State Dinner to mark the Centenary of Armistice

This year, Remembrance Day is particularly important as it marks 100 years since the Armistice that ended the hostilities of World War One. The Premier hosted a State Dinner to reflect on this significant date in our nation's history. 


First let me acknowledge the Kaurna People as the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we are gathered.

I pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I am honoured to be here on the eve of the Centenary of the Armistice.

I am delighted that so many of you who have served our nation have been able to join us this evening.

I feel privileged to be able to share this occasion with you as we prepare to commemorate the day on which the fighting stopped on the Western Front, ending the Great War.

I recently came across a poem written long ago by the grieving parent of one of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

It begins:

‘There is a spot, a dreadful spot, beside a moaning sea,

where one dear head was bowed in death, that meant the world to me’

The poem was authored by Sydney Talbot-Smith.

He was a prominent Adelaide solicitor in the early part of the last century.

He was writing about his son.

Lieutenant Eric Talbot-Smith of South Australia’s 10th Battalion was part of the first intake of officers at the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

He had enrolled in a four-year course which was shortened to enable his deployment to Gallipoli with the 1st Australian Imperial Force.

Eric was one of the first ashore on April 25th 1915.

With his scouts, he led a charge that drove the Turks from the first Hill, capturing several machine guns.

Eric took charge of his battalion’s machine guns.

He continued firing until he, and his men, were hit by shrapnel.

Mortally wounded, Eric was moved to a hospital ship returning to Alexandria.

But he succumbed to his wounds en route and was buried at sea.

Eric was Mentioned in Despatches for his bravery.

His Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Price Weir, wrote of Eric:

  • “I have no hesitation in reporting that no officer of my battalion displayed greater bravery in the face of the enemy than Lieutenant Talbot-Smith.”

Notice of Eric’s death was published on the 3rd of May 1915, the first reported South Australian casualty of the Great War.

Sadly, this was only the beginning.

The grief experienced by Lieutenant Eric Talbot-Smith’s family was to be replicated thousands of times across our State, and tens of thousands of times across our nation.

In South Australia, scarcely a family was untouched.

It is impossible today, to conceive what it must have been like then.

Going to war on the other side of the world.

Knowing little about the cause, the conditions or the circumstances.

Except that our nation was being called upon to support its allies in the cause of freedom.

And it would not let them down.

Of the nearly 35,000 South Australians who enlisted, more than 5,500 were killed.

With 14,000 wounded.

Through more than four years of bitter and brutal conflict, more than 60,000 of the youth of Australia fell in their prime.

This was a war that changed Australia in many ways.

If we were ever innocent as a nation, we were no longer.

When the fighting stopped on the Western Front, there was hope that there would be no more wars.

But it wasn’t to be.

Many of you here this evening have either served in subsequent conflicts, or are currently serving.

I take this opportunity to thank you for your service.

I thank your families for the many sacrifices they have made so that you could ensure the defence of our nation.

I also salute the South Australian veteran community for the outstanding way in which our State has marked the Centenary of Anzac over the past four years.

The question of how South Australia should mark the centenary of Anzac was an Agenda item at the inaugural Veterans’ Advisory Council meeting chaired by Sir Eric Neal on the 12th of February 2009.

The projects and commemorative events that have been delivered throughout this period are too many to list this evening.

But let me highlight just a few.

The Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk, on Kintore Avenue, was delivered in partnership with the Commonwealth and the City of Adelaide.

It is a ‘memorial for all’, honouring the more than 102,000 Australian servicemen and women lost in conflict since Federation, including more than 9,000 South Australians.

It is a most fitting legacy of this Centenary of Anzac period, adding significantly to the streetscape of the City of Adelaide as well as the Memorial precinct.

It must not be overlooked that this project was only made possible with the support of His Excellency and the Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Martin Haese.

On behalf of all South Australians, Thank you.

I would also like to refer to the Virtual War Memorial Australia.

It has made a wonderful contribution, educating South Australians about the service and sacrifice of those who have served.

In December 2013, the State branch of the Returned and Services League determined that a digital record, a virtual war memorial, would be a fitting legacy for the Centenary of Anzac period.

Under the guidance of Steve Larkins, in its early stages, and CEO Sharyn Roberts, the Virtual War Memorial was launched on 8 August 2014.

After just four years, the Virtual War Memorial now contains 656,000 names uploaded from conflicts spanning the Boer War to Afghanistan, with an ambition to add even more.

The names on the bookmarks on your tables this evening were drawn from the Virtual War Memorial site.

To current Chair, Peter Williams, Sharyn and her team of volunteers, and to Steve Larkins and the Board of the RSL who developed the initial concept – thank you.

