2017 ANZAC Day Address
25 April 2017
Dawn Service, Euroa
In northern France near the Belgian border lies a tiny farming village called Bullecourt.
In a country famed for its art, culture and architecture, Bullecourt attracts little attention and its population today numbers little more than 250.
But for Euroa, it is a place of great significance. There, 100 years ago some 200 men from the district fought in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.
The offensive to take Bullecourt on April 11th, 1917 was hastily planned under the command of the British and it ended in disastrous consequences. Australian troops were slaughtered in their thousands and 1170 of them were taken prisoner after support tanks failed them and, entangled in barbed wire, they were hit by German machinegun fire and shelling.
The second attempt to take the village began 3.45am on May 3rd. Brigades from the Australian 2nd Division were again ordered to attack the enemy line. Over the next two weeks, a further 7,482 Australians were killed.
One of our local historians Jeff Starkey has done a great deal of work tracing Euroa’s involvement at Bullecourt. In total, the district lost 21 young men and a further 24 were wounded.
One of those killed was Captain Gordon Maxfield. Maxfield was born in Longwood and educated at the Euroa State School. His parents lived on the very street where we now stand.
By the time he arrived at Bullecourt at age 28, he had already survived fighting in Egypt and the torpedoing of his troop carrier. He had survived the blood soaked shores of Gallipoli, where he was among the last 200 men in the trenches at Lone Pine and the fierce fighting at Possiers where he was made a captain and awarded the Military Cross.
When he arrived in France, he sent home to his family describing the hellish conditions in the trenches on the Western Front: knee deep in mud and water, men dying from drowning and exposure, trench walls that collapsed and plummeting morale. Can you imagine what it must have been like for his parents receiving those letters describing a hell so unimaginable and so far from Euroa?
During the offensive at Bullecourt Maxwell and the men in his command held a position deep in enemy territory for hours against terrible odds.
He was killed in the battle but seven months later he was still listed as missing and his family had heard little. In desperation, they reached out to Charles Bean, Australia’s official historian. Bean responded: ‘It astonishes me that you have heard nothing of your son, because I have heard so much. He will certainly play his part in history when it comes to be written – our Australian history in any case.’
Maxfield’s body, like Rob Tait from Miepoll, Violet Town’s Reg Ramage, Robert Charlton, Arch Gascoyne, Fred Sanderson and Charles Morrison from Balmattum, still lies somewhere in the fields east of Bullecourt.
On Saturday, the community of Bullecourt will hold a festival – as they do every year - in honour of the young Australians who gave their lives there. They will remember – as we do today – the young men who left our district never to return.
We pause here this morning to remember, of course, not just the diggers from the First World War – but also the men and women who have served in conflicts since.
I recount the story of Gordon Maxfield because on days like today, it is easy to settle for the broad brushstrokes of history. It’s easy for words like mateship and courage to roll off our tongues without truly stopping to consider what they mean.
Euroa has an extraordinary record of military service. Nowhere are we reminded of that more than right here, in the shadows of our three Victoria Cross winners Maygar, Tubb and Burton.
But behind every name on the honour roll lies a story of immense individual sacrifice. Those names bear silent witness to a community in mourning - inconsolable fathers, mothers, wives and children whose loved ones never came home.
We are surrounded not only by reminders of war and its horror, but also by memories of a community’s love. And today we are reminded that the responsibility falls to each of us to ensure we keep that memory and that love alive.
Lest we forget.