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Pilgrimage to Europe



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MEDIA RELEASET he H on C on S ciacca MR M inister for V eterans ' A ffairs 6 April 1995 C14/95

PILGRIMAGE TO EUROPE

A nurse, two soldiers, two sailors, a merchant mariner and four airmen will make the Pilgrimage to Europe and North Africa from 29 April to 10 May.

Their journey - as representatives of the entire veteran community - will symbolise Australia's extraordinarily wide-ranging contribution of forces to every theatre of World War II.

The Pilgrimage will include a remembrance ceremony at El Alamein War Cemetery, battlefield visits, a ceremony at Phaleron war cemetery, Athens, and ceremonies at Suda Bay and Stavromenos in Crete.

In London the veterans, who include two Ex-POWs, will attend the official opening ceremony of the Victory in Europe celebrations in Hyde Park on 6 May before representing Australia at a special Service of Thanksgiving, Reconciliation and Hope at St Paul's Cathedral the next day.

Membership of the Pilgrimage was announced today by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Con Sciacca, after consideration of nominations from key ex-service organisations.

Those participating are:

LINDSAY BROOM of Somerton Park, South Australia, served with 37 Squadron RAAF and RAF 223 Light Bomber Squadron.

As a 22-year-old clerk, Lindsay Broom volunteered in February 1940 and was sent across the Nullabor by train with other recruits to Pearce, W.A. After qualifying as a pilot flying twin-engined Ansons, he sailed for the U.K. on the Dominion Monarch. Flight Sergeant Broom served in operational training units in the south of England before responding to a call for

volunteers to go to the Middle East. Flying Baltimore light bombers on raids against enemy lines near El Alamein - and later from Malta and Sicily - he made 76 sorties in 16 months. Posted back to Australia in 1944, Mr Broom was posted to Darwin and flew supplies to Timor. When he was demobbed in 1946 he began a new career as an accountant. Now 77, Mr

Broom took up gliding at the age of 60.

2.

BARRY BROOKE of Double Bay, New South Wales, served with RAF 70 Squadron.

Mr Brooke was a 21-year-old law student when he was called up in October 1940. After initial training he was posted to England as a navigator where he joined an operational training unit at Bassingbourn,

Hertfordshire. En route to the Middle East he witnessed five days of the German blitz on Malta from a vantage point above Valetta. Flying from Abuseir, some 30 miles west of El Alamein, Navigator Brooke was on a night bombing mission against the enemy defences when the pilot was hit

by anti-aircraft fire and their Wellington bomber crash landed in the desert.

After being captured by the Germans, Barry Brooke and other fliers were transported to a German prisoner of war camp. Three years later he walked from Stalag 383, about 70 miles from Nuremburg, as the Germans retreated and, in company with other escapees, made contact with

advancing U.S. forces. On his return to Australia Mr Brooke, who is now 76, went back to university, qualified as a lawyer and practised until his retirement.

FRASER FALKINER of Moriac, Victoria, served with 72 RAF Spitfire Squadron.

Mr Falkiner was a 20-year-old jackeroo when he enlisted in the RAAF in 1939. Nicknamed 'Jum' - short for Jumbo - because of his imposing height of 6 feet 3 inches, he was part of only the second intake into the elementary flying course in Tiger Moths at Sydney's Mascot airport under the Empire Air Training Scheme. He joined other Australians and New Zealanders for further training in Canada before being posted to an operational training unit in North Wales. In his Spitfire fighter - "a beautiful aeroplane" - he flew 45 sorties with 72 RAF Squadron, mainly from Biggin Hill aerodrome near Bromley, Kent, before being shot down on 27 October

1941 inland from Calais. The Spitfire went down in flames and 'Jum' Falkiner, who was badly burned spent his first five months as a prisoner of war in hospital.

One of the ROW camps where Mr Falkiner spent time was Stalag Luft 3, scene of the famous Great Escape by Allied POWs. Immediately upon his release by U.S. soldiers in April 1945, he was instructed to accompany a

party of his former German prison guards to an adjoining village. He was promptly re-arrested and held under guard for another 24 hours by a second group of Americans who mistook him for an Austrian. Finally persuading his Allied 'captors' of his real identity, Mr Falkiner made his way back to London and came home to a new life as a farmer. He is now aged 75.

3.

