"My Dear Mother and Father,
“In a very short time I am going into action again
and as I may not have time later on I am writing to give
you all particulars now. We are going to take a certain
German stronghold in the Hindenburg Line …
“If I get through it all this time without a scratch
I will think myself a lucky man but I am sure I will be
either killed or wounded …
“I will do my duty as a soldier and fight to the
I am your loving son, Denver"
What makes a man write these words? What forces him
to a point without hope of survival to acknowledge his
own death? What makes a man carry on regardless?
Lance Corporal Wilfred Denver Gallwey wrote this
message to his parents believing that he would never
write again. Like many with whom he served, this bank
clerk from Queensland had accepted his fate on the
He wrote looking at the bleak horizon that stretched
out towards the town of Bullecourt.
He wrote of his world, where war seemed the only
He wrote believing there would be no tomorrow.
Yet he fought for a world where the war would end,
not for him, but for others.
He fought for a world, not hoping to survive to see
it change, but believing if he did his duty that it
would change and for the better.
It was 1917 and this was the life of the Australian
soldier on the Western Front.
One hundred years ago today, the First World War had
dragged on for almost three years with no sign of
victory in sight.
By now all Australians, either fighting on the front
or awaiting news at home, had tasted the bitterness of
Australia faced a future with fewer sons, fewer
brothers, and fewer fathers. The names of loved ones
filled papers as killed, missing in action or wounded.
This was a year of Bullecourt, of Poelcappelle, of
Passchendaele – losses that a young nation had never
considered in its darkest moments.
Even in success, the toll continued to mount at
Polygon Wood and Messines, with thousands of Australian
Other battles etched on the walls surrounding us
carried similar toll. In 1917 the Western Front saw
Australian lives, hopes and dreams churned into mud,
blood and death.
For Australian soldiers, the third year of the Great
War was the worst they ever experienced.
More troops died in battle in 1917 and more were
taken prisoner than in any other year.
There has never been a year when Australia lost more
to war than 1917.
Men were consumed without remorse.
Men who had fought together through the Gallipoli
Campaign, through the horrors of Fromelles and Pozieres,
were killed without respect.
Two men, Herbert Palmer and Percy Chapman, had fought
together since they were fresh faced Lieutenants in the
55th Battalion. War had forged their friendship.
On the 11th of March near Bapaume, Captain Herbert
Palmer was killed in a mortar barrage.
Percy Chapman was promoted as his replacement the
On the next, Percy Chapman disappeared from the
trenches after being shown a mortar position threatening
His body was eventually found days later as the
He was missing a limb, clutching his revolver, on the
edge of an abandoned German mortar position surrounded
by three dead German soldiers.
Having seen his friend killed, he fought to the
bitter end to avenge him. Percy was buried next to
Their grave markers and their tragic dates lay side
by side. They tell the story of death that Australian’s
witnessed in 1917.
The inevitability of death made many believe that it
was only a matter of time before countries would simply
be unable to continue.
Some thought that by the end of 1917, countries
exhausted of lives would be forced to stop, that a peace
must surely come.
It did not.
The machinery of war continued to improve with the
development of tanks and planes and bombs.
This did not always lead to victories.
In 1917, it led to a loss of life that we pray we
will never see the like of again.
As we stand here today, we might say that the end of
their struggle was near. That they had but a little
longer to fight. That the war was near its end.
But they did not know that, could not know that. In
1917, each day was expected to be just as the last.
And yet they fought on, men asked to take on an
And in this darkest year, they did their duty and
fought to the bitter end.
This is the legacy of 1917 bestowed by those who gave
their all. It is a legacy that continues wherever
Australian service men and women are deployed.
Lance Corporal Wilfred Denver Gallwey knew this. His
belief that his service would outweigh his sacrifice
carried him through the war.
Herbert Palmer and Percy Chapman knew this. Their
belief in sacrifice and mateship sees them buried near
here side by side – quiet heroes of our nation.
In 1917, those who served did not do so for
themselves but for us. For a world where a bitter end
may mean something greater, something better.
That our something better was born out of the
sacrifice on the Western Front a hundred years ago is
something our nation cannot forget.
As the stone of remembrance states as you enter this
“Their name liveth for evermore”
Lest we forget.