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April 23, 2014

As we approach the centenary of the military campaign on the Gallipoli peninsula it is an appropriate time for reflection on the significance of this annual day of commemoration.

Although ANZAC day marks the landings at Gallipoli nearly a century ago, ANZAC day is revered by all Australians as the day to commemorate the lives of Australians and New Zealanders who have died in the service of their country.

Each year, thousands of Australians across the country will attend dawn services at local memorials and cenotaphs. Prayers will be read, the Last Post played and our national anthem sung. While each of these services will follow a format that has existed for decades, each service will have unique elements that reflect local traditions. Services like those held in our towns and cities will also be held in overseas locations where Australian servicemen and women have fought and died.

Our deployed service men and women will also mark the occasion with a dawn service followed by a traditional gunfire breakfast. Those serving overseas will undoubtedly reflect on the significance of serving on operational service on ANZAC day in the company of their mates whilst being aware of their nation’s gratitude for the sacrifices they have made.

Many of our younger veterans who have served overseas in the last decade actively participate in commemoration services as well as ANZAC day traditions such as two-up. Attending commemoration services and spending time with their mates from their deployments add to the range of government initiatives that younger veterans can access to support their mental health.

One such initiative I had the privilege of witnessing was the Australian Defence Force and Sydney Theatre Company’s Production, The Long Way Home. This production was based on first-hand accounts and featured veterans on stage with professional actors. This novel initiative has been a resounding success playing in theatres across the country. The production was a deeply emotional and powerful reminder of the trauma of war and goes some way towards sharing the personal experiences and untold stories of our younger veterans.

In November this year, a commemoration event will be held in the Western Australian coastal town of Albany to mark the centenary of the departure of the first convoy ships that carried the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to the First World War.

This event will mark the official beginning of our Centenary of ANZAC commemorative period and is the first of a series of events that will mark the major milestones of the First World War.

As we embark on this commemorative period which will include large scale events of national significance and ceremony, it is worth reflecting on the value of our own dawn services and local marches that remind us of the sacrifices our towns, friends and families have made across the generations in the Defence of our country.

It is at these services that we can stand side by side with our own veterans young and old. It is at these services that we can stand side by side with those members of our community who have lost a family member in the service of their country.

Lest we forget.

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