The director of the Australian War Memorial and a former defence minister Dr Brendan Nelson yesterday provided a stark statistical focus to the poignancy of the social history of Remembrance Day and of the Great War.
Australia was a population offour-and-a-half million people in 1914. We had one million men who were of an age that could volunteer – 417,000 did.
We sent 330,000 overseas and four years later almost 62,000 were dead. Another 60,000 died within 10 years of returning to Australia from the 155,000 that were wounded.
The depth of the wounds inflicted on our society was enormous and beyond our modern comprehension. But there was great pride.
The carnage of World War I included not just the deaths of those mown down on the shores of Gallipoli or above the trenches of Lone Pine, but also the horror of the Western Front, where for example, at Fromelles, in one single day, there were 5500 Australian casualties.
Around Tamworth and all over this region, there are numerous memorials to the war. Some grand and magnificent, some small and almost invisible or unknown.
Our Anzac Park gates are among those we can see every day. Erected in 1927, they record 194 names of those who sacrificed their lives for ours.
There have been many eloquent and excellent words over the years to record their history and the campaigns writ long in our consciences.
Lately, Ron McLean’s In the Line of Fire, a focus on the role of those from Gunnedah and district who served, and Sandra Lambkin’s Not Just Names in Stone, which traces the stories of those inscribed on Anzac Memorial Gates in Tamworth are testament to our collective memory bank.
McLean writes that some 500 Gunnedah men answered the call – more than 150 of them never came home.
Australia effectively declared war on August 4, 1914, and the first convoy of troops set sail from Albany in WA on November 1 exactly 100 years ago.
The first men to enlist out of Tamworth – about 40 of them – fronted up to a drill hall on the site of the Guy Kable building in Marius St less than two weeks after the declaration.
All over the country the centenary commemorations of the Great War have begun this year.
Our focus is also on the stories of those we sent or surrendered from this region. It is our duty to remember them. To revere. To respect.
To not forget.
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