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A Day for Remembrance...
Father William Stevens
moving address honouring his uncle Reg, at St Thomas' Presbytery, Willoughby, NSW, on Anzac Day 1990.
It is reproduced here with his kind permission.
May I introduce you to an old man; he has a yard of chickens and ducks and an over-fed black Labrador, who thinks his master is God. He lives in retirement now, just north of Taree, with his wife and his memories. 46 Years ago he won the D.F.C. as the leader of 3 Squadron, R.A.A.F. in the Western Desert. Squadron Leader Reg Stevens is my Uncle. He came from these parts. Today he doesn't fly any more. He came home with back bent and broken, yet very proud to have served his country. He has become part of the heritage of this great land, Australia.
And there is another old man - he, too, came from this area. He now rests at last beneath a Red Bottle Brush - an Australian Bottle Brush. It was planted according to his wishes.
46 Years ago, Private James Stevens slaved on the Burma-Siam Railway. He hacked rock, carted dirt, and laid sleepers. For four years he eaked out a wretched existence, watching as his mates died - but he kept himself going by thinking about his wife and family. He came home, blind and broken, and was not united with his family until 1946. He, too, was a Stevens, and I am proud to be his son, and acknowledge that he, too, has become part of the heritage of our great Australia.
And yet another old man. He is dead now also. He came from the Sea. Three times he felt the deck beneath his feet plunge below the waves to rest on the bottom of the Coral Sea. As a young man I used to serve his Mass - yes, he was a Naval Chaplain, and I used to wonder at the black scars on his crippled hands - Naval Chaplain William Evans was sunk three times, and was finally picked up in the Coral Sea after that great battle, which stopped the Japanese invasion of Australia. Chaplain Evans was supporting a sailor who was burned beyond recognition, beyond survival. He was my friend, and he too is now part of the heritage of Australia - and that heritage is mine.
On land, in the air, and on the sea, I have a personal stake in this day - I have a debt to pay for the heritage I have received, for I am an Australian, a very proud Australian, and because of these three men, who are representative of thousands, I have a duty in conscience to this land of the Southern Cross, because we are free, and that freedom is not a right, but a privilege - dearly purchased. I invite you to share my duty, and match it with your own. In other words, I am asking: "Why are we here?" Each one of us has a personal memory and feelings. Each memory is linked to a name, a uniform, a badge of courage.
We are here, honouring the memory of men and women whose lives have become the foundation upon which our young Nation raises its head with pride. We are here to recognise their sacrifice - the sacrifice that men and women made which allows us to be part of this glorious nation. To be free to enjoy its protection, its peace, its beauty, its opportunities, and its love. Without them, there would be no pride in this Great South Land. Without them there would be no joy in our Wattle, our Gumtrees, our Wombats, our Southern Cross, and all the other unique symbols of Australia. Without their sacrifice there would be no honour in calling ourselves Australians - for we would be a conquered nation.
But we do have pride in being Australian. We do have joy in being Australians, we do have honour in being Australians because we are free, unconquered. Because we enjoy that unique privilege, we have a DUTY - a duty, not only to recognise those who have helped to make Australia what it is, but what we are. We have a sacred duty to make their sacrifices meaningful. To make their sacrifices bear fruit and prosper. To let them rest in peace in the knowledge that what they gave me and you, is not wasted. If they died and suffered that we might live in a free, independent Australia, then we, the living, have an obligation to make this nation, under God, the very best possible. The cost has been too expensive for anything less. That DUTY is ours, and it is not discharged either easily or lightly.
We honour them only by keeping this Nation a place of freedom, of prosperity, of hope, of joy. We honour them by picking up from their dying fingers the threads of life, and weaving those threads into a fabric they would be proud to have died for. We FAIL in their eyes with anything less.
To the extent that you and I contribute to making Australia more free, more independent, a better place to live and worship, to play and prosper, we honour them. To the extent that you and I fail to be worthy of the name Australian we personally dishonour, discredit, devalue their sacrifice.
It is an onerous legacy that they stretched out their dying and disabled hands to pass to us - but it is a legacy we dare not refuse. For, under God, the wishes of a dying man are sacred.
An old Airman, north of Taree; an old Soldier, buried beneath his beloved Red Bottle Brush, an old Naval Chaplain, who hears the slapping of waves beneath his hull no longer - and all the men and women whose crimson testimony of blood is on our heads - in this day's light, we hear them.
They cry out to us - it is the price we bear, proudly, to be Australians.
"The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart
Still stands their ancient sacrifice;
A humble and contrite heart
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget; Lest we forget"
[SQNLDR Reg Stevens, D.F.C and Bar, who was C.O. of 3 Squadron over several months during 1943, passed away on 21 July 2000.]
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