Aug 18, 2015

Anzac Centenary 100th Anniversary of the Landing of Gallipoli Speech – 18 August 2015

It is a great honour to rise tonight to speak on the Prime Minister’s motion on the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli. What prompted me, in particular, to speak at this late time was the fact that, as I understand it, the speeches and the names of those who spoke will be taken to the War Memorial and bound. There is a particular reason that precipitated me to speak, which I will touch on later.

This motion that commemorates and honours those who served our country at Gallipoli and in other theatres of conflict, and the speeches I have heard, is a key to understanding what makes us Australian. The Gallipoli story, the story of our Anzacs, is part of the Australian story—the Australian narrative, an ongoing narrative. When listening to the speeches of many of my colleagues I reflected on how Anzac Day has been viewed over time and how it is being viewed now. I am very heartened by how it is viewed now because it is somewhat different to how it was viewed when I was going to school at Christian Brothers College in Adelaide in 1979.

There was a particular book that had been written about Anzac Day, called The One Day of the Year. It was a pretty dark book. It framed Anzac Day as a day where war was being glorified and war was being commemorated. To our family, the Mackereth family—my mother’s family—the fact that that was how Anzac Day would be portrayed was quite disheartening. It was disheartening for my mother’s family, because my mother’s father had served on the Western Front and had been gravely injured.

My reflections of Anzac Day are informed by a picture on the mantelpiece of my grandmother’s home in George Street, Parkside. As a young man—my grandmother died in 1979—I used to wander into the lounge of a very small two-bedroom home in George Street Parkside, and there above the mantelpiece was a picture of a young man, a very well-put-together, handsome young man in the Australian uniform, before he went overseas. He was 22 years old when he left these shores. He was a young man with a very bright future—he was staring into the future as an optimistic young man. I have recently been looking through the National Archives records of his service. The person I am talking about is my grandfather, William Harold Luxton Percy Mackereth, who served in the 16th Infantry Battalion. He served and was gravely injured in 1916. He was blown up, effectively, in Pozieres in the Somme valley.

I heard from my mother the stories of what happened to this young man who went over there. My grandfather died in 1949. I never met my grandfather. I know my grandfather only through the stories of my grandmother and my mother’s brothers: Bill Mackereth, who has passed away, Lancy Mackereth, Maxy Mackereth, Johnny Mackereth, Terry Mackereth, Shirlie Mackereth, Betty Mackereth and my mother, Coleen Mackereth, now Byrne. I heard about a wonderful man. My grandmother Kathleen Winnifred Daly married him in 1920, after he had been repatriated, having spent 12 months in a hospital in England as a result of being gravely injured. There was no glorification of war from my grandfather. He was a young man that had served his country and had spent 12 months in a hospital in Britain after he had been blown up in 1916. When that person came back, he was a very different person to the one that left the shores to embark on, I guess, that great adventure. I looked at the oath to be taken by the person being enlisted. This is the certificate of the attesting officer:

I, William Harold Luxton Percy Mackereth swear that I will well and truly serve our sovereign Lord the King in the Australian Imperial Force from 5th August 1915 until the end of the War, and a further period of four months thereafter unless sooner lawfully discharged, dismissed, or removed therefrom; and that I will resist His Majesty’s enemies and cause His Majesty’s peace to be kept and maintained; and that I will in all matters appertaining to my service, faithfully discharge my duty according to the law.
SO HELP ME GOD
That was in Adelaide, South Australia. I wonder what was going through that young man’s mind, basically 100 years ago, having signed a copy of this piece of paper. Then I wonder what was in that young man’s mind when he came back a shattered individual. He had 13 operations on an arm that they wanted to amputate, but he refused to allow it to be amputated. I used to read about books like The One Day of the Year and others that were said to have glorified war—not to my family they did not, not to my family at all.

When I told my mother that I was going to speak about this today, she wanted me to say to this place, for the Hansard and therefore for history, that he was a very good man. Notwithstanding the very grave injuries that he had to his upper and lower body, he was a good husband to his wife and a wonderful father to his children, but he suffered. The previous speaker, the member for Parkes, spoke about how people dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder and what happened. My grandfather would basically lock himself away for three days and drink and drink and drink until he got through that episode, and then he would walk out. Funnily enough, when you asked, ‘Did my grandfather ever talk about it?’ like a lot of people that served in the First World War in Gallipoli and elsewhere, he never spoke about it. He never spoke about what he actually went through—bits and pieces perhaps to my grandmother, but that is it. The sons and daughters of this man never really knew. We have had to find out, through research, exactly what he went through.

It is important for me, on behalf of my family, to say how much we valued his service to our country. We are sorry in a sense that we are not there to be able to pay appropriate respects. But I hope, through this contribution that I have made the behalf of the Mackereth family, that we do, that he will be remembered. He never really fully secured ongoing employment post his return to Australia. For the Mackereth family, I hope that this statement offers them some comfort and some gratification that their father and grandfather will be remembered.

The story of our servicemen in the First World War is an essential part of the story of Gallipoli. I give credit to former Prime Minister John Howard for the work that he did in reshaping the country’s narrative; we have landed in the right place when we have a discussion about what Gallipoli means to the Australian people, to our country and to our country’s future. When I look through the prism of Anzac Day and the legend of Anzac, I remember a couple of incidents. I had the privilege of being invited to fly onto the deck of the USS Carl Vinson in 2003. I flew on with a gentleman that was in battle fatigues. After five attempted landings we finally got onto the deck of the Carl Vinson. It is a 340-metre ship, a big ship, which can carry 75 aircraft. The USS Carl Vinson launched the first strikes on Afghanistan from its decks post September 11. It has significant meaning for the American people.

When we finally landed, we got off the plane and the gentleman in battle fatigues was surrounded by the Americans. That gentleman was Duncan Lewis, then Brigadier General commanding the SAS, with whom we had troops in Afghanistan, and now Director-General of ASIO. The warmth and regard that the Americans had for the Aussie soldiers, for the Anzacs—as the commander of fleet said—for the Anzac spirit, says everything about the incredibly rich legacy that our Anzacs have given to our country, and now we remember them appropriately.

From me to the Mackereth family, thank you for the service of William Harold Luxton Percy Mackereth. The Anzac spirit animates our discussion about what it means to be an Australian. He was part of that, and I know now that we can give him appropriate memory for the service that he gave to our country.

 

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