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This week in history: our wartime heritage.

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DVA 59 Tuesday 8 May 2001

This Week In History - Our Wartime Heritage

Issued by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Bruce Scott, to foster awareness of Australia’s wartime history and heritage during the Centenary of Federation.

May 11-17

11-15 May 1945: Wewak, on the north-east coast of New Guinea, the scene of the last Australian campaign on mainland New Guinea, was captured by Australian 6th Division. Although the capture of Wewak forced the Japanese inland and fragmented their formations, they retained about 35 000 troops and a capacity for resistance.

12 May 1917: Lieutenant Rupert Moon, 58th Battalion, 15th Brigade, 5th Division, from Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the Second Battle of Bullecourt. Moon’s duty was to capture a pillbox. Moon, wounded in the face while leading a charge of his platoon, fought on. The Germans then established themselves in a trench. Moon ordered a Lewis-gun team to attack the trench. Wounded in the shoulder, Moon followed the retreating Germans. Later, while leading another charge, he was wounded in the leg and foot. The retreating Germans were later captured. Under German sniper fire, Moon ordered his men to dig in. He was again wounded, this time his jaw was broken and his face mutilated. Moon saw his men securely in position before he allowed himself to be helped to the rear.

13 and 16 May 1968: Australian positions at Fire Base Coral, north of Saigon, came under heavy attack. On 13 May some 400 North Vietnam troops overran a mortar position held by the 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, killing five members of the platoon and wounding another eight. Artillery fire forced the attackers to withdraw, but the action continued through the night. Australian losses totalled 10 killed and 25 wounded. On 16 May, a second attack was met by three companies of 1RAR. After six hours of fighting Australian losses were five dead and 19 wounded. The enemy lost at least 34 men, with indications that hundreds of other dead and wounded were removed by the retreating forces.

14 May 1943: The Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was sunk by a Japanese submarine off the south Queensland coast. The ship was crewed by members of the Australian merchant navy and only 64 of the 332 on board survived. Of 12 nurses from the Australian Army Nursing Service, only one, Sister Ellen Savage, survived. Sister Savage was awarded the George Medal for her bravery during the ordeal.

15 May 1945: Private Edward Kenna, born in Hamilton, Victoria, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery and courage near Wewak, New Guinea. With his comrades pinned down by heavy machine-gun fire, Private Kenna stood up in full view of the enemy and engaged the Japanese machine-gunners only 50 metres in front of him. He took out two machine-guns, while a tank secured the other enemy bunker. Mr Kenna is one of Australia’s three living VC recipients.

15 May 1942: Movement of PoWs to Thailand from Singapore to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway. Constructed by the Imperial Japanese Army using Allied PoW labour, the 420km railway linked Thanbyuzayat, in Burma, with Bampong, in Thailand. A labour force of 51 000 British, Dutch and American PoWs, 9500 Australian PoWs and 270 000 conscripted Asian civilians worked on the railway. 2646 Australians died on the railway, together with 10 000 other Allied prisoners and 70 000 Asian labourers. The railway was completed on 16 October 1943.

16 May 1901: Lieutenant Frederick William Bell, born in Perth, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Brakpan, South Africa, during the Anglo-Boer War. While his unit was retiring through a barrage of the fire, Lt Bell turned and dashed back to pick up a dismounted fellow soldier. With the horse unable to carry both men, Bell dismounted and provided covering fire while the other soldier rode to safety. Bell went on to serve with distinction in the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards during World War I, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Media Contact: Mark Croxford 02 6277 7820 or 0408 645 787


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