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Veterans to make historic pilgrimages

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MEDIA RELEASET he H on C on S ciacca MP M i n is t e r for V e t e r a n s ' A ffa ir s 6 April 1995 C13/95


Australian veterans will soon return to some of the most crucial battlefronts of World War II in three historic Pilgrimages organised by the Federal Government.

Commemorating Australia's role in the world-wide fight for freedom, the Pilgrimages will take veterans back to selected places in North Africa, mainland Greece, Crete and the U.K., to Papua New Guinea and to Jakarta and Borneo.

There they will participate in ceremonies to remember fallen comrades, mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and celebrate the peace and prosperity the nation has enjoyed as a result of the Allied victory.

Details of the Pilgrimage journeys - part of the national "Australia Remembers, 1945-1995" Program - were announced today by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Mr Con Sciacca.

Mr Sciacca said membership of each Pilgrimage group would, as far as possible, reflect the composition of Australian units which fought in the campaigns to be commemorated.

He said major ex-service organisations including the RSL and the Australian Veterans and Defence Services Council had been consulted on the allocation of places for the Pilgrimages.

The Australians' contribution to victory in the desert over Rommel's Afrika Corps would be celebrated at El Alamein, while the high price paid for helping to win the air war in Europe would be recalled during the massive Victory in Europe celebrations in London.

The New Guinea Pilrimage would feature visits to historic locations where some of the fiercest fighting of the entire war took place, including Milne Bay, scene of the first defeat of Japanese forces on land during the conflict.

Mr Sciacca said Australia's role in the defeat of the Japanese Army and the Liberation of Borneo would be the focal point of the Borneo Pilgrimage, which would include attendance at the RSL ceremony of remembrance for those who died during the infamous Sandakan 'Death Marches.'

"Veterans joining each Pilgrimage will be representing all of their mates, as well as their country," he said.

"The number of veterans who can go on each Pilgrimage is, necessarily, limited by factors such as the distances to be travelled, related costs and the medical fitness of the veterans themselves."

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"We hope that veterans who are disappointed if they are not allocated a place will understand that the Pilgrimages symbolise the contribution made to the survival of democracy by all Australia's fighting forces and by workers at home."

Mr Sciacca said 10 veterans would undertake the Pilgimage to Europe and North Africa (29 April-10 May), more than 120 would make the Pilgrimage voyage to Papua New Guinea (29 June-11 July) and about 35 would participate in the

Borneo Pigrimage (6-16 July).

The Australian Defence Force would provide ceremonial and logistical support for each Pilgrimage, including airtransport to some locations, and essential medical services would be on hand for each stage of the journeys.

"Communities across the nation are supporting and participating in the 'Australia Remembers 1945-1995' program," Mr Sciacca said.

"Individuals and organisations are contributing to a wide range of activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the War and highlight the positive impact upon the development of community life in Australia.

"It is especially important that younger Australians understand the sacrifices made by that generation and appreciate the benefits which have flowed to them as a result."

Mr Sciacca said the Pilgrimages would galvanise community interest in the three campaigns, focussing attention on the feats of Australian servicewomen and men and highlighting the nation's extraordinarily wide-ranging contribution to victory.

He said Australians had fought in every single theatre of World War II.

"The Pilgrimages should ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to see those events through the eyes of our veterans," he said.

"There are tales of heroism recognised by the presentation of medals, countless acts of valour which went unrecognised - and terrible suffering.

"These must be told so they are never forgotten and so that Australians in 1995 can understand the relevance of those events to today's society.

"Most important of all, the Pilgrimages will enable representative groups of veterans to pay homage, on behalf of the nation, to their fallen comrades."


Amanda Lampe Mr Sciacca's office 06 277 7820 018 499 538 (mobile)

John Webb JAX Media National 06 257 8822 018 632 576 (mobile)


Veterans will gain places on the Pilgrimages to Borneo and Papua New Guinea by ballot. ~

The ballot will be organised so that Pilgrimage membership broadly reflects Service and unit involvement during each of the World War II campaigns.

Following consultations with the RSL and the Australian Veterans and Defence Forces Council (AVADSC) to ensure representation of a wide cross-section of the veteran community, most nominations will be made by Australian unit associations.

A limited number of nominations for the ballot may also be made by the RSL and AVADSC.

Membership of the Borneo Pilgrimage, "Borneo, the Final Campaign", will include former RAAF personnel and representatives of the Royal Australian Navy, War Widows, Merchant Navy, the Army and Nurses.

Places for the Papua New Guinea Pilgrimage - "Up North, the Battle for Australia" - will be allocated on a similar basis.

The ballot will be required because there are more than 250 Unit associations across the Services and there are certain to be more nominations than places.

Advertisements advising veterans of the process for nominating for a Pilgrimage will appear shortly in the national press.

