War is strewn across the generations like steel from buckled buildings; corroded, contorted and cast aside by those desiring to flee the destruction wrought by the wrong-headed decisions of people we do not know.
Someone once said that the trouble with life is that it can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
That presents us with a challenge, but also an opportunity. A challenge to know what to do at the time of uncontrollable events, but an opportunity to learn from past mistakes.
Too often we are encouraged not to look back because past decisions, wrong decisions, which led to suffering and death might cause us embarrassment and shame.
But we should look back.
We should look back because it is from the past that we learn how to live better today. And it is from those who trod the path before us who we can learn the most from. Whether that is how to do things well, or how to avoid making catastrophic mistakes.
War is a mistake.
That realisation, that admission, that is our starting point to learning how to avoid future mistakes. How to avoid future wars.
We gather today to specifically commemorate the battle that unfolded at Gallipoli 102 years ago.
But World War 1 was more than Gallipoli. Over five bloody years, almost 417,000 men enlisted and left Australia’s shores to battle in distant, unfamiliar, lonely lands. Of these more than 60,000 died and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. That is 52%, more than half, of all who went to fight.
And bear in mind that this sacrifice was offered up from our fledgling nation’s population of fewer than 5 million.
A century ago, in 1917, when Hallett Cove was sheep paddocks sloping to the sea, Australian troops were hunkered on the Western Front, where gains were feeble and losses were heavy.
That year almost 77,000 Australians became casualties in battles such Bullecourt, Messines, and the four-month campaign around Ypres (ee-pre) known as the battle of Passchendaele.
It’s all too easy to get lost in numbers which slip off the tongue like the simplicity of a school roll call.
But we must remember the blood that flowed through the veins of those numbers. They were people with lives who farmed where our suburbs now sprawl, who taught in our schools, built homes, fixed cars, shoed horses and baked bread.
Farming lads who played football in winter and cricket in summer. Dads with kids. People who just like us found it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and wanted to spend weekends with their families.
Their ordinariness should magnify rather than diminish their standing.
Their sacrifice, their stories, their resilience, their grace, their determination, their endurance, is anything but ordinary. They are and always will be extraordinary.
And so we gather to remember,
To bow our head,
Not wave flags.
And we will pick up those strewn pieces of our history, those strewn lives, those fading memories, we will turn numbers into names, and treasure them, understand what we can learn from them, and strive not to make those same mistakes again.