17 February 2016

As every Australian knows, on April 25, 1915, Anzac troops landed at Gallipoli, part of a daring strategy to capture Constantinople and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the Great War. But by early August, the campaign was mired in bloody stalemate.

And so the battle of Lone Pine was conceived as a “diversion”, a tactical “feint”. It was a strategic manoeuvre intended to draw Turkish forces away from a larger Anzac offensive on Hill 971, itself a diversion for a new British initiative at Suvla Bay to break the deadlock.

In less than four days of fierce fighting 100 years ago, this “diversion” claimed more than 2000 Australian lives.

Many of the dead lay where they fell until burial parties returned to the Dardanelles in 1920.

Seven Australians would win the Victoria Cross in those four days, scores more did deeds as worthy and went without official recognition.

As one NSW private wrote: “Many men performed feats of utter fearless bravery, sufficient to issue VCs all round (but there was) nobody of high enough military rank to see them.”

None of this courage was sheltered by naiveté, nor fed by a failure to understand the risks.

The Australians knew what awaited them – yet on they pressed.

The famous chronicler of the Anzacs, C.E.W. Bean said: “Every man assumed that death was certain. And each, in the secret places of his mind, debated how he would go to it.”

It is hard for us to imagine, more than a century on, the toll World War I wrought upon our young nation.

Brothers and co-workers, teammates and neighbours, joined together, served together and fell together. Single battles, sometimes single days, devastated communities.

Lone Pine was such a battle.

Patsy Adam Smith wrote: “The name of Lone Pine… (was) whispered for decades in many families … as if speaking of the tomb of the living dead, of mystery and horror and the dark engulfing of young noisy boys.”

I had the privilege of visiting Lone Pine cemetery last April with Tony Abbott during the centenary of Anzac.

Among hundreds of names, in the restful quiet, I found the name of a relative of mine, by marriage, William Burgess.

Seeing those letters, carved in the sandstone, moved me in a way I could never have expected. And his was just one name among hundreds, just one young man among 60,000 who never came home.

Today, removed by time and distance from those dreadful events and that deep sadness, Australians still plant saplings taken from the Pine that watches over so many in that far corner of a foreign field.

Australians should know this story of service and sacrifice, and governments should keep our national promise to honour the memory of those who served.

I am staggered to hear the Turnbull government has decided to abandon the Lone Pine Anzac Day service and cut the funding that makes it possible. It is a disgraceful act of disrespect that flies in the face the promise we make at the going down of the sun and in the morning: Lest We Forget.

Lone Pine is as much a part of Australia as any star on our flag and Malcolm Turnbull needs to reverse his decision, immediately.

We must never stop honouring the fallen and their sacrifice.

This opinion piece was first published in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, 17 February 2016