While the bulk of places can be expected to be filled from nominations by Unit associations or Ex-Service Organisations, it will also be possible for veterans who are not members of associations or organisations to nominate for a Pilgrimage place.

Veterans in this category will be offered assistance in contacting the relevant Unit association or, if their war service is not covered by any Unit association, advised howto submit their names directly.

Veterans will be asked to supply details of age, service history and, if applicable, their file number with the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

The need for medical assessment to ensure they are fit to travel overseas will be stressed.

The ballot to allocate Pilgrimage places will also identify "reserve" positions which will apply if veterans with notional places are later found to be unable to travel for medical reasons or decide to withdraw.

NOTE: To ensure the integrity of the balloting process, RSL and AVADSC representatives will act as observers.


When war broke out in Europe on 3 September 1939 Prime Minister Menzies pledged that Australia too would be involved. It was the speed of the Australian involvement that took some people by surprise. Australian airmen, already in Britain to take delivery of aircraft, were in the skies and in the war alongside the first British airmen in the very first days of the war.

When war came to an end on 15 August 1945, with the Japanese recognising the inevitability of defeat and the awful cost of fighting on, Australian servicemen were in tlie thick of file fighting, on land, on the sea and in the air.

Australians were among the first to take up arms in file defence of freedom, and in horrified revulsion of the evil ideologies they confronted, and they were among the last to lay down their arms, their task now done.

During file six long years of the second world war, Australians fought in every theatre of war, even briefly on the Eastern front. {Pause) Consider for a moment the implications of this simple statement. Australians did not put huge armies into file field, the sailors, soldiers and airmen of the Australian forces had to be adaptable

and ready to serve anywhere in the world. Men who had trained in the desert showed in their first campaign at Benghazi that they were tough and expert soldiers, well adapted to the rigours of desert warfare. Some of these same soldiers then fomid themselves the next year fighting in the near impenetrable jungles of Papua and New Guinea. They adapted to these new conditions with skill and professionalism.

The range of Australian service is truly remarkable. The schoolboy or schoolgirl who followed the progress of our troops throughout the war on one of the war maps that the newspapers produced in 1939 would have had a variously coloured atlas by file time file war ended in 1945, and, I might add, would have also gained a profound knowledge of geography. The North African desert, Palestine and Libya, Egypt and Syria, Greece and Crete, Malaya and Singapore, Burma and Borneo, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, are regions inextricably linked with the story of

the second Australian Imperial Force. The ships of the Royal Australian Navy


served in all of the world's oceans. In the Mediterranean, and in the Indian and Pacific oceans particularly they served with distinction and with heroism. The Royal Australian Air Force trained in Australia and in Britain and, because many Australian airmen also trained in Canada tmder the Empire Air Training Scheme, they became the first large number of our troops to have served in the Western Hemisphere. Members of the Royal Australian Air Force flew over Britain in the

legendary Battle of Britain and over Europe in bomber, fighter and coastal commands. The Australian Roll of Honour reflects the awful losses our aircrews suffered, and demonstrates the bravery of the men who flew, so heavily were the odds stacked against them. Aircrew, of course, served in the Pacific theatre and, at Milne Bay, to give just one important example, joined in combined operations with

the other Australian services and inflicted on the Japanese their first land defeat of the Second World War.

The war map can tell us the extent of Australian service; only real knowledge of the details can tell us of the nobility of that service.

Too few Australians know the meaning of Milne Bay or El Alamein. Many Australians expressed surprise at the time of the D-Day commemorations last year that Australians had served in that theatre during that phase of the war. Perhaps most Australians have heard of the Kokoda track but how widespread is knowledge

of the savagery of the fighting at Buna and Gona, possibly the most arduous fighting in which Australian troops have ever been involved.

It is to assist in telling these stories, to focus on these events, and to broaden an Australia-wide appreciation and remembrance of our history that the Government has decided to incorporate three pilgrimages of veterans into the Australia Remembers program of activities. Parties of Australian veterans, assisted by

medical and support staff, will undertake pilgrimages to El Alamein, Greece, Crete and the United Kingdom, to Papua New Guinea, and to Borneo, Indonesia and Singapore. The first pilgrimage will leave Australia in late April, the third and last pilgrimage will return to Australia in mid July. The largest pilgrimage, the second,

consisting of 150 veterans and war widows will travel to Papua New Guinea by ship, the other two will travel largely by air. I am also pleased to announce the very significant co-operation of the Australian Defence Force on these pilgrimages. As we saw in Gallipoli and on the Western Front on earlier pilgrimages, the presence of an Australian guard and an Australian military band adds immeasurably to the


solemnity and dignity of the proceedings. There will be a substantial Australian military presence at all the major ceremonies associated with these pilgrimages.

Let me say from the outset that the pilgrimages are designed to be representational only. If we were to attempt to take servicemen and women to all the places where they served with distinction and devotion I am afraid that they would be travelling, if not for six years, then at least for a very long time.

