The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping

18 mins read
The Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson AO
Australian War Memorial

The Long Search for Peace' Volume 1, Book Launch

Thank you very much. I'll just add and emphasis to the welcomes, Paul Copeland, president of the Peacemakers and Peacekeepers Association, and also Neil James, a veteran himself and executive director of the Australian Defence Association. I’d say to Rhys Crawley's two little girls there, I used to be the Minister for Education for Australia, and as a six- year old said when asked what that means,  she was told, "He's the principal of all principals." But a little girl at a school, that I went to do an official opening, who wasn't very happy when I spoke to her and asked her why she wasn't happy, she said, ‘Every time someone comes to my school wearing a uniform like yours, there's a lot of talking and I get very sleepy.’  You are no doubt, having that experience.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, Anne came to me and said Lieutenant General Angus Campbell has just informed us through his office that he's now not able to come and launch this volume of Official Peacekeeping Histories, The Long Search for Peace, and I said, "Oh ok, I get that, he’s a busy man, who are they sending?” And she said, “Oh, they can’t find a rep.”  I said, “85,000 people in the Australian Defence Force and they can't find a rep.” And Anne said, "Well, would you – me – consider doing it?" And I said, "Well, yes of course. I've got a bit on, and I don't know how much time I've got to actually read it between now and Thursday morning.”

But I have actually gotten through a bit you’ll be pleased to know, Peter.  Not the whole volume. And then reflecting and you're saying, ‘you wish the Chief of Defence was here’, and we know of course why he’s not here. He has tremendous pressure on his time. But I wish the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were here to have heard what you just said. Anne said that the first volume of the current official histories of East Timor has been written and been provided and I think some of the messages that you just conveyed, which I certainly am conveying on behalf of and in support of Professor Stockings and his team, certainly need to be heard by the Minister and Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I arrived here on the 17th of December 2012, effectively arriving from Mars with no professional expertise nor understanding of museums and in particular that of the Australian War Memorial other than some experience with the military and veterans community and having grown in a family with a long history of military service, at least on my mother's side. And when I arrived, I arrived into a controversy. There were people who were pushing for peacekeepers, who are killed to be placed on the Bronze panels of the Roll of Honour. The military and veterans establishment at the time was firmly opposed to this concept. One very senior retired army person, a veteran, said to me privately and then publicly, ‘Oh peacekeepers are killed in car crashes.’ A very senior person then in the Australian Army said to me, ‘Well, if I go to war, my wife knows that I may not come back. But if I'm peacekeeping, she knows I'll be back in six or 12 months,’ and I corrected him in that view. I then met Sarah McCarthy, who was just a little girl when her father was killed. As you all know, it was documented here, Peter McCarthy was in our uniform, wearing a blue beret, a helmet, in Lebanon in 1988 he went over a landmine and was killed. And Sarah McCarthy asked me, ‘Why can't I put a poppy next to my father’s name?’ Avril Clark is the mother of Jamie Clark, 3RAR, fully armed, looking for weapons cache in the Solomon Islands in 2005. He goes down a mining shaft and is killed. His mother asked me, ‘Why?’ Pointing to the Vietnam Roll of Honour, she said, ‘Why did my son’s life and what he did for Australia worth any less than those.’ In my meeting with the then Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, who prosecuting the argument for peacekeepers and their recognition as such, I said to him, and he of course through his father had studied leadership in Vietnam, very familiar with it, but I said to him, ‘There are 520 names on the Vietnam Roll of Honour, there should be 521, but I’m going to fix that soon.’ I said, ‘You realise 106 died in the following circumstance; knife fights with South Vietnamese soldiers in bars, misadventure, suicide, alcoholic poisoning, six were murdered by other Australians – every one of them should be on the Roll of Honour.’ That is the reflection of the Vietnam War. But don't tell me a man who was killed driving over a landmine as a peacekeeper, that in some way he should not similarly, or so be recognised along with his other peacekeepers and those that died in emergency relief operations and humanitarian disaster.

