Anzac Day 2017: national ceremony commemorative address

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Vice Admiral Ray Griggs
anzac day

Anzac Day National Ceremony, Australian War Memorial 2017. See all official photographs.

In the telling of the ANZAC Day story we understandably gravitate to what happened on the Gallipoli peninsula on this day 102 years ago.

For the last few years we have rightly focused on the Great War and particularly on the Western Front and the carnage, confusion and courage that our young nation’s troops were subjected to or displayed.

Arguably though, our darkest year was not 100 years ago but 75. 1942 challenged us more as a nation than any other. A year in which the ANZAC story of dealing with adversity is borne out like few others.


In the final days of 1941, just three weeks into the Pacific War, Prime Minister John Curtin warned of the “supreme tests” Australia would face in the year ahead.

Evoking the poetry of Bernard O’Dowd, Curtin foreshadowed the arrival of war on Australia’s doorstep and posited whether 1942 would bring either “disaster” or a new “dawn”.

“All Australia is the stake in this war”, he declared


The year started with Britain facing its own “darkest hour” in the fight against Nazi Germany, just as Japanese forces were sweeping across Asia, with Hong Kong and the Malay Peninsula falling quickly.

Despite valiant Allied efforts of resistance, but lacking control of the sea and the air, Singapore inevitably fell on 15 February.

At that moment, 15,000 Australians from the 8th Division were condemned as prisoners of war, thousands more would die in captivity, their war as POWs was far from over but it was to be a very different war from that they had expected.

Just two days later 22 Australian Army nurses were brutally massacred at Bangka Island having surrendered along with wounded servicemen and civilian evacuees from Singapore.

It is hard for us today to understand the strategic shock that the fall of Singapore gave rise to, how it sapped morale and how it made Australians feel very alone.


Just four days later that point was driven home when 188 Japanese carrier borne aircraft, many, veterans of Pearl Harbour, bombed Darwin, devastating the town and leaving 243 people dead.

Among the dead was the first American serviceman killed helping to defend Australia as the US destroyer Peary was lost after sustaining a heavy air attack along with 88 of her crew.

Despite great heroism, there were also less conspicuous acts in Darwin as there always is in war.

This was the first of a series of 65 attacks on the Australian mainland throughout 1942, which even included the war coming to Sydney on the night of 31st May with the audacious Japanese midget submarine attack.


Just over a week after Darwin was bombed, Australian morale was struck another blow when the cruisers HMAS Perth and USS Houston were sunk in a short but vicious and gallant battle in the Sunda Strait.

Over 1000 Australian and US sailors were lost that night, More than 350 crew members were from HMAS Perth, including Captain Hec Waller whose death was described in dispatches as “a heavy deprivation for the young Navy of Australia”. Many others were lost as POWs as the war went on.

Days later there was another heroic loss when Lieutenant Commander Robert Rankin, in command only a few short weeks, turned his hopelessly outgunned sloop HMAS Yarra toward Japanese cruisers and destroyers in a vain attempt to allow the convoy the ship was protecting a chance to scatter.

Sadly the outcome was pre-ordained, the stories of courage, such as Rankin’s and Leading Seaman Buck Taylor’s, who continued to fire till the end, were not.


While the bulk of the RAAF was heavily engaged in the European theatre, our Hudson bombers based in Darwin from 2 and 13 squadrons continued their dangerous missions over Timor having already operated out of bases in the Dutch East Indies since late 1941 and in early 1942.

They attacked shipping and bombed Japanese targets in treacherous skies that they did not control.


Against this backdrop and with Australian spirits sagging, the Japanese started to expand their defensive perimeter further into the South West Pacific and the threat of cutting the lines of communication between Australia and the United States became very real.

Forewarned by intelligence of the impending Japanese operations, Allied forces deployed the Yorktown and Lexington carrier task forces just north east of Australia.

Two Australian ships, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia and the light cruiser HMAS Hobart contributed to the Allied force.

As a testament to the gravity of the situation, and what Australia had to lose, the Prime Minister rose in Parliament and announced that a “great naval battle (was) proceeding in the south-west Pacific zone”.

“It may be for many of them the last full measure of their devotion - to accomplish the increased safety and security of this territory” he warned.

From that moment on, the significance of the Battle of the Coral Sea was cemented in Australia’s history.

The largest naval battle ever fought so close to home was a tactical loss, but a strategic victory lay in the loss of life and the wreckage of aircraft and ships.

It was the first time the Japanese had been halted during their southwards advance in the Pacific.

From there, the pendulum slowly started to swing, and the outcomes of some very tough battles in the months that followed further boosted Allied morale and momentum.

Australians continued to step forward, the 6th and 7th Divisions who had returned from the Middle East fought in gruelling conditions on the Kokoda Track and at Milne Bay, and supported by RAAF Kittyhawk pilots, they ended the Japanese campaign to take Port Moresby.

In Timor, Sparrow Force tied up a Japanese Division for months with their raiding tactics.  Across the South West Pacific our coast watchers provided invaluable intelligence.

Australia by years end was now more secure and became the launching pad for the long road to victory.


1942 was a pivotal year in the Pacific War.  I have only mentioned but a few of the many actions and battles that took place across this vast maritime theatre. Enough I trust though to give a sense of its crucial importance to our nation.

It is often said that we as a nation came of age at Gallipoli, but 1942 I think it is fair to say, was a year that unified the country like no other, a year where the ‘war effort’ became a national imperative.

It was a year in which conflict came to our doorstep, and a year in which our future Alliance with the United States was forged.

In 1942 it was the collective efforts of the whole nation that allowed the year to end with a new dawn rather than in disaster. 

The thread that connects our troops at Gallipoli to those in 1942 and to those standing watch today is the grit, the determination, and the will to endure the adversity they face in fighting for our way of life and our freedoms.

This fight has always involved great sacrifice and we have not always prevailed, but, our troops have always fought in a way that warrants our gratitude, our respect and most importantly, thoughtful reflection.

That’s why we gather here, every year, from dawn and throughout the day.

That’s why we must remember them, always.

Lest we forget.

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