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Watch my speech by clicking here Centenary of Anzac take note debate (10 August 2016)

Mr RAY WILLIAMS ( Castle Hill ) ( 12:03 :21 ): This year our nation commemorated one of its most important historical events—100 years since young Australian soldiers landed at Gallipoli, thereby entering our first theatre of war during World War 1. While the losses in that first confrontation of war were heavy, through their bravery and sacrifice our young Australian soldiers demonstrated a unique quality—a quality that would define Australians through their courage, sacrifice, compassion and mateship. Almost 100 years have passed since Australia entered that first theatre of war and never has the Anzac spirit been stronger and more evident.

Charles Bean was Australia’s First World War historian who landed at Gallipoli together with our troops on 25 April and stayed with them on the front throughout the entire war. Bean, who was wounded at Gallipoli during the August offensive, refused to be evacuated. It was said of him that no-one risked death more often than him. Over almost a quarter of a century he then wrote and edited the 12 volumes of the official war history. Finally, in searching for the words to type onto a blank page before him to summarise it all, Charles Bean wrote:

What these men did, nothing can alter now. The good and the bad, the greatness and the smallness of their story—it rises, it always rises—above the mists of ages, a monument to great-hearted men and for their nation, a possession forever.

These words proved to be acutely accurate. The courage and sacrifice of our Anzac troops continues to this day to be a monument of inspiration for us as a nation and to each of us as individuals. The mist of time has not blurred the sentimentality or affection that we as Australians feel for our service men and women. Testament to this patriotism of our resonance was seen in my electorate of Castle Hill when 25,000 to 30,000 people attended the Anzac Day dawn service at Kellyville organised by the Castle Hill RSL Sub-Branch. The site for this commemoration service recently received the appropriate new name Centenary of Anzac Reserve in recognition of the significance of this year. One hundred or more wreaths were laid during the early morning service, including one from Graham and Ann Brown whose son, Jason, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 while serving with the Special Air Service [SAS] Regiment.

The week prior to Anzac Day the Castle Hill RSL Sub-Branch always holds its memorial service, also at the renamed Centenary of Anzac Reserve at Wrights Road, Kellyville. As dawn broke we heard an outstanding address from commanding officer and Hills local, Brigadier Philip Bridie, AM. He spoke about the 540 local Hills men who enlisted to fight in World War I—and in particular the fact that only 22 returned. The loss of more than 520 strong, young Hills lads impacted heavily on our area—a small farming community where men were required to undertake the arduous task of doing the heavy lifting on their properties.

Two of the men who were the first to enlist from the Hills area were Edgar Allen and Percy Allen, both members of my family. They were the grandsons of Robert Allen, who had arrived in this country in 1796 and who received a land grant on Castle Hill Road, Castle Hill in 1814. Sadly, Second Lieutenant Edgar Allen, regimental number 1505, who enlisted on 15 December 1914 in the 4th Battalion, 3rd Reinforcement Unit, Australian Imperial Force and served in Gallipoli, was killed in action between 6 and 9 August 1915 and has no known grave. Private Percy Bartholomew Allen, regimental number 1908, who enlisted on 27 January 1915 in the 1st Battalion, 5th Reinforcement Unit, Australian Imperial Force and also served in Gallipoli, died of wounds received on 11 August 1915.He also has no known grave.

General John Monash would record in his diary in 1915 that he could hardly believe the excitement and enthusiasm of the young Australian soldiers who were about to enter their first theatre of war. Three weeks later after landing at Gallipoli that excitement and enthusiasm were soon replaced by the sheer horror of war. In the weeks ahead 8,000 young Australians, including two members of my family, would lie dead, with many thousands of others wounded. It was a hard way for a country to lose its innocence and an even harder way for families to lose their sons. For years following World War 1, on 25 April—the day ships departed this country with our first soldiers going to war—mothers and wives would start leaving flowers and tributes at war memorials in memory of those lost loved ones.

In Albany, Western Australia this act commenced what has become Anzac Day, when we now stop and commemorate the sacrifice and bravery of soldiers in all theatres of war each year. Dural brothers and Hills residents Godfrey and Charles Fuller also both died in that first confrontation in 1915, together with members of my family. These family names and many others now adorn the streets and parks around the Hills in their honour. It is a fitting tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My grandmother’s brother, Reg, left these shores in 1915 to serve first in Beersheba and then in Fromelles. He was one of those fortunate enough to survive one of the bloodiest of battles ever recorded and return safely home.

The Battle of Fromelles commenced on 19 July 1916 and was a bloody initiation for Australian soldiers into warfare on the Western Front. Soldiers of the newly arrived 5th Australian Division, along with the British 61st Division, were ordered to attack strongly fortified German front-line positions near the Aubers Ridge in French Flanders. The attack was intended as a feint to hold German reserves from moving south to the Somme, where a large allied offensive had begun on 1 July. The feint was a disastrous failure. Australian and British soldiers assaulted over open ground in broad daylight and under direct observation with heavy gunfire from the German lines. More than 5,500 Australians became casualties, almost 2,000 of them were killed in action or died of wounds, and some 400 were captured. This is believed to be the greatest loss by a single division in 24 hours during the entire First World War. Some consider Fromelles the most tragic event in Australia’s history. For anyone to survive was a remarkable feat in itself.

