Wikinews interviews RSL Australia for Remembrance Day 2021

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Logo of the Returned and Services League of Australia.
Image: Returned and Services League of Australia.
Pete Rudland.
Image: Returned and Services League of Australia.

Wikinews reporter J.J. Liu emailed the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) for comment on the coming 102nd observance of Remembrance Day, commemorating the Armistice of November 11, 1918 that resulted, most notably, in the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I (WW1).

Initially "Armistice Day" from its first observance in 1919, it was renamed "Remembrance Day" after the end of World War II (WWII) to "honour the dead of WWII and the later Australian military involvements", according to the RSL website. Governor-General Sir William Deane issued a proclamation in 1997 to urge all Australians to observe one minutes' silence.

The Australian War Memorial website states 61,630 Australians perished during the First World War between August 4, 1914 and March 31, 1921, making the conflict the deadliest in Australian history by far. The RSL website states that from the country's population of five million, 416,809 enlisted, 155 thousand were wounded and eight thousand died of post-war injuries.

Questions were fielded by RSL Ambassador Pete Rudland, who served with the Australian Defence Force from 1989 to 2017 and had deployments in Cambodia in 1993, Iraq in 1997 and again in 2003, East Timor in 2001 and Afghanistan in 2010, when he was injured in a fatal helicopter crash that killed four.

Interview with Pete Rudland

Armistice Day 1940 in Brisbane, Australia.
Image: State Library of Queensland.

How has Remembrance Day changed in RSL's history of commemoration?

 ((Pete Rudland )) : I think, In [sic] the beginning Remembrance Day/Armistice had an effect on 2/3 of the world and everyone in our country had been impacted in some way. So many Australian men and women had died or been wounded. Just over 60,000 dead and a further 156,000 wounded out of a population of 4,985,569.

Let that sink in, over 60,000 Australians that would be buried in foreign lands.

Australia, other Commonwealth countries and allied countries would not be able to effectively mourn their losses.

For Australians, the Returned & Services League (RSL) provided an opportunity for the families of the fallen and wounded to mourn together and heal through shared experiences. Soldiers from all backgrounds stood together to remember and understand everyone’s experience of War.

Today’s wars do not exact the same toll, however for those that fight them and their families the RSL continues to provide the same opportunities as it did a hundred years ago.

Remembrance Day in its size of impacted people has changed but the narrative will never change.

 ((WN )) What is the role you believe organisations should take in Remembrance Day?

 ((Pete Rudland )) : A modern Remembrance Day is really just a collection of stories. Stories of people that sacrifice everything for the values they believe in. Organisations should take the steps to ensure that the stories and the lessons of the past are learnt and preserved. With the changing demographic of our country and others, Ex-Service Organisations are the custodians of the memories of the past.

Politicians Peter Debnam, Kim Beazley and Brendan Nelson attending an Anzac Day ceremony in Sydney on April 25, 2006.
Image: Jasabella.

 ((WN )) What is the role you believe governments should take in Remembrance Day?

 ((Pete Rudland )) : The path to war is walked by politicians, the war is fought by soldiers and the price of war is paid by the families!

With that being said, Governments need to take the lead on Remembrance Day and ANZAC Day. Soldiers don’t make decisions to go to war, governments do! [sic] and for that to continue soldiers must feel that their sacrifices are respected by the people that make the decision to deploy them. The act of recognising significant days like ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day reinforces the relationship between government, soldiers and the country.

 ((WN )) 103 years after the 1918 Armistice, why is Remembrance Day important today? Has it retained its poignancy so long after the War?

 ((Pete Rudland )) : For Australians WW1 marks the first time that Australians deployed to foreign shores as Australians. We had only deployed as colonies before then.

Federation had only just been granted and most Australians would have been very proud of what our very young nation had achieved domestically and militarily during this period.

Australia, as part of the Commonwealth, along with its allies defeated the Central powers in the largest war the world had ever seen.

I think that Australians learnt the enormous price of war and honoured it. Soldiers and their families’ sacrifices shaped the direction of our nation and I think that most people today understand the relationship between the past and present. That is why it has retained its poignancy for over one hundred years.

 ((WN )) What do the lessons of World War I and its aftermath teach us of veterans' affairs today?

 ((Pete Rudland )) : That war is a complex environment and we must be prepared for every continuation. The business of war does not end at the completion of hostilities. The wounded require rehabilitation and ongoing support and the families of the fallen need to feel that their sacrifice was worth it. This is relevant to every conflict.

The Australian War Memorial on Remembrance Day 2017.
Image: Sheba_Also 43,000 photos.
Anzac Day march on April 30, 2011.
Image: Sheba_Also 43,000 photos.
Australian troops charging on an Ottoman trench during the Gallipoli campaign, circa 1915.
Image: National Archives and Records Administration.

 ((WN )) Why should Remembrance Day be commemorated alongside 25 April - ANZAC Day?

 ((Pete Rudland )) : ANZAC Day is the beginning of an Australian legend! Triumph over adversity - it is built into the fabric of our culture.

Remembrance Day reminds Australians of more than the heavy human price of WW1. It reminds us of the holistic burden of a new nation trying to find its place. A nation that despite this pulled together to support our King, our Country, our Government, our families and friends and our neighbours.

ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day together on the Australian calendar symbolises the path all Australians have walked.

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This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.