High Notes, Vol 17 No 10, April 08 2016
End of Term 1
Anzac Day Assembly
"Distinguished guests, Lt. Colonel Alain Dunand (University of NSW Regiment), Bill Harrigan (Bondi-Waverley RSL), Barry Collins & David Cohen (Coogee-Randwick RSL), Ross Whittle (Maroubra RSL) and Les Haggett, President of the National Servicemen’s Association; Old Boys Commander Alan Dale, Dr Doug Carruthers, Alf Tremaine and Ian Devereaux; Paul Harapin, representing the SHSOBU, and serving Old Boy Capt. Eduoard Cousins, staff and students, welcome to our assembly this morning.
"Let us honour today the 400 Australian personnel serving in Operation Highroad since January 2015 in their ‘train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan’. We thank the people serving in Operation Okra, the ADF’s contribution to the international effort to combat ISIL in Iraq. We salute the efforts of our 400 personnel in Operation Accordion who support the ADF operations in the Middle East Region. Australians are serving in South Sudan, East Timor and on border protection duties. We acknowledge and applaud their contributions. Let us remember them today.
"Our primary purpose is to gather to commemorate Anzac Day on this last day of term to ensure that our school makes a public affirmation of its commitment to our Australian cultural heritage. Anzac Day is uniquely Australian. We relive a defeat in war. We combine the solemnity of our national recognition of service and sacrifice in wartime with a proud display of patriotic pride, mateship and cooperative endeavour in times of peace. There is a sense of nationhood, of common cause, that infuses the public consciousness on Anzac Day.
"This community feeling is generated in part by our collective reflection on how many people have demonstrated their belief in and love of Australia by surrendering themselves, often for years, to fight for its causes. Whatever we may think of how and why Australia became involved in armed conflicts, the qualities of our people under the ultimate stress of mortal engagement have shone through consistently over the generations. Our sense of togetherness, our stoicism, our resilience, our larrikinism, our comradeship, our daring, our anti-authoritarianism, our self-sacrifice for others, our belief in having fun - these elements of our national psyche are evoked by Anzac Day.
"Anzac Day is our undisputed national day. There is continuing controversy about Australia Day, a celebration repugnant to indigenous Australians. Remembrance Day has declined as the end of World War One assumes less importance in our society. We cannot even really agree about when we became a nation. Melbourne Cup Day is the only other public occasion outside of Christmas Day when we act in concert and in harmony.
"Anzac Day unites us. Anzac Day inspires us to love our country as much as our forebears did.
"Anzac Day reminds us of how lucky our country has been to escape the ravages of war on its soil except for the bombing raids in Darwin and North Western Australia and the midget submarine attacks in Sydney Harbour. It makes us grateful for our lifestyle. It makes us humble when we compare what we have now as a result of what others sacrificed for us. I want to illustrate this sacrifice with one horrific example.
"It is nearly 100 years since the first battle of Pozières which was launched at 0200 on July, 23 1916. Uncharacteristically, the first phase went well. The bombardment was accurate, the machine guns were suppressed, and being at night, the attackers could creep closer to enemy trenches ahead of time. Nonetheless, key objectives on the flanks were not reached and the German Bunkhouse code named Gibraltar had to be taken and then re-taken. General Gough, commanding the 1st Division misread the German defences, claiming the village could be taken by strong patrol action. By the time the line was closed up, most men were in shallow, hastily dug trenches. During the day of the 23rd the German shelling fell on the previous Australian positions.
"The German bombardment started at 0700 and lasted all day on July 24. It was claimed that not one person in a battalion escaped without being buried by the dirt thrown up by howitzers, exploding every three seconds for most of the day. The Germans were very accurate because they were firing into their previously occupied territory. The bulk of the men were not in adequate cover. There were no bunkers or dug outs to shelter in. The shelling was intense, prolonged and in a narrow section of the line. Men suffered severely from what came to be recognised as shellshock, characterised by an attitude of frozen despair, uncontrollable twitching in anticipation of explosions, weeping or desperate attempts to run away. Pozières was described as a ‘mincing machine’. One runner survived the bombardment and got his message through to brigade headquarters only to go outside, lie down and shoot himself in the head.
"The 1st Division men attacked again on the night of the 24th. They captured K trench and linked up at the cemetery beyond the village, but did not reach their objectives. They were still exposed. At 0715 next morning the artillery barrage from the Germans started up again and continued until dusk, employing the guns from three divisions. The barrage continued all day on the 26th. The German counteroffensive never came. On the night of the 26th the 1st Division was relieved. Corporal Thomas complained in his diary about being ordered to march out, single file, without a communications trench.” ‘Tis a wonder any of us got out”. They had to march ten miles on the morning of the 27th. …We had not slept for three nights & had had no food’.
"What was achieved? By the standards of the Somme, it was a good operation. Pozières village had been taken. A 300m by 300m wedge had been taken out of the German line. What was the cost? At least 5,285 Australians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. A week before at Fromelles there were 5,533 casualties. The price of success or failure was nearly the same. War’s futility was exemplified at the Somme.
"Considering historical events such as these, Anzac Day commemoration is rightfully embedded in our culture. Culture is about improvement by mental or physical training. It encompasses a stage of the intellectual development of a civilisation. Anzac Day trains us by intellectual reflection, by wearing poppies for remembrance, by marching, by gathering for services, by holding school assemblies. It teaches us what it is that we have to be proud of and what a high price was paid for our way of life. On 25 April I urge you to participate in Anzac Day services somewhere and watch the marches and look at the faces. You will know then why we celebrate this special day. You will share the spirit.
"I hope you will respect today’s ceremony and value it as Sydney High’s foreshadowing
celebration of a most important national day."
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