He is all of them; and he is one of us, 1993
Prime Minister Paul Keating at the entombment of unknown soldier, 11 November 1993. (Duration 6:09).
NAA: M3983, 959
We do not know his rank or his battalion? We do not know where he was born or precisely when and how he died? We do not know where in Australia he had made his home? Or when he had left it for the battlefields of Europe? We do not know his age or his circumstances? Whether he was from the city of the bush? What occupation he left to become a soldier? What religion? If he had a religion? If he was married? Or single? We do not know who loved him? Or whom he loved? If he had children, we do not know who they are? His family is lost to us as he was lost to them.
We will never know who this Australian was. Yet he has always been among those we've honoured. We do know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front. One of the 416,000 Australian who volunteered for service in the First World War. One of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war. And one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. One of the 100,000 Australians who will die in wars this century. He is all of them, and he is one of us.
This Australia, and the Australia he knew, are like foreign countries. The tide of events since he died has been so dramatic, so vast and all consuming. A world has been created beyond the reach of his imagination. He may have been one of those who believed the Great War was an adventure to grand to miss. He may have felt that he would never live down the shame of not going. But the chances are that he went for no other reason, that he believed, it was his duty. A duty he owed his country and his king.
Because the Great War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle distinguished more often than not by military and political incompetence. Because the waste of human life was so terrible, that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat. And because the war which was supposed to end all wars, in fact, sowed the seeds of a second even more terrible war. We might think that this unknown soldier died in vain. But in honouring our war dead as we always have, we declare that this is not true. For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly. It was a lesson about ordinary people. And the lesson was that they were not ordinary.
On all sides they were the heroes of that war. Not the generals and the politicians, but the soldiers and sailors and nurses, those who taught us to endure hardship, show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.
The Unknown Australian Soldier we inter today, was one of those by who his deeds proved that real nobility and grandeur belongs not to empires and to nations, but to the people on whom they, in the last resort, always depend.
That is surely at the heart of the ANZAC story, the Australian legend which emerged from the lore. It's not a legend. It's a legend not of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds. Of courage in ingenuity in adversity. It is a legend of free and independent spirits, who's discipline derived less from military formalities and customs, than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity. It is a democratic tradition. A tradition in which Australians have gone to war ever since.
This unknown Australian is not interred here to glorify war over peace, or to assert a soldiers character above a civilians. Or one race, or one nation, or one religion above another. Or men above women. Or the war in which he fought and died above any other war. Or of one generation above any that has, or will come later.
The Unknown Soldier honours the memory of all those men and women who laid down lives for Australia. His tomb is a reminder of what we've lost in war and what we have gained.
We've lost more than 100,000 lives. And with them all their love of this country, and all their hope and energy. But we've gained a legend, a story of bravery and sacrifice and with it a deeper faith in ourselves and our democracy and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian.
It's not too much to hope therefore that this unknown Australian soldier might continue to serve his country. He might a nations love of peace and remind us that in the sacrifice of men and women whose names are recorded here, there is faith enough for all of us.