Australian Embassy



In 1915, on this day and at this dawn hour, 16,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on the shores of Gallipoli – an unknown peninsula thousands of miles from home.

Who among them could have imagined that over the years that followed, that word – Gallipoli – would come to be known as the place where Australia was born?

And in the wretched misfortune of that time and place, who could blame them for not looking into the future?

Each minute of the campaign was marked by the terrible immediacy of war. By the constant interjection of grief and pain and blood.

More than 8,700 of our finest young men and women lost their lives over the eight months they endured at Gallipoli, with more than 2,000 casualties on the first day alone.

Yet each Johnny and Mehmet gave something more than the sum of his parts, on those beaches and within those hills. As the generous words of Ataturk imply, not one of them died in vain.

At the outbreak of World War I, Australia had a population of around 4.5 million people. One million were eligible to volunteer, 420,000 did volunteer and of them 330,000 were sent to war. In France in 1916 we suffered 23,000 casualties in a six week period alone. 62,000 Australians were killed during the war. Of the 155,000 who came home wounded, another 60,000 died in the following ten years. 

Through this tragic loss and suffering, future generations learned something of the value of ordinary people – nurses, soldiers and sailors – who in a time of unspeakable hardship proved themselves to be anything but ordinary.

With each needless death, came proof that great nations can be founded, not on empire and conquest, but on simple yet imperishable ideals, like courage and endurance and mateship. Our finest tradition was born. A tradition by which we have defined ourselves ever since.

Here, in this tranquil cemetery in the centre of Beirut, we remember that the suffering and sacrifice of our young men and women in uniform extended also to Lebanon.

Some three hundred and twenty Australians and fifteen New Zealanders lie in the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon. And just like those who died in the Gallipoli mud a generation earlier, their sacrifice was not in vain.

In 1941, the 7th Division of the Australian army, along with a coalition of British, Free French, Czech, Indian and Arab Legion forces, liberated Lebanon and Syria from Vichy French rule.

The removal of the Vichy regime directly led to the independence of both Lebanon and Syria, in 1943 and 1944 respectively.

Today, after the formalities have ended – I invite you to walk about the grounds kept so beautifully by caretaker Yehya Bsat and his staff.

To commemorate the centenary of the start of World War I, school children from across Australia have written messages on wooden crosses like these which were provided by the Australian War Memorial.

We invite you to take one of these crosses and to find a grave that speaks to you and place the cross on top of the tombstone. It might be the final resting place of Lance-Corporal Russell McConnell, who died at Jezzine carrying his wounded sergeant to safety.

It might be the grave of Bombardier Joe Crogan, who managed to joke with his mates even while fatally wounded.

Perhaps you will seek out Lieutenant James Coakley, who died while charging a Vichy machine-gun post. James and his fellow diggers had earlier collected the French wounded on their stretchers, and shared with them their water; even though short of it themselves.

Or perhaps you will honour Bombardier Nicholas Khoury, born in Australia to Lebanese parents. Nicholas died only 80 miles from where his father was born.

Pick one of the departed souls that surround us, laid to rest far from home and far too soon. Spend a moment sharing the sentiments written on these wooden crosses. Sentiments like those expressed by Emilia, from John the Baptist primary school in Bonnyrigg:

“Thank you for everything you have done. You have made a difference.”

Thank you.


A photo of the memorial cross after the conclusion of the commemorative service