For those wishing to learn more about South Australia’s role in the Great War, I recommend the book, Valour and Violets – South Australia in the Great War - authored by Bob Kearney (Carn-nee) and Sharon Cleary.

I thank them for this most valuable addition to the history of our State.

The projects I have referred to represent just a few of the many hundreds of commemorative projects and events that have marked this significant period in the history of our State and our nation.

In my own electorate of Dunstan, the World War One memorial at the Norwood Primary School was one of the first to be constructed in Australia.

The obelisk, erected in 1916, was designed by the school principal and built by the students.

It was paid for by the local community who purchased each brick for a penny.

While they are not from Norwood Primary School, we have with us this evening students who have recently participated in the Premier’s Anzac Spirit School Prize competition.

In doing so, they have continued that tradition started more than 100 years ago to honour the service of the men and women in our defence force.

It is terrific to have you with us this evening to recognise what you have done.

I am sure that in your research of this period, you have identified just how much the Great War changed South Australia.

Despite South Australian women becoming eligible to vote in 1894, the bulk of paid work deemed appropriate for women in 1914 was largely domestic.

During the war years women began to branch out into other areas out of necessity as well as ambition.

The field of medicine was one such area.

The excellent book co-authored by Associate Professor Susan Neuhaus CSC and Dr Sharon Mascall-Dare, details the stories of some remarkable medical women of this period.

One of them records the courage and persistence personified by Dr Phoebe Chapple.

Born in Adelaide, Dr Chapple graduated from the University of Adelaide in 1904 with a degree in Medicine.

But her attempts to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force at the outbreak of the war were dismissed by authorities.

Undaunted, Dr Chapple travelled to England and enlisted in the British Army in February 1917, serving in a variety of posts as a surgeon.

Afforded the rank of Major, her reputation as a surgeon grew.

During an inspection tour of a Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps camp on 29 May 1918, German aircraft attacked the base with one bomb hitting a trench where women were sheltering, killing eight women and wounding eight more.

Major Chapple was not wounded and worked her way through the carnage tending those who were.

Her actions earned her a Military Medal for Gallantry, the first such award to a female doctor.

Many have argued that, had Doctor Chapple been a man, it would have been a Military Cross, such was the gallantry she displayed.

After the Great War, Doctor Chapple returned to Adelaide to continue practicing medicine, receiving further recognition in 1953 when she was invited to attend the Queen’s Coronation Ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

She also proudly marched each year on Anzac Day at the head of the nursing units.

Dr Chapple was an inspiration to younger women and girls.

The First World War also saw the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders despite their not having been granted full constitutional rights.

I congratulate Mr Frank Lampard OAM and the team at Aboriginal Veterans South Australia for their tireless efforts to document the service of Aboriginal men and women from the Boer War to the present day.

There is one chapter in our history of the period about which we cannot be proud.

I refer to the treatment of South Australia’s German community during World War I.

In addition to changing place names, the German newspaper, German Schools and clubs were closed.

Many South Australians of German descent were interned on Torrens Island.

Others lost their jobs, leaving families in financial stress.

Not even the State’s Attorney General, Herman Robert Homburg, was spared.

The fact that he was born in Norwood and his family settled in South Australia in the 1850s made no difference.

Soldiers with fixed bayonets raided his office in Adelaide and he resigned to avoid causing embarrassing to the government.

I have given some reflections of the first major war of the industrial age.

It involved the entire populations of the combatant nations.

The impact is almost impossible to imagine today.

From the loss of almost an entire generation who died far too young.

Together with the physical and psychological damage caused to entire families grieving loved ones buried in far off places, many with their resting place marked ‘known unto God’.

Yet through it all we emerged stronger as a state and as a nation.

Through the sacrifice of those who have served, I am able to stand here and address you this evening.

The debt we collectively owe to these men and women will never be repaid.

But we can remember them and educate future generations about what they did and what those currently serving do.

I would like to conclude my address this evening with the words of a predecessor - the Honourable Archibald Henry Peake, Premier of South Australia, on Tuesday 12 November 1918:

  • “We are looking for the return of our brave Australian soldiers. We rejoice in their achievements, which have helped make Australia great. We cannot but feel deep sympathy for the relatives of those who sleep in soldiers’ graves, and those whose hearts today are torn by the conflicting emotions of pride and sorrow – pride and sorrow for the unreturning brave. We have a great task to set ourselves – to help reshape and rebuild the world. Our difficulties we cannot yet foresee, nor can we appreciate them; but whatever they may be, we shall, I feel certain, step out to meet them with stout and courageous hearts, showing that adversity has but made Australia stronger”.

Lest we forget.

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