This is an ANZAC Day address that I was asked to present to a retirement village this year. It was a privilege to attend the ANZAC ceremony at Vele.
I enlisted in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corpse in 2006 and I am currently a student at Queensland Theological College studying to become a Padre to serve defence force personnel.
The 24th of April will mark the 96thanniversary since soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps made their stamp on history. Since then ANZAC Day has been not only embedded in the Australian calendar but in the hearts of our thriving Nation. It is arguably our most sacred national day. On it we remember not only the courage, sacrifice, mate-ship and larrikanism of those original ANZACs, but also that of soldiers, sailors, air men and women who have served our nation with distinction from the time of the Boer War until the present day.
Australian Defence Force personnel are currently involved in 8 operational deployments around the world ranging from our own border protection in Northern Australia to Afghanistan, Sudan, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, and a small contingent of troops currently in Egypt and scattered through the Middle East.
As Australian’s we can be truly proud of those who have served before us, in this time, and in the times to come. The Australian soldier has been distinguished and set apart from all other countries. Our soldiers carry many qualities, but none greater than mate-ship, integrity, teamwork and initiative. In my time serving in the Middle East I have seen these qualities put to work to turn the tide of battles. I have seen officers and soldiers from all countries near and far hold Australian Troops in the highest of regards.
Last year marked the largest number of losses that the Australian Army has had in many years. The price paid in sacrificial life and the subsequent trauma experienced by survivors throughout the past century has been tremendously high. This has been done to guarantee the freedoms that we now experience in this wonderful country. Our Home. On Anzac Day we remember their sacrifice. Their loss of life is our gain of freedom. Their loss is our victory. Truly, there is no greater love than this. That a man lay down his life for his friends.
Thanks to the ANZAC diggers, the Australian Defence Personnel are considered to be a hardy, all-rounded and fierce force that is feared amongst all who stand against us. We have stamped our mark in history as an under-dog that never gives up. History is full of examples where a smaller, less equipped and less prepared army has won victory on the battlefield. Some examples from our own history where we have triumphed against the odds include Kokoda, Kapyong, and Long Tan.
However, the Battle of Beersheeba is my favorite under-dog story to retell. The Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade mounted its last cavalry charge in history. The charge covered 6km and they galloped directly into Ottoman artillery, and a heavily entrenched position. Beersheeba was a key position in the British offensive to reclaim Jerusalem. It contained the only water wells that could sustain an army for dozens of kilometers. General Allenby had put all his troops on the line and set in motion a major offensive that would retake Beersheeba. To his horror the Ottoman infantry and artillery which was dug in held firm and he could not penetrate their defensive lines. It was nearing dark on the 31 October 1917, and without the supplies to last another full day of combat the Australians made an ‘all or nothing’ decision to charge head on into the Ottoman defences and attempt to take Beersheeba that very day.
The charge commenced at 4:30pm, approximately 800 horsemen charged toward the enemy trenches. When the line of horsemen got within range of the Ottoman riflemen, they started to take casualties but the defenders failed to allow for the speed of their approach, they failed to adjust their weapon sights, so once they were within half a mile of the trenches, the defenders’ bullets started passing overhead. The light horsemen jumped the front trenches and dismounted behind the line where they turned and engaged the Ottoman forces with bayonets. The Ottoman forces were in many cases so demoralized that they quickly surrendered. One Australian, who was dazed after having his horse shot from under him, recovered to find his five attackers with their hands up, waiting to be taken prisoner.
The attitude of ‘all or nothing’ has been passed through the generations and remains with active servicemen and women today.
We are greatly blessed in this land of ours and it is right and proper to honor those who have won our freedom at such great personal sacrifice. However, it is important that as an ever increasing secular society that we do not forget our Christian heritage and do not neglect to thank God for His mercy towards us. It is important that we trust in Him and not the strength of our own forces or that of our allies. If we trust in Him we shall not be disappointed. However, if we lose our trust and faith in Him then we have lost the most important battle of all without a shot being fired. May we all take to heart what our Lord Jesus said:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has led the way and paved the example of true love. Jesus knew that death was near, and that by laying down His life he would be saving the lives of many. How is it that we can hold our head high and face death with confidence just as Christ did?
William McKenzie, or Fighting Mack, an ANZAC padre known for charging Turkish trenches with a shovel wrote “I now know that if I pay heed and obey God I shall continue unharmed until my work is finished, so if I fall on the battle field you will know the reason.” Fighting Mack knew that the Lord was watching over him. He was assured of his salvation and was confident that when his time on Earth was complete that he would see everlasting life in heaven. When our work on Earth is finished and if we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will have everlasting life with Him in heaven.
As we reflect on the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ and also on those who have secured our freedom by sacrificing their lives in combat, please bow your heads with me as we pray…
Almighty God, we acknowledge that you are the sovereign Lord of all creation and that you rule over the destiny of nations. We thank You for your mercy to us as Australians over the course of our history. You have blessed us with the most wonderful country on earth where we live in relative peace and harmony. We thank you again for your mercy and unfailing love towards us.
We also thank you for those who have paid the price for the freedoms we enjoy in this wonderful land of ours. Over the years many have heard the call to arms which has been necessary to defend our shores. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice for heeding this call and we remember them. Others have undergone years of torment and trauma as a consequence of their service and we remember them. Many gave their all to keep the home fires burning during the absence of sons and daughters, fathers and mothers and we remember them. Few families have escaped being touched by war and we remember those who have suffered pain and heartache as a consequence.
And finally we remember those who are currently deployed in trouble spots around the world and we pray for their safety in the midst of danger. We ask that in your mercy you will shield them from harm and bring them safely home. We especially ask that your grace would abound to the family of Corporal Richard Atkinson and the 21 soldiers before him who have given their lives in active service deployed to Afghanistan. We uphold their families, wives and young children before you and commend them to your love and care during times of intense heartache for them.
We would ask for ourselves that you would strengthen our faith and trust in You that we, like the example of Fighting Mack may wait in hope for you. You are our help and our shield, we pray that our hearts would rejoice in you as we trust in your holy name. And may your love rest upon us even as we put our hope in you. We ask this so that we may continue to know that blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. In Jesus name we pray,