Ben Roberts Smith, Victoria Cross, Medal of Gallantry recipient, notwithstanding some of the pygmies in the media trying to tear him down, sitting in my office at the time we were contemplating this, and I said, ‘Ben, what's your view of this peacekeepers going on the Roll of Honour.’ He said, ‘Well, you've got a bit of an idea what I do.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I would rather do what I have done, and what I do, any day, than be an unarmed peacekeeper on the Golan Heights’

The Second World War had three major geo-strategic consequences for our country and what has happened since. The first is we knew we could not rely on Britain any longer for our independence of our security. We went instead look across the pacific to the United States and formalised it in 1951 with our alliance, the bedrock of our own security and security and prosperity in our region. The second was that unconditional victory infused us with confidence and whilst not articulated as such, we knew that our future would lie to the immediate north in Asia and our region. But it was an emergent Asia of which we would be able to deal perhaps on equal and respected terms. And the third was, that it inaugurated that generational struggle against communism and democracy, which really shaped our outlook on the world for the best part of 40 years, and that Vietnam Roll of Honour, Malayan Emergency, Confrontation, Korea is a reflection of much of what is contained within these pages; a political and religious insurgencies to which Australia contributed in creating and maintaining peace.  

When those four Australians and we were very early committers to the United Nations, as you all know, our commitment to multilateralism, which has waxed and waned at different periods through our various governments and some of the less impressive aspects of the United Nations, it has nonetheless remained steadfast. And in that first UN peacekeeping mission in September 1947, when we sent four Australians to the table, in those 72 years since there has been Australian peacekeepers, and observers deployed every single year since. Fourteen Australians have been killed, including four police officers and nine Australians have been killed in emergency relief operations.

It's interesting that just before I came over here I popped my head into the media office at the Memorial. I knew what the answer to my question would be, but I thought I'd just check, I said ‘how many media are attending the launch of the peacekeeper volume?’ They said, one of them said to me, ‘Oh, none, there's not much interest in this.’ We had a huge media packed here in Anzac Hall on Wednesday morning Peter and they were here because we were receiving the medals – Military cross with two bars – of Alfred Youdale, one of only nine airmen in the First World War to be accorded the MC with two bars, and quite rightly, and understandably, there was immense media interest in that. It's a sad but cruel paradox that the Australian media currently engaged in a crusade to get access to information have apparently no interest in covering the release of an Official History, which has fearlessly been undertaken and written by three historians and also to tell the story to a broader audience of peacekeeping itself. In fact on that, in context, there are five things that really contribute to Post Traumatic Stress amongst peacekeepers and at the same time that the The Daily Telegraph, our leading tabloid in New South Wales is running a crusade on behalf of veterans who have taken their own lives, more than a few of them, who’s service is documented in these pages. The thing that contributes to that PTS amongst those peacekeepers  is that sense of isolation as you know, being out in a remote place, being only one or two or three or four people at an observer post, a sense of mission ambiguity, not knowing exactly what the mission is and personified perhaps in the most extreme form in Rwanda, having to exercise extreme restraint in the face of extreme provocation, then there’s meaninglessness, the fact that your country doesn’t know, let alone care what you did, which is one of the reasons of course why we are about to have a significant expansion in our gallery spaces here and a major expansion of the peacekeeping story, and a permanent exhibition to explain what this country does to stop war in the first place, and to create, and to maintain peace. And as Kev Ryan said coming out of Namibia, ‘It’s as if we never were. I’m angry the country doesn’t care.’ And we at the memorial certainly have a responsibility to see that they do know, and that they do care. Then there’s powerlessness, the sense that in  large conglomerate, particularly of the United Nations, that you have no sense of power over what’s happening to you and the operation that you’re doing, and then of course there are the risks, the attendant risks that are undertaken by our peacekeepers, and within these pages, really, these are the stories of, as we’ve  heard, from 1947 to 1982 those operations that commenced, and then we go up to 2006 where peace had already been negotiated for a particular conflict and these are Australians who’ve gone in usually under the auspices of the United Nations to then undertake,  often in isolated places, as I said, foot patrols, vehicle patrols, to be at observer posts and do everything they can to observe and then perhaps at times intervene when violence and other things re-erupt and unless you have been doing what someone else has ever done you can never really understand, no matter how hard you might try but one of the things which I find a little difficult to adjust to is – Anne Bennie mentioned Matina Jewell in her the introductory remarks – and in 2006 I was the Minister for Defence. In mid-July, the Israeli Defence Force went across the Lebanon border, and they didn’t just going with a bit of peacekeeping on their minds, they were at war with Hezbollah and I do understand certainly reasons why they were doing so, but they had infantry, tanks, artillery, fast jets … We were more than a little concerned as I pored over intelligence briefings and what happened was that in 2010, quite rightly, the authorities declared that that month became warlike service and conditions for those four Australian peacekeepers were quite rightly then commensurate with warlike service, and then out of the blue in February 2017 Matina Jewell receives a letter. Defence had changed it’s  mind, it wasn’t warlike. In my mind if an Israeli bomb comes in from a bomber and kills all your fellow peacekeepers – that is pretty ‘warlike’ to me. She subsequently sustained horrific back injuries in a UN vehicle manouvering at speed.  So if you could pass this back to various people, I’m very warlike on this matter, and I’ll be taking it up.  In terms of the book … some of the patronising advice I give to young people as I go through my journey in life is never launch a book, unless you’ve read it. Someone presents you with this, late on a Tuesday afternoon, and you’ve a whole range of things between then and now to be covered, and I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the whole thing, but I have read a bit of it … and I’d just like to read you some excerpts from the book which speaks for itself. As an example of the quality of the writing, you go to Australia’s and the problem of Palestine, peacekeeping in the Middle East, 48 to 67. No problem has proved more intractable for the UN than that of the former British mandate of Palestine. Seventy years after the organisation first dealt with problem Israel occupied the territory of one of its neighbours, has poor relations with others and has an unresolved relationship with the Palestinian state that was meant to have been born in 1947, but which is still not successfully emerged into the light. It is possible to argue that UN policy in this area has been wrongheaded from the start. Certainly, it’s not been successful. Only Kashmir can rival its longevity in the UN agenda. Seven decades after the organisation took up the issue of Palestine there is no solution in sight. Israel and its neighbours represent the theatre in which Australian peacekeepers have engaged the longest. Through the activities of H.V. Evatt Australia was heavily involved in the discussions that produced the partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel. And as an Australian, I am very proud in the role that we played in that.

