In a moving address during the national Anzac Day dawn service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra this morning, Corporal Mark Donaldson VC pointed to the past while encouraging young people to learn about and be inspired by the sacrifice of those who serve.
- The Australian War Memorial’s dawn service in Canberra attracts 35,000
- Corporal Mark Donaldson encourages young people to use the War Memorial as “a place to reflect” at all times
- In Townsville, Prime Minister Scott Morrison shares stories about those who came after the Anzacs
In front of approximately 35,000 people, who had gathered to mark the 104th anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on Gallipoli, Corporal Donaldson drew attention to the significance of meeting at the memorial.
“The Australian War Memorial was built on a promise — one our nation has a responsibility to uphold.
“A promise not just to an individual but for an individual, all of them. Those who served in the past, serving today, and who will serve in the future.
“I urge the young people to visit, learn and be inspired by these deeds. Look at the age of those who went, who stood up, and who committed. They were your age. If not younger.”
The Victoria Cross recipient also spoke of the “sobering reality that comes with service and sacrifice”.
“A celebrated, amazing feat can also be the worst day of another person’s life,” Corporal Donaldson said.
“The day that they never walked again, talked again, or never returned home.
“Today, and every day, remember all those sacrifices.
“Those who suffered yet fought on, and those who continue to do so. Today, not just in combat, but also in support of others.”
Corporal Donaldson spoke of soldiers like Charlie Stokes, who was awarded the distinguished conduct medal.
“In later life, he confided in his children he had openly wept after the recapture of Villers-Bretonneux, upon seeing what he had done,” Corporal Donaldson said.
“Perhaps it is the capacity of all ordinary humans to do extraordinary things when coupled with extreme circumstance.
“To fight harder, march further, dig deeper, move despite overwhelming odds, and care for wounded mates. No matter what the personal imposition or risk. Even if that risk means death.
“This is a spirit worthy of renown, praise and striving to achieve. This is a human spirit, the Anzac spirit.
“A spirit that spans generations, defines what mateship means, and drives us to be more than ever we imagined we could be.”
To end his speech, Corporal Donaldson quoted fellow VC recipient Cyril Bassett, who he called a “reluctant hero”:
“I have a lot to be thankful for. I do not want to skite, in case my luck turns. When I received my medal, I was disappointed to find out I was the only New Zealander to receive one from Gallipoli. Because hundreds of Victoria Crosses should have been awarded there. All my mates ever got was a wooden cross.”
‘We gather to honour their bravery’
Upon opening the service just after 5:30am, Scott Bevan spoke of the importance of remembering the sacrifice of all soldiers.
“We assemble at this special place of remembrance on this day each year, symbolically close to the time the first Anzacs, young men from Australia and New Zealand, landed on a Turkish beach during the First World War,” Mr Bevan said.
“We gather to honour their bravery, their courage, their selfless comradeship, and their sacrifice. Under the most awful conditions.
“These were the men who created for their homelands the spirit of Anzac. A spirit that gives us pride in who we are, and it sets the standard for our defence force today.
“As we remember the Anzacs of 1915, we also remember all of those who have followed in their footsteps. We especially remember those who gave their lives, those who gave their good health, and those who grieve for them.”
People meet across the country
Across the country, the focus of many dawn services centred on the enduring Anzac spirit, the sacrifice of those who died on Gallipoli, and those who have fought in subsequent wars.
Thousands gathered in Sydney’s Martin Place and 25,000 people gathered in Melbourne to honour those loved and lost.
Maureen Gildart from the Penrith National Serviceman’s Association said Anzac Day was about honouring everyone who served for Australia.
“It’s not just the world war guys, it’s the guys who are serving now and those overseas in war zones,” she said.
The New South Wales Governor David Hurley also attended in his last official engagement before he takes over as Australia’s next Governor-General in June.
At the dawn service in Townsville, Prime Minister Scott Morrison shared stories of those who had come after the Anzacs.
“Their successors walk amongst us,” he said.
“I met Bree Till 10 years ago. Her husband of less than a year, Sergeant Brett Till, was also killed. He was part of the incident response regiment. He was just 31, in Afghanistan.
“They were expecting their first child when Brett was killed.
“To be carrying a child with all your hopes, and to be experiencing the worst possible grief, required unimaginable strength. And that is the strength that has sustained Bree and her family to this day. And Brett and Bree’s boy, Ziggy, is doing just great.
“So, our heroes don’t just belong to the past, they live with us today.
“We remember, we are grateful.”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten attended the Darwin dawn service, and delivered an address about tradition, loyalty and mateship.
“The tradition we honour today is not built upon grand talk and airy ideas of fame and glory,” Mr Shorten said.
“Instead, in every conflict, Australians have served and fought and died for something more simple and more true — love for their home, loyalty to their mates, faith in each other.”
Mr Shorten said “humble stone monuments” in quiet country towns honoured those who had served.
“Yet the true memorial, the most powerful monument to those who’ve served and suffered and died, is all around us,” he said.
“The greatest legacy of Anzac is the free country we call home, the peace we live in, the democracy we vote in.
“The fact that we can gather here today with family and friends to share a meal and raise a glass under the beautiful territory sky, we can do these things because of those who had served and do serve. We can live our lives because of Australians who gave theirs and because of those who serve us still in the uniform of our nation.”
Gallipoli site evacuated
As hundreds of Australians prepare to attend a special dawn service at Gallipoli, Turkish authorities said they had arrested a suspected Islamic State member they believe was planning to attack the commemoration.
The suspect, a 26-year-old Syrian national, was detained in Tekirdag, a north-western province close to the Gallipoli peninsula, a local police spokesman told Reuters.
Turkish security sources have told the ABC that the planned attack on Gallipoli was in retaliation for the Christchurch mosque attacks.
The Gallipoli site has been evacuated and is being searched for bombs and other threats.
It comes after Turkey banned its own citizens from attending the Anzac Day dawn service due to security concerns.