RSL South Eastern District's 78th Anniversary of the Victory in the Pacific Commemoration Service
Representing Premier of Queensland, Assistant Minister to the Premier for Veterans’ Affairs and the Public Sector, Mr Bart Mellish MP; representing Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence Industry and Shadow Assistant Minister for Veterans, Mr James Lister MP; representing the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Councillor for Central Ward, Councillor Vicki Howard; Members of the Consular Corps; Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director, Mr Simon Andrews; representing the Queensland Police Service, Acting Assistant Commissioner Chris Jory; Australian Defence Force representatives; RSL Queensland State Deputy President, Ms Wendy Taylor and South Eastern District President, Mr Kerry Gallagher AM; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands around Brisbane, the Turrbal and Jagera people, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging. I would also like to extend my respect to any First Nations people, including Indigenous service men and women, with us here.
This morning we gather in solemn gratitude to honour the service and sacrifice of those who lost their lives to achieve peace in the Pacific, and those who made it home, but were forever changed by their experiences in action, or as prisoners of war.
78 years ago, on the 15th of August 1945, the Prime Minister’s announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the allied forces was met with immense jubilation and tremendous relief.
The Second World War was finally over, yet the conflict on the lands and in the waters of East and South-East Asia and the Pacific had brought the threat of invasion to our shores…and the miseries brought by six long and distressing years of global war had left an indelible imprint on the hearts of all.
By the time VP Day came, almost 40,000 Australians had perished—17,000 of them during campaigns in the Pacific. Of the over 22,000 Australians taken as prisoners by the Japanese, more than 8,000 had died in captivity, in conditions well documented for their wretchedness.
The then Queensland Governor, Sir Leslie Wilson—a military man himself—addressed the State and spoke of great thankfulness, but also of two important pledges that Queenslanders must uphold in its future.
The first was to honour the promises made to look after returned servicemen and women, and the second was for us to ensure that “this ghastly thing called war” could never happen again.
Sadly, the latter has not proven possible, as Australians have since been drawn into other conflicts that have resulted in loss, heartbreak and hardship.
Yet today, I am so proud that incredible charitable organisations such as the Australian War Widows (of which I am Patron) and the RSL and Legacy (of which Graeme and I are Joint Patrons in Queensland) continue to provide unwavering and compassionate support to those in need.
And this morning, by being here at this special ceremony—as are many others, at commemorations across our State and country—each one of you is marking the profound significance of a world event that brought the very real fear of war to our doorstep.
For some, including myself, this connection is deeply personal—after all, 78 years is well within living memory, and the stories of service passed down from grandparents or parents are tangible, relatable experiences that took place in countries not far from our own.
My maternal grandfather, while serving with the Dutch army, was captured during the fall of Singapore and worked on the Burma Railroad until the end of the war, while my grandmother and their two children—one of whom was my mother—lived in various prison camps in Sumatra.
Others here will have moving stories about the Kokoda Trail or the battle of Milne Bay in Papua, or of conflicts fought in the intense jungle heat of Borneo or Malaya.
And fortunately, while my family survived and made it back to the Netherlands, many others were not so lucky.
So, this morning we remember all those who made the supreme sacrifice to protect both our way of life and the values we consider most precious, and we also pay tribute to the loved ones left behind, who bore their sadness with immense bravery.
Let us always strive towards Sir Leslie’s pledge—to stand together in the pursuit of peace—and carry his message, and the legacy of our Australian Defence Force veterans into the future.
Lest We Forget.