the First World War.
He regularly made the trip from Brussels to the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial at Leper, where the names of 6,190 Australians who died in the First World War and have no known grave are listed.
A graduate of Flinders University with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, Dr Nelson worked as a medical practitioner and was elected unopposed as National President of the Australian Medical Association in 1993, where he campaigned on a wide range of social policy issues.
Dr Nelson was a member of the Federal Parliament of Australia and in 2006 he became Minister for Defence. At this time troops were deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. In 2007 he was elected Leader of the Opposition until 2008 when he retired from politics and took on his ambassadorial appointment.
There is no finer Australian to address this memory. I thank Dr Nelson for being with us to share the nation’s story of the Centenary of the First World War.
Please welcome Dr Brendan Nelson.