VICTOR GIBSON, 74, of North Lake, Western Australia, served with the Royal Australian Navy.

After joining the Reserves in 1937, Seaman Gunner Gibson was called up a week before the outbreak of World War II. One of his first jobs was to help unload practice ammunition - then load live shells - aboard his new ship, the cruiser HMAS Sydney. He was in the thick of the action when the Sydney sank the Italian destroyer Espro and the cruiser Bartolomeo

Colleoni. The crews of all the Allied ships anchored in Alexandria harbour lined up and cheered the men of the Sydney as the Australian warship returned.

Victor Gibson was posted to Portsmouth, England in April 1941 to join the complement of one of the new Australian 'Ν' class destroyer series, HMAS Norman. After nearly two years of convoy duty, voyaging as far afield as Iceland and Capetown, he was injured aboard ship in Mombassa Harbour

and sent back to Australia to recover. He then joined the crew of the cruiser HMAS Shropshire and was present when the Australian forces staged the successful invasion at Balikpapan, Borneo, and at the signing of the peace treaty with Japan. Back in Australia, Mr Gibson worked as a

painter and decorator until his retirement in 1980. Now 74, he has been associated with the Naval Association of Australia for 38 years.

FRANK HERBERTSON of Seven Hills, Queensland, served with the Ninth Division's 2/2 Machine Gun Battalion.

Mr Herbertson held a commission in the militia when he enlisted at the age of 25. He was later promoted to Captain and second in command of A Company, serving in Palestine, Egypt and Libya. In action near Tobruk the battalion's position enabled him to observe the nightly run by Allied

destroyers to bring supplies to the 'Rats' in the beleaguered garrison and evacuate the wounded. The machine gun Company played an active support role in the Battle of El Alamein against Rommel's Afrika Korps in 1942, but "the infantry had to do the dirty work and they did the job, as they always do." Later, Captain Herbertson was posted to New Guinea

where he was involved in the landings at Lae and Finschafen.

After the war Mr Herbertson returned to his job as a clerk with the Shell oil company along with his former battalion commander, Brigadier D.A. Whitehead, who was also a Shell employee and who rose to command the

26th Brigade. Mr Herbertson is now 80 years' old.

4.

ALAN LOW of Terrey Hills, New South Wales, served with the Sixth Division's 2/3 Artillery Field Regiment.

As a 17-year-old clerk, Alan Low expected to join the infantry when, with two older workmates, he joined the AIF on 23 October 1939. In view of his youth, however, the doctors who examined him decided he was better

suited for the Armed Services Corps. While he missed out on the infantry, the young recruit then managed to switch to artillery. Gunner Low went first to England where he observed the horrors of the Blitz. He saw action in Libya before his unit was sent to Greece shortly before that country joined the war. The Australians, fresh from fighting against German forces

in North Africa, were amazed to see the German Swastika flying from an Embassy building on a hill above the port of Piraeus. With fixed bayonets, a platoon of Australians "stood up" the Germans inside the building, marched them out and hauled down the flag.

Mr Low's most lasting impression of the war, however, is the rapturous welcome given to the AIF by the British people when 10,000 thousand Australians arrived to reinforce the resistance to Germany soon after the evacuation of Dunkirk. The Australians were posted to units scattered throughout the country so their conspicuous slouch hats could be seen -

confirming the newspaper headlines "The ANZACS are Here" and lifting the morale of the population.

Alan Low's war ended when he came down with severe malaria during his service in Papua New Guinea. Afer being discharged, Mr Low, who is now aged 72, took advantage of the educational assistance available to a returned soldier to qualify as a master plumber. Long before retiring in

1980, however, he was equally successful in other career directions, working as manager of bulk storage and despatch for a major drug company, secretary-manager of Monash Golf Club and, then, as a national sales manager.

JEAN MCNEILL of Deloraine, near Launceston, Tasmania served with the Australian Army Nursing Service.

24-year-old Jean Bowman signed up as an Army Staff Nurse in May 1940 and sailed for the Middle East aboard the Mauritania six months later. She served with the 5th Australian General Hospital at Rehovet, 12 miles from Tel Aviv, caring for wounded and sick soldiers and was sent to Greece in April 1941. Just two weeks after arriving in Athens the 5th AGH nurses were on the move again. They travelled for three days, sleeping at night in olive groves and cemeteries, before being evacuated from a

beach on the southern coast of Greece. HMAS Voyager took the party to Crete but nine days later another evacuation was ordered, this time to Alexandria. The 5th AGH, which had lost all its equipment in Greece, was re-formed in Palestine.

