Throughout history battles have often begun at dawn. So it has long been a tradition in the Australian Army that soldiers “stand-to” in the dark before dawn, alert and ready to repel an attack.

For those of the Great War who safely came home, the dawn “stand-to” was a way to quietly commemorate their fallen mates.

Over time these informal gatherings of veterans evolved into the Dawn Services we know today and commemmorate this morning.

And so in our small way we here “stand-to”.

And where soldiers sometimes would stand-to in expectation of attack and the dread of death, we stand-to in honour and remembrance, with the enmity and prejudices of that time long forgotten.

Mustafa Kemal was commander of the Ottoman 19th Division at Gallipoli and fought our forces at Anzac Cove. He later became the first President of modern Turkey. Less than 20 years after fighting the Anzacs he was back at Anzac Cove, this time to dedicate a memorial plaque, inscribed with these words of love and forgiveness:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.  Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

In the same year that Mustafa Kemal dedicated that memorial to his former enemies at Gallipoli, he gave equal rights to women in Turkey, and was working hard to modernize the country.  His motto was “Peace at home; peace in the world”.

No Australian now lives that served at Gallipoli in that war or in the trenches of Europe. All the veterans of all the nations of that war are gone. The experience of that time has passed out of living memory and now belongs to history.

HG Wells had optimistically predicted that it would be: “The War That Will End War”. In the more cynical era of the Vietnam War it was said that: “The delusion is that whatever war we are fighting is the war to end war”.

Fresh in our memory is the long campaign in Afghanistan. Forty Australians have died in that conflict, and 261 have been wounded. But the tally of that campaign also includes its achievements of increased freedom, further steps into democracy, more rights for women, roads and bridges repaired, schools built, students enrolled and health care.

Australians don’t fight to conquer, but when we fight, we fight to liberate and protect.  Even though there is no “war to end wars”, we know at least that our forces are there for freedom.

In all 20,000 Australian men and women have served in Afghanistan.

Those who haven’t experienced war at first hand, like myself, wouldn’t presume to understand the strains and emotions or perhaps even the bonds which are born in conflict.

But I don’t think soldiers of any war expect those at home to fully understand their experiences. Instead they grant us the security to contemplate; the luxury of not fearing for our lives; the ability to plan the wonderful details of days stretching ahead in peace.

And so what a little thing it is for us to “stand-to” on an Autumn morning, in one of the world’s most tranquil and beautiful places. By taking joy in that peace and doing our best in return to spread love and friendship, I think we fulfil a compact – our end of the bargain – with those who didn’t return. It is to live a good life as they would have wished and to stand up bravely for what’s right in our own lives in our own time.

That’s our mission from them.

At the Multi National Base in Tarin Kot in Afghanistan is a memorial to honour and commemorate the fallen.

The centrepiece is an image of a silhouetted, fully-kitted soldier patrolling up an Afghan hill taken by Leading Seaman Paul Berry of the Royal Australian Navy.

Painted there are the flags of the nations of the combined force from Uruzgan province: Singapore, Slovakia, the United States, Afghanistan, Australia and New Zealand; and beside that is an inscription which reads:

“To our brothers and sisters in arms. Thanks for the memories, laughs, tears, blood and sweat. You will always be in our thoughts and remain in our hearts … All Gave Some, Some Gave All.”

Lest we forget.

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