A commemoration to mark the 72nd anniversary of Victory in the Pacific and the end of World War II was held at the Walkway on Tuesday, August 15th. Among those attending were a number of Australian Army veterans, all in their nineties. Six years of war had seen the world on the brink of a new dark age, but with a hard-fought Allied victory, an enlightened era of peace and stability was heralded.
The Prologue was delivered by Cr. Michael Megna (representing the Mayor) from the City of Canada Bay Council. Cr. Megna spoke of the men and women who participated in the fighting, as well as those who gave support in the form of vital medical services. He also paid tribute to the journalists and photographers who risked their lives to record the exploits of our front line forces, so that future generations might appreciate their sacrifices.
The Chairman of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway, Mr John Haines, welcomed members of the official party and all those attending the commemoration. A bible reading was then delivered by Dr. Stevie Chan, A/General Manager of Concord Hospital. Fittingly, the chosen verse, Micah 4:1-4, expressed the desire to end the very concept of war:
…and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
The 2017 VP Day address was delivered by a great supporter of the Walkway, Professor the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO. Dame Marie spoke with great feeling as she related her own family’s story, with four of her cousins and two uncles serving in the defence forces. When the long war ended, she told of how there was bounteous joy in Sydney and out in the suburbs, and that people flocked to Martin Place to imbibe the communal relief and sense of occasion.
Dame Marie reminded those present of the great contribution made by ordinary Australians to the victory, and of the near 40,000 who lost their lives from a country with a small population. Special mention was made of those who suffered unimaginable tortures and hardships as POWs, and that such experiences remained with them for the rest of their lives. The perilous year of 1942 was recalled, a time when Darwin was bombed, Sydney was attacked by Japanese submarines, merchant ships were sunk off the NSW coast, and a largely untrained Militia confronted crack Japanese troops in the swamps and jungles of Papua New Guinea.
The Kokoda campaign was a turning point, reversing the Japanese thrust south towards Port Moresby and a vulnerable northern Australian coastline. Dame Marie paid a special tribute to the Papuan New Guineans whose great kindness and assistance gave vital support to those engaged in the fighting, as well as to the wounded requiring evacuation along hazardous jungle paths. Indigenous Australians were singled out by Dame Marie; members of their community having served with great courage in all major theatres during both world wars.
Dame Marie stressed that commemorations, such as VP Day, were not a glorification of war, but rather an expression of gratitude to those who ensured the continuance of our wonderful Australian way of life. She expressed the hope that future generations of Australian school children would learn of this momentous time in Australia’s history and come to understand the true meaning of the hardships and sacrifices made to secure a lasting peace.
Following Dame Marie’s address, a 10 minute reflection video was projected onto a large screen. For this commemoration, the focus was on the R.A.A.F. and the important part that this service played, both in Europe and throughout the vastness of the Asia Pacific region.
Dignitaries then laid wreaths at the Walkway’s centre piece, while elderly World War II veterans laid individual wreaths at nearby Walkway stations. Mr Dick Payton, President of the 7th Division Association, recited the Ode with great solemnity and feeling, followed by a sounding of the Last Post, a minute’s silence, and then Reveille.
New Board member, Ms. Jennifer Collins, thanked those attending the commemoration, and at various times, prayers were led by our two chaplains, Fr. Graeme Malone SSS, and the Reverend Dale Baikie. At the conclusion of the service, refreshments were provided and those attending had ample opportunity to meet with friends and recall past experiences.
John K Wright