80th Anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay
Minister for Aged Care, Minister for Sport, Federal Member for Lilley, the Honourable Anika Wells MP; Member for Stafford, Mr Jimmy Sullivan MP; Commander, 7th Combat Brigade Australian Army, Brigadier Michael Say DSC; representing Commanding Officer of the HMAS Moreton, Lieutenant Commander Jason Parsons; representing Commander, Combat Support Group, RAAF Base Amberley, Group Captain Iain Carty CSM; Councillor for Marchant, Councillor Fiona Hammond; Deputy Commissioner for Queensland, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Ms Tara Hatzismalis; Military representatives and Veterans; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
I begin by acknowledging the original custodians of the lands around Brisbane, the Turrbul and Jagera people, and pay respect to their Elders past and present, and emerging. I would also like to extend my respect to any First Nations people, including Indigenous service men and women, here with us today.
We gather here to commemorate this momentous and significant Battle and to pay tribute to those who stood the line at Australia’s doorstep.
There, on the Eastern tip of Papua, the Japanese sought to secure the approaches to Port Moresby and provide a ‘jump-off point’ for the invasion of Australia. Some say that this was the battle that turned the tide of the war, I prefer to think of it as a defining moment in our history.
The tides are a natural thing that ebb and flow with the cycles of the moon. The Battle of Milne Bay was no natural thing, it was a historic and momentous human struggle, where young Australians – most of them untrained as soldiers – faced the might of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s ‘crack’ Special Landing Forces.
Without in any way diminishing the role played by the other four infantry battalions and other units, I want to pay special tribute to the soldiers of Queensland’s own 9th, 25th and 61st Battalions. Their raw courage and tenacity brought an honour reminiscent of the ANZACs – and emblematic of the true Australian spirit.
The victory at Milne Bay was hard won and like all great struggles it owed its success to co-operation and sound strategy. Of course, I do not pretend to have any expertise in things Military, but I know from my own profession of medicine that all great achievements are the product of the synergies that come from co-operation, teamwork, and visionary leadership. These characteristics were most evident between the 25th of August and the 7th of September in 1942.
We did not have the expertise and equipment available to clear the jungle and build the three airstrips; but the Americans did, and they provided the engineering expertise and created them in record time.
Without those airstrips, the RAAF would not have been able to deploy the Kittyhawk’s of 75 and 76 Squadron and without them it is unlikely we would have prevailed.
Then, there were the valiant Coast Watchers of the Royal Australian Navy who provided the critical intelligence that gave us the winning edge. It was indeed a co-ordinated team effort.
And of course, there was the valiant leadership of Major General Cyril Clowes – a Queenslander from Warwick. He was known as ‘Silent Cyril,’ his calm and laconic disposition concealed a highly professional and brave leader.
He tactically outperformed the enemy and minimised casualties in a battle where no quarter was given. General Clowes was a truly great Queenslander.
Eighty years on, the Veterans of this momentous struggle have all but gone, but for many of you they were family, loved ones and friends. Today is deeply personal for you, and you have come here to honour them.
They were untried and untested, but they shattered the myth of Japanese invincibility. In the pitiless jungles at Milne Bay, they began the task of clearing the path to ultimate victory. You have the right to feel proud of them – in fact, every Australian should feel proud of them.
Today, we remember them. ‘Lest We Forget’.