Reflecting on past and future
WE CAN ONLY HOPE THAT WITH THE END OF THESE PAST FOUR YEARS OF AWFUL CENTENARIES, WE CAN NOW MOVE FORWARD INTO A DIFFERENT CENTURY . . .
Tomorrow marks a century since the guns fell silent over the trenches of the Western Front in France, ending four years of bloodshed across the world.
Country towns and urban centres around the Goulburn Valley will mark the momentous occasion with ceremonies and salutes in town squares, recreation reserves and cenotaphs.
As we remember the sacrifice of almost 62 000 Australians who died fighting for our freedom and in service of our nation, we must also remember the sense of relief that families must have felt when the terrible conflict was over.
As soon as the news became known in November 1918, cities and towns around Australia erupted into celebrations.
So tomorrow will be a bittersweet day.
For those with loved ones who never returned, there will be sadness.
But for those who did return to live out their lives in peace and freedom, their families can celebrate and be thankful.
These past four years have seen many World War I centenaries marked — the outbreak of war in August 1914, Gallipoli in 1915, the battles of the Somme and Fromelles in 1916, Beersheba in 1917 and Viller-Bretonneux in 1918.
All these and many more engagements now live forever in the proud annals of Australian military history.
However, these battle honours must share their existence with a dark and perhaps even longer shadow — the pain and grief of generations.
Australia’s World War I losses are unimaginable today.
From a population of fewer than five million, 416 809 enlisted, of which more than 60 000 were killed and 156 000 wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.
While the armistice marked an end to the conflict, it marked a beginning for many families and returned soldiers of years of mental suffering, the effects of which are perhaps still being felt today.
One hundred years seems a long time, but the truth is Australian families and loved ones never forget.
This is proven each year by the number of young people involved in the commemorations and salutes.
We can only hope that with the end of these past four years of awful centenaries, we can now move forward into a different century where the dark shadow of war recedes, to be replaced by memories of peace and light.