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24 April, 2022

Anzac Day recognises service before self

"I thought I had better write and tell you that my last wish is that you all shall be proud and not grieve if I never return...," wrote 20-year-old Lieutenant William Sydney Duchesne in a letter home in 1915.

By Robyn Holmes

"If by chance my time has come to leave this world, I wish not for a better death than one on the battlefield helping Englishmen keep our Empire in freedom. 

"Tell them, Dad, that for them and our country, we – who are from Australia – are ready to give what is most precious to all – that is our life," he wrote. 

These were among the last words the family of the young Australian officer received from their beloved son and brother. 

He was killed in action on April 25, 1915 - the first day of the Gallipoli campaign and exactly one month before his 21st birthday. 

This young soldier was one of an estimated 903 Australians and New Zealanders who died on the first day of this now infamous campaign. 

What makes a man write these words? What enables him to acknowledge the real probability of his own death and carry on regardless? 

Lt Duchesne and thousands like him believed they were there to fight for a world, not expecting to survive to see it change, but believing if they did their duty, that it would change and for the better. 

Over 8,000 more young Australians were to die on the battlefields of Gallipoli and 61,522 Australians were to die by the time the First World War finally ended in 1918. 

From a 2022 perspective, it is almost impossible to imagine a generation of young men willingly signing up to fight a battle on the other side of the world under the banner of the British Empire. 

But for the diggers who were there in the trenches, there was clarity of purpose – in their minds was the conviction that this was a time to fight for Australia, for our future, our sovereignty, our loved ones. 

And that is what they did. They put service before self. 

They were courageous and endured in some of the worst conditions warfare can demand. 

Our life today, in a country that embraces diversity and fairness, was born out of the sacrifice on battlefields more than 100 years ago and is something our nation cannot forget. 

They are part of our history. Their deeds, their sacrifices and the battles they fought have shaped us. 

And as time passes, our respect and reverence for what they did grows ever stronger. 

This is the legacy bestowed by those who gave their all. 

Today, young men and women in Ukraine have bravely taken up the defence of their country and are putting their lives on the line for what they believe. They face their opposition with endurance, courage and determination. These qualities were those of our Anzacs who displayed a quiet, but deep, patriotism. 

On Anzac Day, as the light breaks, as we peer into a new day, we will gather to honour the service and sacrifice of generations of Australians, more than 1.5 million of them, who have proudly served our great country in times of war, and the more than 100,000 men and women who have tragically lost their lives in battle, never to return home. 

They gave up their freedom so we could enjoy ours. Their place in history assured. Their immortality is secured through their sacrifice. 

Wars have always involved great sacrifice and we have not always prevailed, but, our troops have always fought in a way that warrants our gratitude and our respect. 

That’s why we gather every year, from dawn and throughout the day. That’s why we must remember them, always. 

Lest we forget.

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