Prime Minister Tony Abbott has spoken of his awe for the Anzac generation, who were tested almost beyond endurance.
Leading commemorations at the national Anzac Day ceremony in Canberra, Mr Abbott said the landing at Gallipoli was part of a great tide of events that helped shape the Australian nation in the 20th century.
“As someone who has never served in the armed forces, never faced a shot fired in anger and never lost close family members in war, I am in awe of the Anzac generation, who were tested almost beyond endurance,” he said.
Anzac Day marks the landing at dawn at Gallipoli in 1915, but represents so much more, he told the crowd – which included the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – outside the Australian War Memorial on Friday.
“This was just one day, and Gallipoli was but one campaign in a four-year war,” he said.
“On the 99th anniversary of Australia’s baptism of fire we remember that fateful day.
Mr Abbott said the Anzac centenary should mean pondering anew the example of our mighty forebears.
“We should be a nation of memory, not just of memorials, for these are our foundation stories,” he said.
Mr Abbott said World War I impacted Australia like nothing before or since, with 417,000 enlisting from a population of five million.
Of those, 62,000 never came home, while 152,000 were wounded.
“Individually and collectively it was sacrifice on a stupendous scale, but what was the alternative in Britain’s time of need, and when Europe was at risk from Prussian militarism?” he said.
Over the next four years we would remember all the events in which Australia was involved, starting with the capture of German New Guinea in September 1914 and concluding with the final Western Front battles of 1918, he said.