In selecting North Africa, Greece and Crete, London, Papua New Guinea and Borneo, we have tried to include places that are known and unknown in Australian military history, and we have tried to be geographically as comprehensive as possible. We also needed to be aware of the inaccessibility of some of the

battlefields or the hazards that they would represent for our veterans today.

I recognise that, in the selection of sites, we will have started numerous arguments and, in the sense that these arguments will stimulate more interest, I am happy to see them flourish. Let me say, however, with the utmost sincerity, that in choosing one place over another, we make no judgment of the importance of any particular person's service, and we make no judgement of any campaign or battle. Just as the Unknown Australian Soldier at the Australian War Memorial stands for all Australian war dead in all wars, so these Second World War veterans' pilgrimages

stand for all campaigns and battles in which Australians served. When, over the next few months Australians of today see pictures of their veteran soldiers at El Alamein, their veteran airmen at Milne Bay, their veteran nurses at Port Moresby and their veteran sailors at Crete, they will begin to comprehend the extraordinary

extent of the service of Australians, and, their curiosity aroused, will begin to enquire more closely into our past.

If die selection of the places of pilgrimage was difficult, from such a wide field of choices, you can well imagine, I am sure, how difficult will be the selection of the veterans to make these emotional returns to the places they served in, the places to which they gave something of themselves, the places from which some of their mates never returned.

We can take a representational number of veterans only, and my Department has been very careful in allocating places proportionately between the services, and will seek to ensure that the widest possible representation is achieved. In this complex task my Department has received invaluable assistance from a wide variety of


veterans' organisations. While there will be disappointment on the part of some that they have not been chosen, the veterans' groups have been seeking to provide us with the names of those of their members whom they think can make the best possible contribution to the overall purposes of tire missions. As with the previous missions in 1990 and 1993, tire health of tire veterans and war widows who are travelling will be tire prime concern and rigorous standards will be applied to ensure that only those best able to take part are selected.

It gives me great pleasure to announce these pilgrimages today. We honour all veterans of the Second World War hr making these pilgrimages to some of tire places most famous in Australian military history. We commemorate those who did not return from those distant battlefields, and we say to those who knew personally

and loved our war dead that they are not forgotten. To them we owe so much. And through these pilgrimages we say to those Australians who have never known tire curse of war, the pain and loss of war, tire comradeship and tire nobility of spirit that is the Australian way: "Look around you. There are people in your community, people in your life, who helped to build this nation in time of great trial. In knowing

their story you know your nation better". Those who will follow those pilgrimages from home will know our past and will honour those who served Australia so well.

I now turn to announce those veterans who have been nominated by the ex-service organisations to participate in the North Africa/Europe pilgrimages.

These veterans, like those to join the pilgrimages to Papua New Guinea and Borneo, have an onerous task. They represent the many thousands of veterans who took part in the campaigns in North Africa, in Greece and in the skies above and on the seas

around Europe.

Their first duty is to ensure that frill honour and tribute is paid to the sacrifices of those who did not return. They will do this on behalf of the entire Australian community.

Their second duty is as ambassadors of Australia at the ceremonial events of VE Day in London and Paris. They will take their place with veterans of other countries and be a witness to Australia's heroic achievements and extensive participation in the European campaign.


I am pleased to announce their names:

Mrs Jean McNeill An Army nurse from Tasmania who served in the Middle East, Greece and Crete

Mr Lindsay Broom A RAAF veteran from SA who as a pilot flew bombers over North Africa in the desert Air Force.

Mr Jum Falkiner A RAAF ex-POW from Victoria a Spitfire pilot who operated over Europe. Was shot down and became POW.

Mr Victor Gibson A Navy veteran from WA who served on HMAS SYDNEY in the Mediterranean.

Mr Frank Herbertson An Army veteran from Queensland who saw service in the first Syrian campaign and in the battle of El Alamein.

I am pleased to say we have five of the ten pilgrims here with us today and I would like to introduce them to you now:

Mr Allan Low An ex- Army veteran from NSW who served in the

6th AIF Division in Libya, Greece and Crete.

Mr Eric Munkman An ex RAAF veteran from NSW who served in 458 Sqdn, RAAF.

Mr Bob Nelson A Merchant Navy veteran from NSW who served on merchant ships in the Mediterranean, around Africa and in the North Atlantic.

Mr Ken Shands A Navy veteran from the ACT who served in the North Atlantic, the North Sea and in operations against the German battleships SCHAR.WHORST and TERPITZ.


M r B arrie Brooke A RAAF veteran from NSW who as a navigator flew missions over North Africa

These veterans have had extensive war time service in the North African and Europe campaigns and are well qualified to represent the Australian community on tliis pilgrimage.

We wish the pilgrimage much success in its tasks.