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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8844

Ms LEY (Farrer) (12:32): I come to the chamber today to participate in this parliament's tribute to the Australian veterans who served in Bomber Command in World War II. As has already been well testified, Bomber Command was a multinational allied force that some 10,000 Australians served in during World War II. Over 4,000 of our fellow countrymen never came home. No branch of the Allied campaign in World War II suffered a greater casualty rate: 55,573 from all nations gave their lives, and that is almost half the number of men employed in the total effort. They were tasked with crippling the Nazis, using the controversial and deadly tactic of carpet bombing, with the aim of disabling critical infrastructure like railways and oil supplies.

As we know, a group of Australian veterans were in London in late June of this year for events to mark the operation's 70th anniversary. I am pleased to say that among them was 91-year-old Edgar Pickles from the town of Barham, in the southern part of my electorate of Farrer. Edgar's attendance was not just a celebrated occasion back home in Barham—he was reported upon by the Times of London no less. As that newspaper noted, the odds against survival were huge:

After 15 bombing raids over Germany in 1943, Edgar and his crew were the most experienced left in their squadron.

In that year, at the height of the conflict, it was estimated that RAF bomber crews had just a 16 per cent chance of surviving each sortie, with each expected to undertake 30 such missions. To say each flight could have been their last was not an understatement—it was more a probable outcome. In Edgar Pickles' time just two crews actually completed this 30-mission milestone before they were despatched for slightly less dangerous duties.

For the veterans who attended—and those who could not—the commemoration in June was belated acknowledgment of their efforts. Many felt their role in that conflict had been written out of history. In fact, it was a divisive tactic. As an often quoted example, the raid on Dresden in early 1945 saw an estimated 25,000 human beings wiped from the planet, branded by some as a war crime. As Edgar also notes:

Dresden was a very sad business. We didn't know it at the time—I guess ignorance was bliss.

I am pleased to say the $11 million memorial also has the blessing of the German people and equally commemorates all those killed during the bombings between 1939 and 1945. I am also delighted to report Edgar was one of the Diggers afforded the opportunity to be thanked personally by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth during the memorial service. I believe he was also particularly moved after being feted and welcomed by a town in North Lincolnshire, which was the home of 550 Squadron in 1943.

Squadron Leader Edgar Pickles DFC was not the only representative from Farrer to be at Green Park in London for the 70th anniversary. I know of a fellow 91-year-old—Gordon Pyle from Finley—who also had the opportunity to attend, along with his daughter. There will no doubt be others from my region who served with Bomber Command during that dark time in our history. Today I thank and honour them, those still with us and those who are not.

I want to also acknowledge and thank the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Warren Snowdon. As many might be aware, there was initially a very limited number of ex-servicemen from Australia set to attend the British service. That restriction was eventually lifted, allowing Edgar and Gordon and 105 other so-called 'roguish gentleman'—as the minister perceptively observed—the chance of a lifetime to be remembered. For many of them it may be their final chance.

In concluding, I want to echo the comments of the opposition leader in this House on the occasion of Bomber Command's 70th anniversary. While it was a difficult campaign, both morally and militarily difficult, we must never forget that those who served were serving us, under our flag, serving our country and serving our cause, and we should continue to honour them for that effort. I also honour and salute the service and sacrifice of all who served in Bomber Command in defence of our nation's interests.