John Howard’s Address At The State Funeral Service For Alec Campbell

A State Funeral Service for Alec William Campbell was held at The Cathedral Church of St. David, in Hobart, today.

Campbell died on May 6, 2002. He was 103 years old and the last surviving Australian participant in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 in World War I.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, addressed the funeral service.

A document prepared by the Department of Veterans Affairs for the State Funeral is shown below.

  • Listen to Howard’s address:

Text of Prime Minister John Howard’s Address at the State Funeral Service for Alec Campbell.

CampbellOn the very day in December 1915 that a boy soldier – exhausted, feverish and dangerously ill – was evacuated off that perilous beach at Anzac Cove, a few hundred yards away, his commanding General scribbled a brief message. “No words of mine”, he wrote, “could ever convey to readers in Australia… one half of what their boys have been through, nor is my pen capable of telling them of the courage and determination and cheerfulness of those who have willingly fought for… their country’s sake”.*

I fear today, 87 long years later, that once again mere words must fail.

In honouring the life of that boy soldier, Alec Campbell, the reflective silence of his countrymen and women and the gentle stirring of half flown flags can speak more eloquently of the respect we feel and the debt we owe to this grand old man and those he came to represent.

But we must try – for Alec’s life, so typical of his generation, was far from ordinary. Within it can be found much of the richness of our nation’s history. Within his boyhood experience of war, can be discovered the bonds of friendship and sacrifice that will forever link the peoples of Australia and New Zealand. Within this one man’s journey, we can chart the story of Australia itself. Within this one life are illustrated the living values that transformed Australia from the hopeful young federation of Alec’s childhood to one of the great developed nations of the modern era.

We should know those values will not pass with his passing, nor indeed when all of Australia’s wars to defend freedom slip gently from memory into history.

Every Anzac Day, though veteran ranks thin, youthful crowds swell – testament to the desire of a younger generation to draw strength from something which will be forever Australian. Every year, tens of thousands of young Australians visit that once fatal shore, perhaps mindful of a poet’s words of the horrible cost of war that:

“…not one foot of this

Dank sod but drank

Its surfeit of the blood

Of gallant men”.

By those acts, and by the respectful observance of this one man’s death, our nation pledges itself once more to an ethos of selflessness and shared determination, courage and compassion. We make a silent promise that the values for which so many Australians have died and by which others, like Alec Campbell, have lived, will remain secure within our own lives. We signal our understanding that the freedom under which we shelter needs to be nurtured and, at times, defended anew. We think of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force now serving in Afghanistan, East Timor, Bougainville and elsewhere.

The spirit bequeathed by Alec and his generation though born of war’s adversity, still slumbers within our people, ready to rise and draw new breath when disaster strikes or danger threatens. An essence that continues to define our nation’s identity and the standards by which we judge ourselves.

That the message of Anzac is as relevant to times of peace, as it is to war is apparent from the life we honour here today. Fate chose wisely in selecting Alec Campbell to illustrate this truth. Here was a man devoted to home and family and friends – a beloved husband, adored father of nine, loving grandfather and great-grandfather. On behalf of a grateful nation, I offer them our heartfelt sympathy for their loss. We share your evident pride in a wonderful life.

Here was a modest unassuming man dedicated to hard work, self-reliance and an unending quest for self-improvement. This was a man for whom adventure, challenge and self-fulfilment never lost their appeal. His great love of the sea and love of nature are now well known to us all. Most of all, throughout his life, Alec Campbell was a man committed to the service of others – in his youth on the battlefield, hauling water, step by step, up murderous paths to comrades above. In manhood, within the trade union movement and assisting disabled Australians, many of them veterans of a later, equally terrible war. In old age, although fame was unsought and in many ways unwelcome, shouldering the weight of history imposed upon him.

In all these ways – love, endeavour, challenge and service – Alec Campbell, Gallipoli’s last sentinel, embodied the Anzac spirit that we have come here to honour.

87 years ago, as scores of wounded and sick men were ferried off a crowded beach, General Birdwood continued to write. His note went on “I shall always regard my time as a comrade of the brave and strong men from Australia and New Zealand as one of the greatest privileges that can be conferred on any man, and of which I shall be prouder to the end of my days than any honour which can be given me”.

Today, our nation says farewell to the last of those brave and strong men. We thank Alec Campbell and we thank his generation for all that they gave to Australia. And we thank God for them. Their sacrifice, their legacy, their values and their spirit will always be with us.

*Message by Lieutenant General Sir WR Birdwood used as the introduction to ‘The Anzac Book’, published in 1916.

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