Below is a transcript of the 2019 Remembrance Day oration delivered by Major Neil Leckie RFD (Ret'd). It is 100 years since the first officially gazetted service in commemoration of the fallen took place.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
In 1919 King George V sent a message to the British Empire requesting in order to commemorate the anniversary of the Armistice in 1918: that at 10.55am on 11 November 1919 church bells should ring until 11 o'clock whereupon two minutes silence should follow.
Ballaratians followed the King's request. So today, 100 years later, we are here to commemorate the centenary of the first Armistice Day service. To include World War II in this act of remembrance, the name of Armistice Day was changed to Remembrance Day after World War II.
In the last five years we have commemorated many centenaries of The Great War events that have affected Australians and Ballaratians. War was declared in Europe on 4 August 1914 and we commemorated that centenary. On 14 August 2014 we commemorated the centenary of the raising of Ballarat's 8th Battalion, 2nd Brigade, Australian Division, Australian Imperial Force.
Everyone will remember the commemoration of the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. A few will remember on 9 August 2015 the planting of the Aleppo Pine from Gallipoli at Ranger Barracks on the centenary the end of the Battle of Lone Pine, where Ballarat's William Dunstan was awarded a Victoria Cross, and the centenary of the raising of 18 Company, Australian Army Service Corps.
The next centenary commemorated was on 21 February 2016 for the raising of Ballarat's 39th Battalion, 10th Brigade of General John Monash's 3rd Division. The 39th Battalion was raised in Ballarat, trained in Ballarat and went to war from Ballarat. It was often referred to as the 39th (Ballarat) Battalion.
Further to those centenary commemorations, we commemorated the centenaries of the Western Front battles in which the AIF was involved.
In 2016 the first centenary commemoration was for the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916, where "Pompey" Elliott's 15th Brigade fought, and where the 5th Division had 5,533 casualties in one night. This was followed four days later by the centenary of the Battle of Pozieres, in which the 8th Battalion took part.
2017 saw the centenary commemorations for the two battles at Bullecourt in April and May 1917 in which the 8th Battalion again took part. This was followed on 7 June with the centenary of the Battle for Messines where General Monash's 3rd Division, which included Ballarat's 39th Battalion, fought its first battle.
Next came the commemoration of the Battle of Polygon Wood on 25 September 1917 where "Pompey" Elliott's 15th Brigade again fought so well.
We then moved on to 2018 where the first commemoration was on ANZAC Day for the centenary of the Battle of Villers Bretonneux, where "Pompey's" boys were again in action. Then on 4 July we commemorated the Battle of Le Hamel where Monash's brilliant plan changed the way the Allies would fight, and win, for the rest of the war.
These two 1918 Australian victories were followed by the commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Amiens, which commenced on 8 August and was referred to as 'The Black Day for the German Army.'
And lastly, we commemorated the centenary of Armistice Day 12 months ago today. What were Ballaratians doing on that first Armistice Day? The Ballarat Courier of 12 November recorded a service was held on the balcony of the Soldier's Institute in Lester's Hotel in Sturt Street opposite where Myer is today. The speakers were located on the balcony of the hotel with the main assembly in Sturt Street.
At exactly 11.00am five buglers played the Last Post which was followed by the two minutes of silence. And silence it was!
"All industry stopped, business houses closed their doors, trams ceased running and street traffic was suspended. Though the period of observance was short the feeling engendered was one of profound gratitude for the peace that had been won, mingled with the deeper thoughts of the thousands of our splendid manhood who had yielded up their lives."
They were remembering the 62,000 men and women, many from Ballarat, who had lost their lives during the fighting; the 156,000 who had been wounded, gassed or taken prisoner; and the 170,000 nurses, soldiers, and assorted wives and children who had returned to Australia.
They were also thinking of those who went on to fight in Russia and the several thousand soldiers and nurses still waiting for ships home.
This time next year we won't be commemorating the centenary of any Great War events, but we must return to this place to remember not only those who fought in The Great War, but also those who fought in World War 2, Korea, Malaysia and Borneo, Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, those on peace-keeping operations along with those still serving in combat operations today.