Let’s honour the sacrifice
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