How do you measure courage? ANZAC Day Dawn Service address
Below is a copy of Brigadier Stephen Cain's ANZAC Day Dawn Service address from 25 April 2015.
I would like to ask a question, it's one that I have often thought about. How do you measure courage?
Now you might say that we have medals for bravery, but not all brave acts are seen or recorded. Medals don't measure the ordinary courage of men and women.
Courage has to come from within us, but unlike the juice of a lemon it can't be squeezed out of us.
On this day, as we have come together to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, I would like to give you one measure that would become synonymous with the first World War.
It stands before you in the form of a simple wooden ladder. It's roughly made and slightly taller than a man.
Beside this ladder stands a young man of around 20 years of age. Have a look around in the audience and look for a similar young person. See their youth, admire their vitality; they are the hope of the future of our nation. So too were the generation that responded to the call to arms in August 1914.
However, my young soldier stands before you in a worn and tattered uniform. He has been wearing it for the months since he arrived on the peninsula. He sleeps in it, eats in it, has fought in it; and in it has dug graves for his friends.
He has a tired look on his face. He has seen death too many times. Bullets and bombs have claimed the lives of his comrades. The ever present flies, heat and decaying bodies of friend and foe have spread disease – claiming many more of his friends.
However, to put this measure of courage into perspective I need to transport you from here to a place on the Gallipoli Peninsula called the Nek. It's a narrow strip of land near the top of a ridge line. It was only 80 metres between the Australian and Turkish trenches. It's no wider and not much longer than the memorial that I stand on today. You might like to stand here after this ceremony and try to visualise how small this battlefield actually was.
The ladder this young man stands next to represents so much of his life. Grounded in the foot of the trench is all he holds dear. The parents back home who love him, the two younger siblings that adore him and who revelled with pride when he enlisted.
There is a girl back home that he likes and they have been writing to each other. He has hopes and dreams of a life after the war; a career, a marriage, perhaps a family of his own.
However, each step up this ladder will take him away from all that he holds dear. Knowing what faces him at the top of the trench, each step must be a conscious act, one that will require all the courage he can muster.
For now I must move you to the specifics of this place. It refers to a battle that will take place four months after the initial landings that we commemorate this morning.
My young soldier is a member of the 10th Light Horse. They were a unit of West Australian men that had come from across the towns of the South-West. They had trained in Northam and had ridden down to Fremantle for their voyage to Egypt.
Camped in the Dunes just to the South of here we have photos of them as they formed up along South Beach to practice their formation drills. Fremantle had been their final Australian home, the final place in Australia they would see.
Can you see the look of freedom as he galloped on his charger through the surf with his mates? But there is no horse with him now. His legs must carry him across the short distance between the trenches.
However, to really put his courage into perspective you need to understand the specifics of this battle for the Nek.
After months of stalemate the allies are trying a mass breakout across several fronts. The 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade is to make their charge across this narrow strip of land.
My young soldier is not the first to have tried on this day. He and his comrades from the 10th Light Horse have stood in the adjoining trenches as they watched their colleagues from the South Australian 8th Light Horse line up. Two waves of these brave young men have stood next to the same ladder as he now holds. They had charged and been cut down within metres.
Then another wave of his mates from the 10th had tried. He can still see the boots of fallen mates at the top of the trench. Some lie dead at his feet. Now it is his turn to try.
I wonder, would you have had the courage to have stood in his place? Would you have been prepared to have stepped onto his ladder?
Now it's his time. A call comes along the line, 'Steady lads, steady.' He faces the ladder.
Before he goes, if just for a brief moment he could turn to see you across the mist of time, his eyes lock with yours, I think he would ask two questions: 'Will my sacrifice mean anything? Will anyone remember me?'
He grasps his rifle tightly, a quick look to the mate who stands beside him; then there are three shrill sounds of a whistle.
A cheer goes up across the trench, he climbs as fast as he can; the thud of Turkish machine guns have started.
Quickly, quickly, as fast as he can he climbs out of the trench and...into the pages of our history books.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the Gallipoli campaign is not out landing, but the events that happened late in December 1915. Our troops were able to slip away unseen. For the days leading up to this event soldiers would go to tidy up the graves of their mates. Graves that hold 8,700 of their fallen comrades.
But if I turn to the two questions that I asked earlier, there are some things that we chose to remember.
Those who fought alongside my young soldier, from across this country, had not been born into a nation called Australia. These had been born into colonies. Federation had come in 1901, but no event since had galvanised our nation.
From the outset of this war all soldiers wore a word on their shoulders. In curved lettering was the name of a new nation, 'Australia'. Generations of soldiers would carry the same word on their uniforms, just as I do on my uniform today.
The actions at Gallipoli had brought together men from across the breadth of this continent. Men who would tease each other about where they came from but if necessary would fight to death to protect each other.
A new word would also enter our lexicon, 'mateship'. Today from here in Fremantle, across the towns and cities of Australia, over the 'ditch' to our cousins in New Zealand, a unique bond of friendship would be formed. This is ANZAC.
The ladders against which so many would stand in the first World War would be replicated in future conflicts. In the Second World War men would make similar journeys down ladders into the bellies of the submarines berthed here in the port of Fremantle, up ladders into the bellies of bombers that would fly across the treacherous skies over Europe.
The same courageous steps that my young soldier would make, would be replicated along jungle tracks at Kokoda and in Vietnam; across the mountainous hills of Korea and later in Afghanistan, across the plains of Palestine and in later years Iraq.
As to my second question, your presence here today has confirmed that this young soldier, and all who gave their lives in the first World War, have not been forgotten.
Now, I am still not really sure I know how to measure courage, but as we reflect on this today, for all of the 60,000 courageous Australians who left these shores never to return, as well as for the families who had the courage to let them go; I ask that you join me in the words of The Ode:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Lest We Forget.