Remarks at the Last Post Ceremony

05 Feb 2018
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Prime Minister
Defence and National Security


Yoonggu gulanyin ngalawiri, dhunayi, Ngoonawal dhowrrra.

Wanggarra lin jin yin marunn bulaan boogarabung.

We’re gathered today on the land of the Ngunawal people and we honour their elders, past and present.

Speaker Tony Smith, President of the Senate Scott Ryan, Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, Dr Brendan Nelson, Defence Chiefs, Rear Admiral Ken Doolan, Brigadier Alison Creagh, servicemen and women, ladies and gentlemen.

A very warm welcome also to Vice Admiral Denis Beraud, the Deputy Chief of the French Navy and to Lieutenant Gen Paul Wynnyk, Commander of the Canadian Army.

Australians, Canadians and Frenchmen were serving side-by-side 100 years ago, in the trenches of France and Flanders in the First World War. Most notably in the Battle of Amiens, as they do today serving together in the Middle East in the coalition effort to defeat Daesh.

Today, Parliament House is once again alive with the sound of democracy in full flight - that’s not a silent ‘l’ -  it’s ‘flight’, but not a fight - as politicians from around the country return to Canberra for another year.

But we never forget that everything we do across the lake - the right to legislate for our nation, to debate, discuss and decide our destiny - we owe to all those who are honoured here.

The Australian War Memorial's quiet presence reminds us that these freedoms and the values that we cherish today and preserve for future generations, have come at the very high price and have come from the sacrifice of so many.

It’s a high price paid for our freedom.

It’s a high price paid in young lives lost far from home.

You know, when the doors of the Parliament are flung open, from the very Cabinet room itself, you look through the Parliament at the War Memorial, a constant reminder of how hard fought and hard won those freedoms that we exercise there, have been.

Our military history stretches across an epic canvas, a picture of selflessness, courage, love of country and it’s only within each brushstroke that the personal cost of such sacrifice is revealed.

It’s there in the diary entries, the letters home, the keepsakes carried from the front.

It’s in all the lost stories, the unfinished chapters of all our lost men and women.

In the empty chair at the table.

The missing face from the family picture.

Every night, the Last Post ceremony tells the story of just one of our fallen and in doing so we shine a light on another brushstroke in our nation’s history.

This evening we remember Corporal John Arthur Metson, born a century ago.

He was just 21 in 1940 when he volunteered for the Second AIF, the Second Australian Imperial Force.

He served with the 2/14th Battalion in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and during a short stint back in Australia, married his sweetheart, Betty.

They farewelled each other for the last time when John set sail for New Guinea, as part of the hard-fought effort to hold back the determined Japanese advance on Port Moresby. He was bound for the Kokoda Track.

Within days of their arrival, his Battalion was engaged in brutal fighting and John’s ankle was shattered by a bullet. A withdrawal was ordered, but during the retreat John refused to be carried.

And so, on padded hands and padded knees and in silent agony, he crawled for nearly three weeks through a 7,000 foot mountain range. The wounded stopped to rest at Sengai, in the care of local villagers. All were later killed.

John Metson was just 24. He was his parents’ only child.

He was posthumously awarded the British Empire Medal for courage, tenacity and unselfishness.

His is one story, one life lost.

More than 102,000 names surround us and by telling their stories we honour their service.

And we remember them. 

We do not glorify war. We commemorate the triumph of the human spirit, the patriotism, the sacrifice, the courage and the endurance.

This year we are marking the centenary of the final year of the First World War, the War to End All Wars.

Those values have been present in every conflict since and it is with the same spirit embodied by today's ANZACs who defend our freedom both here and abroad today.

We know that the best way to honour the Diggers of a century ago is by supporting the servicemen and women, the veterans and their families of today.

So all of us here assembled are committed to do that.

We, our nation’s leaders, are reminded here today, as we are every day, that there is no more solemn responsibility than to send Australians into harm’s way.

No greater responsibility than to ensure they are well-led and well-equipped so that they can return home safely to their families, mission accomplished, duty done.

Lest we forget.