5.

In February 1942 the recently promoted Lieutenant Jean Bowman was sailing home when the news came through that the Japanese had taken Singapore. After a year working in hospitals in Australia, she was posted to New Guinea in time to become part of the first nursing team to go over the Owen Stanley Ranges. At Buna she was to meet her future husband,

Lieutenant John MacNeill, of Newcastle, NSW, whose father was a Gallipoli veteran. As Mrs McNeill tells it, since she held the rank of Captain by then: "I married below me." Nevertheless, the McNeills are still together on their property "Barra" near Deloraine and, after 50-plus years

of marriage, they have six children and 14 grandchildren.

ERIC MUNKMAN of Collaroy Plateau, New South Wales, served with the RAAF 458 Squadron.

Eric Munkman was working as a shipping clerk when he enlisted on 30 August 1940 and was sent to Richmond air base for basic training. Together with other RAAF personnel he was shipped to Vancouver before travelling by rail to Halifax, Novia Scotia, to prepare for the voyage to

Scotland. Aircraftsman Munkman served with 458 Squadron at Holme on Spalding Moor, Yorkshire, until he was sent to the Middle East in May 1942.

In Egypt while awaiting for their Wellington bomber aircraft to arrive the Australians got a taste of "Allied" co-operation when they were linked with the U.S. 1st Squadron. The Americans had Liberator bombers and air crew but no ground crew. After three months in Palestine with the U.S.

1st, Eric Munkman and the others members of the ground crew returned to Egypt and 458 Squadron was re-formed. The unit went on to serve in Sardinia, Italy and Gibraltar. Back home after the war, Eric Munkman, who is now 75, switched from clerical work and began a new career as a

carpenter and builder.

ROBERT NELSON of Mt Hutton, New South Wales, served throughout the war as a merchant mariner.

Able Seaman Bob Nelson joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 17 from his native Workington, England and spent the early part of the war in trawlers and coastal shipping. Later, he served on freighters carrying supplies and troops in the North Sea, the North Atlantic, the

Mediterranean and Russian waters. Justifiably proud of the crucial role played by merchant mariners in maintaining sea transport and communications as the lifeblood of the Allied war effort, Mr Nelson saw firsthand the dangers they encountered. Twice his ships were beached

after shipboard fires.

6.

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Along with some of the 2000 Australian mariners serving in the Merchant Navy, he volunteered for Special Operations, meaning they were prepared to go "anywhere, any time under any circumstances." As a result, Bob Nelson found himself taking part in trial landings on a beach in South

Wales in the lead-up to the Normandy invasion. On O' Day he was with the Americans on Omaha Beach. In 1953 Bob Nelson, who had shipped out with Australian sailors and got on well with them, emigrated to

Australia to begin a new life. He rose to Maritime Services Commissioner for the port of Newcastle, became an expert on the war service of Australia's mariners. Now 72, he is their national representative to the RSL.

KEN SHANDS, 69, of Gilmore, Australian Capital Territory, served with Royal Australian Navy.

Midshipman Ken Shands served briefly on HMAS Manoora after graduating from the Royal Australian Naval College in 1942. Later that year, at the age of 17 he was seconded to the British Navy, serving in the cruiser HMS Enterprise in the Indian Ocean and the cruiser HMS Jamaica

in the Atlantic. He was on board the Jamaica when the British fleet cornered the 26,000-ton German battleship Scharnhorst in the Arctic Circle in December 1943. The young Australian had a ringside seat operating the "Captain's sight' on the bridge of the Jamaica as the British ships pounded the Scharnhorst.

Towards the end of the engagement the Commander-in-Chief signalled the Jamaica to finish off the stricken German cruiser. Five more torpedoes were launched and Midshipman Shands watched through binoculars as the blazing wreck of the Scharnhorst sank beneath the

waves. After further training he was promoted to Sub Lieutenant and served in the submarines HM Sceptre and HM Springer.

When the war ended Mr Shands continued to serve in the RAN, rising to the rank of Commodore. He took part in the Korean War and commanded the guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart during the Vietnam War. Retired since 1980, Commodore Shands is closely associated with the

Naval Association of Australia.

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