The right thing to do at the time…’
Words in commemoration of my great-uncle Bob and his mates…
(when unveiling a plaque at Bapaume in France).
There was no conscription. They volunteered because they thought it the right thing to do. They had no connection with France and no particular love for (that) country. There was no threat to Australia that made this war of any security importance. Yet they volunteered, and (he and others) as schoolteachers, helped to recruit more volunteers. My Uncle had bad eyesight and was turned down several times, until the great graveyard of the Somme demanded more victims. So they took a troop ship to France, arriving in December 1916.
This plaque … commemorates the sacrifice of men who came from Australia to die – like five million others – in the great but futile war. The English war poets, in their anthems for doomed youth, envisaged their bodies lying “in some foreign field which is forever England”. This is a ridiculously English conceit that Australians do not share. Our relatives lie in France, a country that they came to liberate from an invader, a country which has itself done much for the cause of liberty (as the playing of The Marsellaise today so vividly reminds us). It had been unlawfully occupied by a country that has done very little.
They thought it was the right thing to do, and I think that they were right. Their sacrifice gives meaning to their photographs in dusty family albums and makes us remember them with pride.