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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 4012


Mr FEENEY (Batman) (16:37): I rise to join my parliamentary colleagues to acknowledge the great debt of gratitude that our nation owes to our serving men and women, both past and present. In response to the ministerial statement today by the Minister for Veterans Affairs, the Hon. Dan Tehan MP, I thank him for the update on commemorations at home and abroad. I also offer my thanks to the Department of Veterans Affairs for their ongoing work on commemorations throughout this Centenary.

Each year on 25 April we pause as a nation to honour and remember all of those who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations, as well as the contribution and suffering of all those men and women who have served. This year we commemorated 101 years since Australian troops stormed the beaches at Gallipoli and remembered all those who sacrificed their lives in World War I. Last year I had the honour of attending the Gallipoli dawn service. Surrounded by a sea of Australians and, indeed, New Zealanders at the place where thousands of young Australian, New Zealander and Turkish men died—it is an experience I will never forget.

This Anzac Day, I commemorated those lost men with my local community at the Darebin RSL dawn service at All Nations Park in Northcote. Every town in Australia has its own story and its own personal connection to the terrible events of the Gallipoli campaign and the First World War. I offer my sincere gratitude to the Darebin RSL and all local ex-service organisations who honour and renew that personal connection year on year, every year without fail. Whether at home where the journey began or in Gallipoli where the journey ended for far too many, the depth of our gratitude remains unchanged. These things are immutable, neither place nor scale nor time can diminish them.

The Anzac campaign will always hold a special place in our nation's consciousness. But for far too many, it was only the beginning of bitter story that traversed the blood soaked years of World War I. Landing on the beaches 101 years ago today, Arthur Seaforth Blackburn and Phillip Robin penetrated 1800 metres inland from Anzac Cove, further than any other Australian on that day. Phillip Robin died later that day, but for Arthur World War I had only just begun. After surviving the Gallipoli campaign and being promoted to second lieutenant, Arthur would go on to fight in a battle that saw the greatest loss of life in our nation's military history—the Battle of Pozieres.

In 2016 we commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Pozieres and the Battle of Fromelles, two battles that cut short the lives of tens of thousands of Australians. On 19 July 1916 the Australians attacked at Fromelles with disastrous results. The Australians suffered a shocking 5,500 casualties—their greatest loss in a single day. It was a harsh lesson about the scale and intensity of warfare on the Western Front. Four days later, Australians went into action on the Somme, attacking and capturing the village of Pozieres. The Battle of Pozieres saw Australia suffer its greatest loss in World War I and, indeed, of all of our conflicts with some 7,000 men killed and 16,000 wounded. Of those killed, the remains of 4,112 men were never found or able to be identified. These staggering losses accounted for some 12.9 per cent of all the Australians lost in World War I.

To put that into perspective, Deputy Speaker, when you look at the World War I Memorial Rolls in your electorate, you will find that one in eight of those men died at Pozieres. The battle lasted six weeks. Eighteen months after the conclusion of the Gallipoli campaign, many of the Australian veterans who had landed on the shores of Gallipoli and survived would then fight in the battle of Pozieres, and Arthur was one of them.

A small village in the Somme Valley in France, Pozieres was the scene of bitter and costly fighting for the 1st, 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions. Pozieres was overrun by the Australian 1st Division on 23 July 1916. Those soldiers then clung onto Pozieres, despite almost continuous German artillery fire and ferocious counter-attacks but they suffered heavily. By the time that force was relieved on 27 July, it had suffered 5,285 casualties. The Australian 2nd Division took over from the 1st and mounted two further attacks—the first, on 29 July, was a costly failure; the second, on 2 August, resulted in the seizure of further German positions. Again, the Australians suffered heavily from retaliatory bombardments. They were relieved on 6 August, having suffered an astonishing 6,848 casualties. The 4th Division was next into the line, and it defeated a major German counter-attack on 7 August, the final effort by the Germans to retake Pozieres.

Arthur was part of the 10th Australian Infantry Battalion and he led an attack to drive the enemy from a strong point, and made up approximately 370 yards. At just 23 years old, as a second lieutenant, he led an attack for which he received the highest award for acts of bravery in wartime, the Victoria Cross. Charles Bean said that Pozieres ridge was 'more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth'.

In the 99 years which have passed since the Battle of Pozieres, not once have we stopped as a nation to officially commemorate it. This year, as we continue to commemorate the Centenary of Anzac, let us remember Arthur and the Battle of Pozieres.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan. On August 18, 1966 the Battle of Long Tan—perhaps the most famous battle for Australia in the Vietnam War—was fought primarily between Delta Company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, supported by other Australian Task Force elements, and a force of up to 2500 from the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. The Vietnam War took a heavy toll on our nation and an even heavier toll of those servicemen who were fortunate enough to return home. As ever, the Australian soldiers serving in Vietnam upheld the very high standards of the Anzac tradition and the Australian Defence Forces. They remained faithful to one another and their duty to the nation. We must repay that faithful service with our respect and ongoing gratitude.

I am pleased that this year there is to be a national commemorative event, paying tribute to those who served and those who sacrificed all during the Vietnam conflict. I also welcome the decision to repatriate those remaining Vietnam war dead from Terendak, whose families have requested they be brought home. In doing so, we right a half century of wrong.

I wish to make special mention of the efforts and advocacy of the coordinators of Operation—'Bring Them Home': Vietnam veteran Bob Shewring and former ADF member Luke Gosling, who have worked so hard to bring about that result.

Each Anzac Day we remember the staggering sacrifice of a young nation, and the quintessentially Australian values that found expression in the horrors of WWI's trenches: mateship, sacrifice, loyalty to one another, courage, that particular Australian larrikinism and humour, and our own brand of Aussie egalitarianism. This year I encourage all Australians to remember those who have embodied those values in conflicts and peacekeeping missions from France to Vietnam and in the Middle East even today. I thank the House.