Nevertheless, Australia’s primary strategic focus after the Second World War was towards aid, where it saw itself as an important representative of Western interest. Earlier chapters have discussed Australia’s role, diplomatic, as well as peacekeeping in Indonesia and Kashmir. There was, by contrast, little interest in contributing peacekeepers to the Middle East. However, the chance coincidence in 1956, when Australia’s membership with the Security Council and a need for more military observers to serve in the UN truce supervision organisation led Australia to contribute service observes to UNTSO, a commitment that has continued for more than 60 years. It is therefore Australia’s longest single peacekeeping commitment just as UNTSO is it itself, the UN’s oldest continuing peacekeeping operation.

And then, Yemen. And, I did look at the photos, it won’t surprise some of you to know, and there’s a photograph here, and having been in Afghanistan, and seen the places it reminds me of some of the terrain in Afghanistan, but it’s during 1963 Majors George Doherty and Norman James were deployed from UNSTO to Yemen, as part of the Yemen observation mission. Doherty is shown with members of a royalist tribe during a meeting to negotiate with the rebels. Doherty and the CMF officer from Tasmania. Then there’s another photograph here that got my attention, as an illustration of what you and those whom you represent do and have done on our behalf. There’s a black and white photograph here of Major Royce Skinner of the Australian Army and he’s talking with the Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan  about the UN imposed cease fire between Egyptian and Israeli forces  in the Qantara control centre in July 1967 and Skinner served at UNSTO from January ’67 to May ’68.

And then another photograph, just a simple photo; it’s obviously taken not by a professional photographer. It’s a blue sign with white writing on it, its got a crucifix at the top, it’s on a, it looks like a farm fence and then some pretty rough terrain back behind it and the caption says, “The site in Cyprus where Sergeant Ian Ward, of the New South Wales police, was killed when his Land Rover hit a land mine on 12th November 1974. The nearby memorial cairn, not visible in the photograph, marks the spot. Peter Londey, photograph, and the sign says, ‘Killed in the service of Peace.’

