This is the text of my chaplain’s address to the Remembrance Day service in Kingscote at 11:00 am on 11th November 2015.
On this day of remembrance for all who served on behalf of Australia and the forces of its allied nations we must continue to remember those who returned alongside those who did not.
The value of the man or woman who serves is the highest priority of our armed services, and that must always be remembered. On Anzac Day at Penneshaw this year I spoke of my paternal grandfather, one of the Rats of Tobruk, and of how he served with the 2/5 Field Ambulance in North Africa and South East Asia. When other men carried guns my grandfather carried a stretcher. When other men served Australia by taking the lives of our enemies and attackers my grandfather served Australia by preserving the lives of our soldiers and allies. On several occasions, as I reported on Anzac Day, my grandfather also preserved the lives of our enemies because his job was to care for the man in the bed regardless of who that man was.
Today I want to tell you briefly about my maternal grandfather, another World War Two veteran and a man who served his native United Kingdom as an aircraft fitter with the RAF as a base mechanic with bomber command. Early in the war, so my mum tells me, one of the returned bombers was parked on the airfield waiting to be unloaded. A fire broke out on the aircraft and my grandfather, who was standing by, rushed aboard the aircraft and proceeded to tackle the fire with a handy fire extinguisher. I’m not sure whether he put the fire out himself or whether a fire crew arrived and finished the job, regardless of how the story ends the story begins with my grandfather being first man aboard with that fire extinguisher. News of what had happened was reported to base command and my grandfather was summoned to appear in the CO’s office. My grandfather was sure he was to receive a medal or a commendation for his act of bravery in averting what could have been the destruction of a valuable bomber and additional damage had there been an explosion. Instead what he got was sixteen shades of air-force blue screamed out of him. “You could have been killed,” roared the CO, “we can always replace a burned out aircraft but we can never replace a dead man.” Perhaps tragedy was averted that day on that base in south eastern England by the quick thinking of my grandfather in extinguishing that blaze, the swift work of a simple mechanic who saw a problem and brought a solution by instinct, but in the mind of the CO the value of that man far outweighed the value of the aircraft he had tried to save.
As an Australian Christian I want to believe that that idea still pervades our armed services, indeed all of our disciplined services. Not just in defence but also in policing and corrections, a field in which I have past experience, in fire and in ambulance services, indeed in society at large. Whilst today is a day to remember the fallen, and especially those Australian men and women who never returned or who returned only in a flag-draped casket, let us also remember the returned. Remember the broken, remember the fragile, and remember the traumatised and stressed. Remember the battles our returned heroes continue to fight alone and at home. Remember, always remember the value of the man or woman above all else.