Chief of Air Force - Address at the Anzac Day National Ceremony
(This is Ngannawal country. Today we meet on Ngunnawal country.)
I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, Traditional Custodians of this land, and I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have served our nation in both peace and war.
Since 1916, our nation has come together to commemorate the sacrifices of the Australians who landed, fought and died on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli.
As the years advanced, more brave men and women have followed those first Anzacs, and through their service and sacrifice, hold their rightful place among the pantheon of Australian heroes remembered on this day.
Many of the stories we tell on Anzac day are about the horrific toll the trenches of Europe, the cliffs of Gallipoli, or the jungles of Papua took on the minds and bodies of young Australians.
In the year of the Air Force centenary, I would like to mark the equally vicious fighting in the skies above.
Of the countless Anzac stories in our national country, today I want to share with you one that exists about SQNLDR Peter Jensen.
Peter was born in Sydney on the 12th of April 1921 – a few days after the birth of the Royal Australian Air Force.
He was just 19 when he joined Air Force eager to defend his country and was trained as a Wireless Air Gunner.
He spoke fondly of his time in training, forging new friendships and exploring the towns around his Canadian training base.
It was only after his training - when he saw the merchant cruiser that would take him to Britain sitting silent in the Halifax Harbour - that the playfulness of his endeavour came to an end.
“Suddenly, I realised there was a war on and I didn’t like it very much at all,” he had said.
During the war effort he flew in No. 461 SQN Sunderlands over the roiling Atlantic Ocean hunting the German u-boats that were crippling Allied supply lines.
There was success.
On their long patrols he and his mates discovered and sank multiple u-boats helping to eliminate the threat to Allied shipping.
There was chivalry.
He and his fellow aircrew showed compassion and mercy when, after destroying a German u-boat, they sacrificed their own life-raft and dropped it to the desperate submariners in the water.
There was also horror.
In his four years of service, he suffered the deaths of his friends, the torment of not knowing if a sortie over water would be his last, and 17 hours in a life raft after his flying boat was shot to pieces by enemy aircraft.
Even so, on each occasion, when the time came, he got up, donned his flak jacket, climbed aboard, and did what had to be done.
The war ended, but Peter’s service didn’t.
He led the Air Force Sunderland Squadron branch which preserved the tradition of the aircraft, provided mentoring for current members, and crucially, created a community for veterans which provided support and friendships for those who may have otherwise gone without.
Peter died this month on the 8th of April, a few days before his 100th birthday.
I don’t tell this story because he is extraordinary, I tell his story because he felt himself to be ordinary.
Peter was just one of the many who gave their country and their community a lifetime of service.
For me, this is the spirit of the Anzac.
As each year passes us by, we weather the loss of those ordinary people who did extraordinary things in defence of our home and our values.
So, along with our esteemed dignitaries, we are blessed today with the presence of Gordon Richardson, Les Cook, Terry Colhoun, Kenneth Keamy, Ted Flemming, Bernard Skarbeck and Les Scott as well as a number of other veterans who can bear testimony to World War Two.
If war is to come again, if our people are ever again called to fight, let us be guided by the example of their service.
My meagre words can never do justice to their humble silence, nor the incredible debt owed to our Anzacs.
How best to try?
The beautiful marble monuments we chisel will eventually erode.
The grand iron statues we cast will eventually rust.
So let us carve them from our stories, and let them live eternal in our collective memory.
These are the people and the stories of our nation.
Lest we forget.