In welcoming you to Remembrance Day 2020, I wish to formally acknowledge today Representatives for the French and Italian Consuls, our Federal Member of Parliament for North Sydney, Mr Trent Zimmerman MP, the Board and members of the Chatswood RSL and sub branches,  the Legion Ex-Services Club,  the Dawn Service and Commemorative committee, Legacy, fellow Willoughby City Councillors and Willoughby City staff and so many of the special members of our broader community.  It is wonderful to see you all here.

I wish to also make special mention of the Artarmon Girl Guides who have cleaned the brass memorial name plates in the this very special Garden of Remembrance in advance of today’s ceremony.

It is an honour to be sharing in this solemn occasion with you all as we reflect on the service, sacrifice and support given by loved ones to so many.

Today as we honour and remember, we also acknowledge on the traditional inhabitants of the land on which we stand – the Aboriginal People, their spirits and ancestors.  We acknowledge the vital contribution that indigenous people and cultures have made and still make to the nation that we share, Australia, and we also today acknowledge their contribution as service personnel in our armed and emergency forces.

On this day, Remembrance Day we traditionally think of all who have served our Country in various armed conflicts, the World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Iraq just to name a few.  We also pay respect to those who lost their lives or whose ongoing lives were permanently impacted by their service. 

During World War 1 (1914-1918)

During World War II (1939-1945)

So, today, as is appropriate during Remembrance Day we reflect on these losses, the trench warfare, horrific battle conditions, feats of extreme bravery.

But today, as a nation, we face another notable threat. One that service personnel just over one hundred years ago were very familiar with, but did not often discuss.

As the First World War was drawing to a close, the world faced the Spanish Flu – a global pandemic that would be more deadly than the war itself – where It is estimated that over 50 million people died as a direct result. Further, virologists believe that the likely origin of the Spanish Flu was in areas along the Western Front. The pandemic then spread quickly through large, overcrowded, military camps. One can only begin to imagine the conditions that our brave servicemen and women were faced with in the theatre of war, then the challenge of a pandemic.

Then, with the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, demobilisation began, and personnel began their journeys home. Up to 170,000 Australian soldiers required transport back to Australia. Major cities such as London filled with soldiers waiting to return home, increasing the risk of exposure to the disease and the likelihood of carrying it across the sea. 

Australia was proactive in its quarantining policies, implementing a maritime quarantine in October 1918.  By March 1919 soldiers were receiving inoculations against influenza before their repatriation.  But, can you imagine what it would have been like for returning service personnel, after serving for years overseas, to be so tantalising close to home and being told they need to quarantine?

Some returning soldiers recorded their frustrations. In a letter to his sister, one, Private William Dunbabin wrote:

“If all goes well, I am leaving here [Melbourne] tomorrow on the ‘Wyandara’ for Hobart.   When we get there, we have to do seven days isolation on Bruny Island & perhaps I won’t be able to write to you from there.   If they give me half a chance I will bolt and not do the quarantine. I expect they will land us on Bruny though and not give us a chance to escape.”

In spite of these efforts the Spanish Flu began to appear in Australia in early 1919.  Ultimately, about 40 per cent of the Australian population fell ill and around 15,000 died.  However, despite this large number, this was one of the lowest recorded death rates of any country during the pandemic. Quite extraordinary, and thanks in part to the efforts of the services, extensive quarantining procedures were successful in slowing the spread of the disease into Australia.

As we face COVID 19, with a reported 51 million people infected world-wide, and 1.27 million dead, including over 900 Australians, perhaps we can again reflect on the unexpected roles that our serving men and women perform, Australia-wide, in our efforts to control COVID-19 – including contact tracing, supporting quarantine arrangements, logistics, assisting with control check points and more.

It is the discipline and integrity of our armed forces that is one of the things that has given our community the confidence that we can contain the pandemic. Service personnel have once again at the forefront of ensuring our safety and security. Today we recognise not only the previous generations, we also recognise the current generations for their service, suffering and sacrifice. We recognise their efforts and the support of their families and the way they shape our country today.

Today we remember. Today we thank you and all of these who have gone before.

Lest we forget.

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