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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7800

Senator HUTCHINS (7:30 PM) —I was fortunate, with a number of my parliamentary colleagues, to be part of a parliamentary delegation, my first, to represent this parliament in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, from which we have just recently returned. The delegation consisted of Senator Michael Forshaw, Senator Bill Heffernan, Mr David Hawker, Mr Anthony Albanese, Mr Bob Baldwin and me. The secretary to the parliamentary delegation was Ms Denise Gordon, who did a great job.

This evening I want to speak about an opportunity we had while in the Netherlands to lay a wreath at the gravesite of two Australian airmen, whom I will talk about in a moment. About 12 months ago, Mrs Jo Jordan, who is the niece of the late Pilot Officer Alan Hart, and Mrs Val Duncan, who is the sister of the late Flight Sergeant Harold Boal, were in the Netherlands to commemorate a ceremony and a special service for the interment of the bodies of those two Australian airmen. On 30 January 1944, a Lancaster JB659 from the 97 Squadron of the Royal Air Force took off from Bourn Airfield, in Cambridgeshire, with a crew of three Britons, two Canadians and two Australians. Their destination was Berlin. While returning from that mission, the aircraft was intercepted by a German night fighter at about five past 10 and shot down over Amsterdam, crashing into a farmhouse. Two of the crew, Pilot Officer Hart and Warrant Officer Williams, were buried shortly after the crash. Six members of the Van de Bijl family—the farmer, his wife and their four youngest children—were also killed. The four eldest children were asleep in another area of the farm and survived. The aircraft broke in half and the end was driven into ground reclaimed from the sea. This made excavation, and therefore burial of the five remaining crewmen, impossible.

However, last year the remains of the other five crew were discovered when the crash site was excavated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Individual identification was not possible, but forensic examination revealed that those five airman had been found. One of the seven members of the crew was Pilot Officer Alan Hart from the Royal Australian Air Force. He was only 22 years old and, as I said, his body was found immediately after the crash in 1944 and was buried. He lived in Murrumburrah, New South Wales prior to his service. He was a farmer prior to enlisting and he enlisted in Sydney on 19 July 1941.

One of the other members of the crew was Sergeant Leslie Clifton of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who was 24 years old. His body was found last year and was buried at the service. Flight Sergeant Harold Boal, from the Royal Australian Air Force, was a navigator and only 20 years old. He was born and grew up on the family farm located at Echuca, near Shepparton, Victoria. He worked in the accounts branch of the GPO in Melbourne prior to enlisting, and he enlisted on 12 September 1944. His body was found last year and was buried at the service.

Another crew member was Warrant Officer Gordon Williams, from the Royal Canadian Air Force, and he was 21 years of age. His body was buried immediately after the crash. The body of Sergeant William Jones, of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was found last year and was buried at the service. He was 21 years of age. Sergeant Douglas Hicks was 24 years old and was from the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. His body was found last year and buried at the service. Flight Sergeant Melville Price was 30 years old and was from the Royal Canadian Air Force. His body was found last year and was buried at the service.

As I said at the commencement of my remarks, last year Mrs Jordan, who I understand lives at Peakhurst, New South Wales, was asked if she wished to be at the service, as was Mrs Duncan, who is the sister of the late Flight Sergeant Boal. Both women made the trip to Amsterdam for the service on 29 November 2001, and on 29 November 2002 a number of my colleagues and I were honoured to lay a wreath and to visit the site where these men died in those circumstances during World War II. The special service was held at the Christian Church at Halfweg, Amsterdam, and the remains of the recently discovered five missing crewmen were reinterred with full military honours at Zwanenburg General Cemetery, Haarlemmermeer, Amsterdam. All of the airmen are also commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, England. The honour guard at last year's service consisted of airmen from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Squadron No. 97 had been a squadron within the Royal Air Force on and off since 1917. The men who flew in that squadron were acting under instructions from Bomber Command to break the morale of the Germans by bombing the infrastructure of Germany. As casualties in that war go, around 55,000 servicemen under Allied Bomber Command lost their lives in combat during World War II. That is a very hefty component of men who served. In bombing raids on Berlin on the night of 30 January 1944 alone—that is the night our two servicemen lost their lives—32 Lancaster aircraft were shot down, each of which was manned by a seven-man crew.

I want to complete my speech tonight with the recollections of Mr John Rimmington, who also flew with Squadron 97 on the bombing operations during the Battle of Berlin on that same evening. He says:

During the Battle of Berlin I did several trips to that city which included the one on the 30 January. I am sure that most aircrew will agree with me when I say that to see at the briefing, that red tape going from base to Berlin brought a feeling of apprehension, in particular when one had been there the previous night, it was not a pleasant sight. By this time we would be well aware that we were in for a long trip, because in the early afternoon we would have got the petrol load from the ground staff which would give us some indication that it was going to be a trip deep into Germany.

We had to be out at the dispersal an hour before take off, to check engines etc then out of the aircraft to have a cigarette. Strangely, the target would not be talked about at this time only to say `not again' that by the way is the polite way to say it. It was then back into the old Lanc. hoping that everything was still alright and no problems, if there were, it was then a mad dash to the reserve Lancaster and by the time we were ready for take off, everyone else had gone on their way, not a good start for an Op.

The men who got into those Lancasters on 30 January 1944 were very much aware that there was a big chance that they would not come back. Our two servicemen, Pilot Officer Hart and Flight Sergeant Boal, did not come back. It is only right—and I think my colleagues who attended with that delegation would agree with me—that we remember them. I thought it appropriate that we record their story here this evening, and to thank the Ambassador, Mr Hussin, and Stewart Page and Marina Tsirbas from the embassy for their assistance.