We do not know this Australian's name and we never will [not included in audio].
We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, or precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.
Yet he has always been among those we've honoured. We do know that he was one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front; one of the 416,000 Australians who volunteered for service in the First World War; one of the 324,000 Australians who served overseas in that war and one of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil; one of the 100,000 Australians who have died in wars this century. He is all of them. And he is one of us.
This Australia and the Australia he knew are like foreign countries. The tide of events since he died has been so dramatic, so vast and all-consuming, a world has been created beyond the reach of his imagination.
He may have been one of those who believed the Great War would be an adventure too grand to miss. He may have felt that he would never live down the shame of not going. But the chances are that he went for no other reason than that he believed it was his duty; the duty he owed his country and his King.
Because the Great War was a mad, brutal, awful struggle, distinguished more often than not by military and political incompetence; because the waste of human life was so terrible that some said victory was scarcely discernible from defeat; and because the war which was supposed to end all wars in fact sowed the seeds of a second, even more terrible war–we might think this Unknown Soldier died in vain.
But, in honouring our war dead, as we always have, we declare that this is not true. For out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly. It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary. On all sides they were the heroes of that war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together.
The Unknown Australian Soldier we inter today was one of those who, by his deeds, proved that real nobility and grandeur belongs not to empires and nations but to the people on whom they, in the last resort, always depend.
That is surely at the heart of the Anzac story, the Australian legend which emerged from the war. It is not a legend of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds, of courage and ingenuity in adversity. It is a legend of free and independent spirits whose discipline derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity. It is a democratic tradition, the tradition in which Australians have gone to war ever since.
This Unknown Australian is not interred here to glorify war over peace, or to assert a soldier's character above a civilian's, or one race or one nation or one religion above another, or men above women, or the war in which he fought and died above any other war, or one generation above any that has been or will come later.
The Unknown Soldier honours the memory of all those men and women who laid down their lives for Australia. His tomb is a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained.
We have lost more than 100,000 lives and with them all their love of this country and all their hope and energy.
But we have gained a legend: a story of bravery and sacrifice and, with it, a deeper faith in ourselves and our democracy, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian.
It is not too much to hope, therefore, that this Unknown Australian Soldier might continue to serve his country – he might enshrine a nation's love of peace and remind us that in the sacrifice of the men and women whose names are recorded here there is faith enough for all of us.
About this record
This is a sound recording of the eulogy delivered by Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating at the funeral service of the Unknown Australian Soldier. He describes the unidentified soldier as one of the 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front in World War I (1914–18). Arguing that he did not die in vain, Keating states that the Unknown Soldier enshrines the Australian nation's love of peace. The eulogy was delivered on Remembrance Day, 11 November 1993, at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
- In the eulogy heard here, Paul Keating (1944–) outlines what the Australian Unknown Soldier stands for in the nation's culture and history by placing him 'at the heart of the Anzac story, the Australian legend'. In the tradition established by CEW Bean, official historian of Australia's role in World War I, Keating describes the democratic basis of Australians going to war, referring to 'free and independent spirits whose discipline derived … from the bonds of mateship'.
- During and after the Great War many Australians came to believe that its soldiers were little more than cannon fodder in a war that had nothing to do with Australia. However, while it is clear Keating has some sympathy with that view, in the eulogy he emphasised that the Australian Unknown Soldier did not die in vain. He left a legacy of what ordinary Australians can achieve–'endure hardship, show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together'.
- The Unknown Australian Soldier, whose remains rested on the Stone of Remembrance outside the War Memorial while this eulogy was delivered, is one of about 18,000 Australians who died in the Great War but who have 'no known grave'. According to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, approximately 35 per cent of Australia's war dead from World War I and II have no known grave.
- Although bringing home an Australian unknown soldier was first proposed in the 1920s it was the forthcoming 75th anniversary of the end of the Great War that galvanised action. In 1993 the remains of an unknown Australian soldier were exhumed from Adelaide Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneux in France and brought to Australia. After lying in state in King's Hall in Parliament House the soldier was transferred to the Australian War Memorial for the ceremony.
- After the eulogy the Unknown Australian Soldier was entombed in the Hall of Memory at the War Memorial in a moving ceremony laden with symbolism. He was buried in a Tasmanian blackwood coffin with a slouch hat and a sprig of wattle on top. Soil from the Pozières battlefield was scattered in his tomb by World War I veteran, Robert Comb, who had served in battles on the Western Front.
- The ceremony took place on the anniversary of a highly significant day in Australian history– the day the armistice (a truce to discuss peace terms) was signed in 1918. Formally completed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the armistice marked the end of the hostilities of the Great War. Originally called Armistice Day, it was renamed Remembrance Day in 1945 at the end of World War II.
- By 1919 the observance of 2 minutes' silence on 11 November had gained particular importance as a symbolic way of remembering all those dead service personnel whose remains were unidentified and have no known grave. In 1920 both France and Great Britain interred an unidentified body: the French Unknown Soldier lies at the Arc de Triomphe and the British Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey.
Learning resource text © Education Services Australia Limited and the National Archives of Australia 2010.
Need help with your research?
Learn how to interpret primary sources, use our collection and more.