In Flanders fields

In the War Memorial in Canberra, a cablegram, written primarily in code concludes with the words, “War has broken out in Germany”.

Sent from London, dated 5 August 1914, 12.10am to the Governor General of Australia, Sir Ronald Crawford Munro Ferguson, this message directed the Governor General to ‘give effect’ to the prearranged Defence Scheme to be brought into operation if war broke out.

This sentence led to more than one in 24 people in Australia, a nation of less than five million people, over the next four years being killed or wounded in WW1.

Tomorrow, we commemorate the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli. Around Australia and overseas services, marches, barbeques with friends, football matches, two-up and quiet reflection will mark this occasion.

There are no longer any WWI servicemen living to tell their own story. The last combat veteran, Claude Choules who served in the British Royal Navy (and later the Royal Australian Navy), died in 2011. Unlike Claude, for many servicemen, their story will never be fully known.

My grandfather, Harry, enlisted in March 1915. After suffering influenza in Cairo, he was sent to France as a Field Ambulance Driver. Harry survived the war having served four years, 107 days, disembarking in Sydney 1 July 1919.

He never spoke of it again. But his hands never stopped shaking.


The 4th Australian Machine Gun Company approaching Steenweerck 7 June 1917.
Courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Now we know the impact war has on individuals, families and friends. It is not something left behind on the battlefield. It remains with them and it changes their lives forever.

On the evening of 2 May 1915, from the battlefield, Doctor John McCrae began the draft for his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. It is thought the death of his friend, Alexis Helmer, was his inspiration. Perhaps this poem was his way to share his grief and remember his friend.

This year, Soldier On is running an online memorial to remember, support and thank our servicemen and women. Soldier On supports Australian service men and women who have been wounded, physically or psychologically in contemporary conflicts. It is independent of government and looks to complement the support offered by the Australian Defence Force, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and other government agencies to Australians adversely impacted by their service.

In the 100th year since the Anzac campaign, remember those you know who have been to war and especially those who continue to live with the memory of war.

Share their story on the Soldier On website. Lest we forget.

In Flanders fields
John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

KPMG employs more than 40 former service men and women in the firm – many of whom have deployed on operational service.


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