For those who served in conflict: remember, lest we forget

Michelle Campbell, 7 months into an 8 month deployment in Kabul
Remembrance Day 2014 Michelle Campbell, 7 months into an 8 month deployment in Kabul

Every year, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we pause to remember those men and women who have died or suffered in all wars and peacekeeping operations.

I feel closely connected to Remembrance Day. Proud I can contribute by serving as an Army Reserve Officer, a veteran of disaster relief (fires) and veteran of Afghanistan, also as the Colonel Commandant of the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps.

In late 1918, after more than four years of bitter fighting, Allied forces finally broke stubborn German resistance and forced Germany to sue for peace. Entire nations cheered as fighting ceased and the armistice took effect at 11am on the 11th November 1918. One year later the first commemorations to mark the end of the war were held across the Commonwealth on the 11th November 1919. At the request of King George V the people of the Empire ceased work at 11am to hold a two minute vigil to remember the fallen. This vigil would evolve into the minute’s silence of today’s Remembrance Day services.

By the end of the Second World War Armistice Day had grown from solely a remembrance of the men and women of the Great War into something larger, becoming a day to honour all those who had fallen in war. With this evolution came a change of name and 11 November became known as Remembrance Day. Under this name Australians remember all those who served and sacrificed during times of war and on peacekeeping operations in recent decades. Services are held at memorials, RSL clubs and schools across the country and include a minute’s silence dedicated to the fallen.

In 2012 trip I travelled to Europe on a WWI Battlefield tour over 14 days. Led by Monash University History Department, these two weeks had a huge impact on me.

We started in Turkey (Gallipoli, Canakkale, Dardanelles), walked the ground, visited many cemeteries.  Then on to France/Belgium (Fromelles, Bullecourt, Villers-Bretonneux, Pozieres, Thiepval, Messines, Mennin Road, Ypres, Passchendaele, Polygon Wood, Arras, Amiens, Dernancourt, Mon St Quentin), again walking on the battlefield. Cemetery after cemetery, head stone after head stone. So many – so many lives lost.

hiepval memorial to the first world war soldiers 1914-1918
Thiepval memorial to the WWI war soldiers 1914-1918

It was at the Thiepval Memorial that it all was too much for me. As part of the tour program, each of us had prepared a reading for our allocated memorial and Thiepval was my turn. With the other cemeteries, it was personal. You can read the names, their epitaph.

With Thiepval you can’t.

You see, the Thiepval Memorial is a Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  It bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom (including British Commonwealth) and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918. Over 90 percent of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.They have no known grave.

The design of the memorial consists of a series of intersecting arches which increase in height and proportionate width. The 16 piers formed have 64 stone-panelled sides carved with names. Each panel of Portland stone lists the individual commemoration by regiment and rank and then listed by surname: 72,000+

I work with KPMG in their Defence and National Security sector, and also hold a board appointment as a Trustee of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.

Armistice Day was the date chosen for two key events at the Shrine of Remembrance; the foundation stone was laid on 11 November 1927 and the Shrine was officially dedicated on 11 November 1934. The dedication was witnessed by more than 300,000 people, more than half the population of Melbourne and the largest crowd seen in Australia at that time. The Shrine of Remembrance Act 1978 establishes the Shrine of Remembrance Trustees with the responsibility for the care, management, maintenance and preservation of the Shrine and its reserve on behalf of the people of Victoria. It is my honour to be a Shrine Trustee.

On Saturday, stop for a moment and remember all those who served and sacrificed during times of war and on peacekeeping operations.

Please take the time to remember, visit your local memorial and give thanks.

Michelle Campbell was awarded the NATO Meritorious Service Medal for her work in Afghanistan

KPMG employs more than 100 former service men and women– many of whom have deployed on operational service.

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2 thoughts on “For those who served in conflict: remember, lest we forget

  1. Well done Michelle. We are super proud of your Military Service and to personally know you.
    On aside our RSL has a direct Shrine connection see the * Richmond Victoria VC Gallery
    – Wally Peeler VC, BEM –
    Sergeant Peeler was president of the Victorian Richmond RSL Sub-Branch for 1921
    He was also appointed the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance custodian (1934-64)
    – More details at http://richmondrslvic.org.au/?page_id=880

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