At St Matthew’s church some years ago, during the bicentennial of the reign of Lachlan Macquarie, Her Excellency Marie Bashir spoke of a plaque that is erected at the Dardanelles. The plaque simply reads, “Never forget the Australians.” It is a poignant reminder of the bravery of Australian troops and their efforts on behalf of people in a faraway land. It was where the compassion and sacrifice that Australian troops extended to others were first noticed. They remain distinct qualities of our people.

Following last year’s Anzac Day service, my wife, Wendy, and I travelled to Kenthurst Park where Kenthurst Rotary hosts its annual Anzac commemoration service. One of its members, Paul Rapp, always goes above and beyond the call of duty on behalf of our community. In his enthusiasm he organised an incredible flyover from Williamtown air base by three Hornet jets. I acknowledge Keith McGill, former president of Kenthurst Rotary, and retired Major Bill Duncan, OAM, who delivered a touching Centenary of Anzac address. I also take this opportunity to again thank and congratulate Castle Hill RSL—in particular, board member, retired Major General Warren Glenny—along with Castle Hill RSL Sub-Branch and The Hills Centenary of Anzac Committee, both led by president and retired Colonel Don Tait, OAM. His boundless determination, effort and organisation assured that all events leading up to and including Anzac Day were an outstanding success including, as I said, having between 25,000 and 30,000 people in one area at our reserve in Wrights Road, Kellyville.

Many members of my family contributed to the war effort, not the least of whom was my grandmother’s brother, Reg Allen, who I have already mentioned. He came home from that war and rarely discussed aspects of it, but I remember visiting him from time to time with my father, with whom he got along extremely well. When I was a young boy I remember Reg in his eighties saying that he had bumped into a local padre—a minister. The minister said, “Reg, you have had a good life, but are you a Christian?” Reg said, “On the battlefield when the enemy came over the hill, we mowed them down one by one. I hardly think that was a Christian action.” I have never forgotten that comment.

He was deeply affected by his actions in the war as are so many other returned soldiers—and for good reason. But Reg went on to live a good and prosperous life following World War I. He was well known across the Hills area for his feats of sheer strength as he was a big, strong lad. In 1939, following the death of his grandmother, Reg pulled down the sandstone cottage on Castle Hill Road in Castle Hill where our family had been given a land grant by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. He moved the stone house using a horse and cart to Round Corner where it stands to this day. It is now proudly heritage listed and is known simply as Allen House.

My grandfather, Cecil St Clere Williams, served on HMAS Australia in World War II in various battles but, most poignantly, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, which was a defining moment in the history of World War II, especially for our country, in holding back the Japanese forces. I proudly wear his distinguished medals, left to me by my mother, every Anzac Day. Reg’s younger brother, Eddy Allen, unfortunately perished on the Thai‑Burma railway. Following the recent popular movie The Railway Man, images may have come back for many people who still remember family members and loved ones who did not return from that theatre of war, or who were captured as prisoners. One of my grandmother’s cousins, John Eric Allen, was the last remaining prisoner of war in Changi Prison. He returned to Australia from Changi and went on to lead a wonderful and interesting life as a businessman and, like me, was involved in the heavy vehicle industry.

Jack Allen was a great character. I would call him when he was in his nineties and say, “Jack, how are you going?” He would say, “Mate, I am getting three meals a day and I have a roof over my head. It does not get any better than that.” That was John Allen to a T. He was happy with his lot. As the last surviving prisoner of Changi Prison it was a remarkable feat to live as long as he did. As a farming boy, Jack grew wheat in an area of Changi Prison. He worked the wheat into flour and made damper for his mates. The Japanese envied the smell of the hot damper so much they insisted on getting some for themselves. Jack kindly obliged but also insisted on getting better outcomes for himself and his mates—always a great negotiator.

My uncle, Terry, fought in Papua New Guinea. The member for Wagga Wagga spoke about the Cowra breakout during his contribution to this debate. Terry was stationed at Cowra when the infamous breakout took place. Our family has a proud history of representing this country in various theatres of war, with many making the ultimate sacrifice. I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the recent return from Terendak of the bodies of soldiers who perished during the Vietnam War. I grew up a little confused regarding the Vietnam War. At the time our brave soldiers were very much maligned for their role in the war, which was dreadful considering they put their lives on the line for our country and the freedoms we now enjoy—as do all soldiers of war representing this country. I can only imagine how hurtful this was. I was particularly heartened by the recent patriotism displayed across the country but particularly by hundreds of thousands of members of the community who lined the roads in my electorate and stood side by side to honour the bodies of these men when they were returned to Richmond air base. It was a fitting tribute.

I also take this opportunity to acknowledge a good mate, Bob Cockerill, who has dedicated his life to the memories of our Vietnam veterans and the sacrifices that they made. Bob is a proud and decorated Vietnam veteran and played a significant role in supporting the return of his comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. At the time of the end of the Vietnam War, in the early 1970s, I watched in complete dismay as elected representatives advised families that if they wanted the bodies of their family members returned they would have to pay for it themselves. What a disgraceful moment in the history of this country. Elected members of Parliament were prepared to instruct men to go to war and to put their lives on the line but they were not prepared to offer them the dignity of returning their bodies to their loved ones when they had made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. Time has certainly changed our perceptions. We now proudly acknowledge and honour every serving member of this country who has entered every theatre of war, as we should. It gives me great pleasure to contribute to debate on the Centenary of Anzac. Lest we forget.