Let’s hon­our the sac­ri­fice

Mercury (Hobart) - - YOUR TASMANIA -

CEN­TURY ago to­mor­row the guns fell silent on a con­flict so bloody the world ex­pected it would be the war to end all fu­ture wars. As the crowds took to the streets in towns and ci­ties across Tas­ma­nia, they did so with hope that the to­day-unimag­in­able scale of sac­ri­fice would lead to a last­ing peace.

The mo­ment was de­scribed in the Mer­cury as the “great­est event in world his­tory”. “Never in liv­ing mem­ory,” it was re­ported the next day, “has there been such a day of joy of glad­ness in our is­land state”.

Tas­ma­nian Premier Wal­ter Lee told the mas­sive crowds that gath­ered spon­ta­neously in front of the Ho­bart Town Hall to mark the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment at 11am on No­vem­ber 12 of the in­tense pride he felt in the “mag­nif­i­cent part played by Aus­tralian sol­diers in the war”. He noted how many of those dig­gers had been men who had come “from the farms of Tas­ma­nia, and some from shops and fac­to­ries, and that for­merly they hardly knew one end of a ri­fle from the other”. He said it was re­mark­able they had proven wor­thy to rank among the best fighters and sol­diers in the world.

And it is true the Aus­tralian dig­gers had forged a rep­u­ta­tion in the trenches as some of the world’s best sol­diers. But it was a rep­u­ta­tion borne at a great cost. Tas­ma­nia at the time was home to fewer than 200,000 in­hab­i­tants. Of­fi­cially, about 13,300 of them signed up — one in 15. At least 3000 of them never came home, and per­haps twice as many re­turned with grave dis­abil­i­ties — both phys­i­cal and men­tal. This was a war that ripped apart an en­tire gen­er­a­tion.

Per­haps, then, it was the gover­nor, Sir Fran­cis Newde­gate, who bet­ter re­flected the more pri­vate sen­ti­ments of many in that cheer­ing crowd when he said: “Thank God the war is over, and that this aw­ful night­mare which has been haunt­ing us now for the last four and quar­ter years is now a thing of the past.”

Cer­tainly, the hope shared by all at the cel­e­bra­tions was that the No­vem­ber 11, 1918 Ar­mistice would bring with it “peace … and the down­fall of Ger­man mil­i­tarism”. Of course, that hope was in vain.

Just 21 years later, the chil­dren of those vet­er­ans were thrust into their own world war — this time one that spread from the skies over Eu­rope to the deserts of north­ern Africa, to the jun­gles of South-East Asia and Pa­pua New Guinea and on to Aus­tralian shores. Over their own six years of hell, this gen­er­a­tion won an­other hard-fought peace.

And yet as the decades rolled by the fight­ing went on — into Korea, Malaya, In­done­sia, Viet­nam, East Ti­mor, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Per­haps, then, as we to­mor­row mark a full 100 years since that Ar­mistice we should mute our cel­e­bra­tions. Per­haps this should in­stead be a time to re­flect on the sac­ri­fices made by all those pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions — and par­tic­u­larly by the present one, which has suf­fered loss on a scale not ex­pe­ri­enced since the 1960s.

Per­haps as we pore over the his­toric pho­tos and cen­tury-old hon­our rolls printed in the Mer­cury to­day and the Sun­day Tas­ma­nian to­mor­row what might be­come clear is that the best way we can hon­our their sac­ri­fice 100 years on is through the care we show for those from the post Septem­ber 11 gen­er­a­tion who — with the same brav­ery — have an­swered the same call.

Per­haps this should be a time to re­flect on the sac­ri­fices made by all pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions — and par­tic­u­larly by the present one

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