And then over the page, and as you know Jack Thurgar was here last week with The Courage of Peace, his spirit is here, and as we heard Peter mention. Then you’ve got a photograph here of young men with mine detectors and it’s clearing a path through an unmarked mine field that Jack Thurgar crossed to rescue Chrysostomos Seas, a Greek Cypriot farmer injured when his tractor hit two mines in the bugger zone on 9 October 1979. And as you know, he was awarded the Star of Courage for that. And then the Golan Heights to which Ben Roberts-Smith referred. Where possible the observers reoccupied the Golan observer posts but in many areas they now had to function as patrol bases with the observers mobile patrols to monitor the new front lines. Both sides were offered UNSTO the use of helicopters to assist the observers in patrolling Mount Hermon, the offer was refused. An Australian officer in Washington commented, ‘It’s an example of how both sides seek to make use of the UN in support of their positions.’ The Israeli’s wanted the UN to certify in affect, their patrol of the Mount Hermon area, and the Syrian’s desire to validate their complaints of the Israeli post cease-fire advances. After an initial period of calm the war of attrition developed in the Golan with daily exchanges of artillery fire and air attacks. UNTSO observation posts were once again damaged. For the observers, travel around the area became dangerous, although fortunately no serious injuries occurred. The observers could also be subject to harassment by local forces. In one case on the 31st of May 1974 an American and Irish observer had been forced to stay in their post for an extra 24 hours owing to heavy shelling in the area. Around midnight, a lone soldier burst into the observer’s caravan and threatened them with a submachine gun. The Irishman reached for a flashlight on the floor, at which the soldier became very aggressive, forcing the observers out of the caravan in their underwear and without shoes. Throwing rocks at them and firing off rounds in their vicinity, he forced them to walk four kilometres to a Syrian peasant’s house, where the woman gave them warm clothing before they were again forced on, running for several more kilometres to a platoon headquarters. Here, they were unable to convince the officer that they were not Israeli soldiers. Eventually, they were taken by truck to a higher headquarters where they persuaded a more senior officer of their identity. The troops turned out not to be Syrians, but Saudi Arabians who thought the operation observer post was an Israeli position.

And then, I’ll finish up on this so, so we go to Lebanon. On the 12th of January 1988 an Australian UNTSO observer, Captain Peter McCarthy, was killed when his vehicle hit a land mine. He was the first Australian military peacekeeper to die since Lieutenant General Nimmo had died of natural causes in 1966. Nimmo as you know was in Kashmir. McCarthy was due to leave OGL in a few days but responded to a request to accompany a Canadian observer Major Gilbert Cote on a routine patrol after his planned patrol partner had been called away. They had driven up a hill overlooking the Mediterranean near the village of Chamaa, the hill was often used as a vantage point from which one could see as far as Tyre, 14 kilometres to the north and the Israeli border to the south. On the way up the hill, the pair were nearly forced off the road by Israeli armoured personnel carrier. Coming down early in the afternoon, they hit a landmine, McCarthy was killed, Cote seriously injured. McCarthy’s wife and young daughter were living at Nahariya with other OGL families. McCarthy’s body was returned to Australia for burial in his home town of Quirindi, NSW. The commander of the Australian contingent, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Jauncey, wrote later that he did not believe any of the belligerents were seeking deliberately to harm an Australian UNTSO and that hazard stemmed from the likelihood of an accident from a mistake by the ill-educated and ill-disciplined local forces, both Arab and Jew. Jauncey had been told that perpetrators of the incident who killed McCarthy considered it, and I quote, “A regrettable accident.” McCarthy was the first UNTSO observer to die in Lebanon in result of hostile action, since UNTSO’s involvement began there in 1949. By contrast, more than 150 UNIFIL personnel had been killed since 1978.

Major Chris Wrangle, an engineer officer, was a member of the search and rescue operation. He located the incident site, immediately requested air and medical evacuation and coordinated the rescue operation. He was awarded a commendation from the Chief of General Staff of the Australian Army, which referred to Wrangle’s leadership and initiative as one of the major factors in a successful rescue and treatment of the seriously injured Major Cote. Captain Tony Fraser, an aviation core officer, received a similar commendation for assuming responsibility for the repatriation of Captain McCarthy’s family. And of course just for momentary small excerpts, we get very much a number of important messages. First, to our political and military leadership is that these official histories are important. They are vitally important and that’s where I correct Peter, in his remarks he said they are important. I say they’re vitally important. And they’re important for a number of reasons. One is that the men and women whose history, who have created this history, need to have their story told and told in their lifetime. It is a part of their journey of coming to terms with not only what they’ve done, but the impact that its had upon them. It’s also critically important that the factual history, the truth that speaks to power, is documented, recorded, and published, in a reasonable period of time, so that our decision makers in particular, can learn from the things that we have done well, and the things that we haven’t. We will not ever continue to improve as a nation, whether it’s politically, diplomatically, or militarily, unless we know our history and know what we do well and know what we don’t.  So it’s my privilege – I didn’t expect it to be the case – but to officially launch the volume and in doing so pay tribute to the authors and David Horner for their superb professionalism and hard work.

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