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Hieu Van Le: The Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk is a very special place and a lasting reminder of the human cost of war

Friday 28 April, 2017

Source: His Excellency the Hon Hieu Van Le AO, Governor of South Australia, published in the Advertiser April 24, 2017.

That human cost is most starkly represented by the more than 102,000 service personnel, many from South Australia, who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

We know, though, that the human cost of war is not only the fallen: it is a cost that is levied on all servicemen and women, on their families and on their communities.

At the northern end of the Memorial Walk we find some words from Australia’s Official Historian of the First World War, Charles Bean.

Of Australia’s servicemen and women, he wrote: “They do not intend to be thought or spoken of as heroes. They’re just ordinary Australians.”

To me, they are both.

Anzac Day was first celebrated in 1916, after the Gallipoli campaign had cost more than 8000 Australians their lives.

At Gallipoli our soldiers faced terrible casualties, harsh conditions and the upper-hand of opposition forces.

Despite these challenges, our soldiers and nurses displayed incredible courage and strength, determination and good humour.

During the long months of this campaign, a national consciousness began taking shape in our young country, born of the characteristics Australians had demonstrated not only at Gallipoli, but in theatres of war across Europe.

South Australians were part of this story.

To date, 20 South Australians have received the Victoria Cross, eight of them for their efforts in the First World War.

All of them demonstrated tremendous effort, strength and courage. I should like to share with you a few of their stories.

Born in Woodville, Brigadier Arthur Blackburn, a lawyer, became the first South Australian to receive the Victoria Cross.

At the 1915 landing on Gallipoli, it is believed that he and another man penetrated further inland than anyone else.

At Pozières, France, he led an attack that captured nearly 400 metres of trench.

His commanding officer said that, although matters looked anything but cheerful, Brigadier Blackburn “lost neither his heart nor his head”.

Corporal Phillip Davey of Unley received his Cross in 1918, after moving forward in the face of fierce point-blank fire to save his platoon from annihilation in Merris, France.

By this time he had served in several campaigns, including Gallipoli, enduring serious wounds on more than one occasion.

Private Jorgen Christian Jensen, born in Denmark but by then a South Australian, was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917 for his actions in Noreuil, France.

He risked his own safety to halt the shooting against a surrendered enemy party which was, mistakenly, under fire.

Private Jensen survived the war and is buried in West Terrace Cemetery.

These are but a few of the many outstanding examples of service we remember on Anzac Day.

Every time I walk along the Anzac Memorial Walk, or see it through the windows of Government House, I am reminded of the freedoms that our servicemen and women protect for us.

I am reminded that they thereby afford us all the priceless opportunity of pursuing meaningful, fulfilling lives.

My own thoughts on this day are indelibly coloured by having grown up in a country riven by the horrific destruction and brutality of war.

But I also experienced at first hand the gallantry and sacrifice of those brave soldiers who risked their lives to help defend our freedoms, many Australians among them.

There is nothing abstract about my sentiments today: I cherish a deep and real personal gratitude.

Anzac Day is perhaps our nation’s most significant commemoration.

Over recent years we continue to see a steady increase in the numbers of people joining that commemoration, whether at the parades in our cities or one of the many services around our state and our country.

Anzac Day is our opportunity to honour the many thousands of Australians who have served and to honour those who today are serving our country in conflicts around the world.

It is our opportunity to say, simply, thank you.

Lest we forget.

Hieu Van Le is the Governor of South Australia.

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