Anzac Day ambassador to march with kids of deceased soldiers
REMEMBERING the families of soldiers killed in battle is just as important as honouring our nation's servicemen and women on Anzac Day, Victoria Cross winner Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith says.
The decorated soldier will march with the children of Sergeant Matthew Locke and Sergeant Blaine Diddams - both of whom were killed in action in Afghanistan - in Canberra on Thursday.
Cpl Roberts-Smith, who won Australia's highest military honour for an act of bravery in Afghanistan in 2010, is the Australian War Memorial's Anzac Day ambassador.
Marching alongside the children would be a "great honour", he said, adding not a day went by he did not think of them or their fathers, who he described as mentors and mates.
"Those kids are the face of enduring sacrifice. They come here proud of their fathers and proud of what they have achieved," Cpl Roberts-Smith told reporters in Canberra.
The 34-year-old said he felt a "great sense of responsibility" in his role as the memorial's Anzac Day ambassador.
He said while he represented defence personnel past and present, he wanted to draw attention to the efforts of soldiers in recent conflicts.
In particular, he wanted to ensure the 251 soldiers injured in Afghanistan were not forgotten once Australia's involvement in the war came to an end.
He said they would require ongoing support, as would the families of fallen soldiers.
"My main effort this year is to really raise that awareness in the general community about what these guys ... and girls have been doing overseas for their country," he said.
It was a point echoed by AWM director Brendan Nelson, who encouraged the veterans of contemporary conflicts to participate in Anzac Day ceremonies around the country.
He said "reaching out" to modern-day soldiers was one of the main reasons he had asked Cpl Roberts-Smith to be ambassador.
"My observation of these men and women is that they do attend the dawn service very quietly, but very, very few are participating in parades and other events on Anzac Day," Dr Nelson said.
"I sense in them that they think it's for an earlier generation of veterans, and that in some way that marching is something they're uncomfortable doing.
"My very strong message to them is that we want you to march. We are proud of what you have done for out nation over the last 15 to 20 years and we have an opportunity and responsibility to thank you for it."
From 5am on Thursday Cpl Roberts-Smith will read accounts of Australians in Afghanistan as part of the prelude to the AWM's dawn service.
On Wednesday afternoon he read an account of the life of Major William Craies, who died 95 years ago at the second battle of Villers-Bretonneux in France, at the AWM's now daily Last Post ceremony.