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Four ways of remembering

By Peter Coates - posted Monday, 11 November 2013


Today there are many ways to remember those Australians killed in war. This article mentions a few ways, including songs, PTSD, a National Cemetery and the 1993 eulogy of the Unknown Australian Soldier.

Songs convey images of war and remembrance in the minds of many. One of the more memorable songs is Khe Sanh by Cold Chisel. Another is John Schumann’sI Was Only 19. Written by Australia’s Eric Bogle is the sad and majestic Green Fields of France. The last reminds us how war involves mistakes and tragedies that happen “again and again”.

The multi-talented singer/songwriter/diplomat/comedian, Fred Smith, has filled a void by producing a truly memorable song about returning from Afghanistan, Going Home. Fred’s song broaches another way, tragic and unsought,to remember. That way is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Traumatic Stressfactsheet includes some contact numbers and websites which may be useful.

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The RSL’s idea of building a National Cemetery in Canberra, would be fitting. The idea appears to be supported by the Abbott Government. It is envisaged the cemetery would be the resting place of soldiers killed in action, Victoria Cross winners, former governors-general and former prime ministers. There are suggestions that is be sited on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin.

Two years after the end of World War One an unknown soldier was entombed in Westminster Abbey. He represented all young men of the then British Empire killed in World War One. It was not until 1993 that an Unknown Australian Soldierwas moved from his grave near Villers-Bretonneux, France and then reinterred in the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory.

As Treasurer and Prime Minister, Paul Keating was notorious for making insults an art form. Keating, however, was surprisingly eloquent in his eulogy of the Unknown Australian Soldier on 11 November 1993. This is the first part of the eulogy:

We do not know this Australian's name and we never will.
We do not know his rank or his battalion.
We do not know where he was born, nor precisely how and when he died.
We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe.
We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single.
We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are.
His family is lost to us as he was lost to them.
We will never know who this Australian was.

Yet he has always been among those whom we have honoured. We know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war and one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars this century.

He is all of them. And he is one of us.

This Australia and the Australia he knew are like foreign countries. The tide of events since he died has been so dramatic, so vast and all-consuming, a world has been created beyond the reach of his imagination.

He may have been one of those who believed that the Great War would be an adventure too grand to miss. He may have felt that he would never live down the shame of not going. But the chances are he went for no other reason than that he believed it was his duty - the duty he owed his country and his King.

Because the Great War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle, distinguished more often than not by military and political incompetence; because the waste of human life was so terrible that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat; and because the war which was supposed to end all wars in fact sowed the seeds of a second, even more terrible, war -  we might think this Unknown Soldier died in vain.

But, in honouring our war dead, as we always have and as we do today, we declare that this is not true.

For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly.

It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary.

This is just part of the eulogy. The eulogy is just one way to remember Australians killed in war.

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About the Author

Peter Coates has been writing articles on military, security and international relations issues since 2006. In 2014 he completed a Masterís Degree in International Relations, with a high distinction average. His website is Submarine Matters.

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