Victory in the Pacific Day Commemorative Service
Monday, 15 August 2022
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC
Diyn Babana Gamarada Gadigal Ngura
In greeting you, I pay my respects to the Gadigal, the Traditional Owners of this land and to Elders, past, present and emerging.
Since its dedication in 1929, the Cenotaph where we are gathered today has been a place of commemoration. 77 years ago, on 15 August 1945, this was a place, not so much a day of commemoration, but of jubilation. The official announcement had been made that morning that Japanese Emperor Hirohito had surrendered.
Indeed, the previous day, with more than a whisper in the air of the news to come, the Sydney Morning Herald reported “Singing and Dancing in the City Streets” and that “in Martin Place, King’s Cross and other parts of the city, the behaviour of the crowd indicated expectancy” – expectancy that the war after 6 long years was over.
As the sun set on the eve of the official announcement, there was a solemn moment which captured the jubilation of victory, the reflection of what had been and the sadness that comes with the loss of war. The Herald reported:
[Here in Martin Place, the band]:
“began to play ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’ The people hushed immediately and sang the hymn through, and then, still standing quietly, joined in singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and the National Anthem. ‘Now will you please all go quietly home,’ said the announcer through the amplifiers. The crowd cheered again. Then everyone began to drift away, leaving the streets and footpaths white with torn paper and streamers.”
The formal surrender on 2 September 1945 was, indeed, historic, signalling the end of a war that had stretched from Europe to North Africa, Asia to the Pacific; a war that, for Australians, was not fought solely on foreign fields, as in the First World War, but reached the heart of our cities, seas and harbour.
That was 1945 and 2 years ago we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the end of the war. 1942 was a different story and this year the RSL has commemorated several 80th anniversaries of the battles of that year. Viewed in hindsight, that year was the darkness that came before the dawn, the brutal struggle before the surrender.
1942 was a pivotal year of the Second World War and in August the Pacific was on a knife-edge. After the war, a Japanese document was discovered which predicted that Guadalcanal would be the “fork in the road [that] would lead to victory for them or for us.”
As the Australian troops were fighting deep in the mountains and jungles along the Kokoda Track, the Royal Australian Navy was engaged as a screening force for the US landings in the Solomon Islands.
Late in the month, the Japanese had launched an amphibious landing on Allied airfields at Milne Bay. In repelling that action, the RAAF, working together with Australian land forces, achieved the ‘first full-scale defeat of the Japanese on land.’ Unable to support fronts in both New Guinea and Guadalcanal, the Imperial Japanese Army was unable to undertake the planned overland advance on Port Moresby.
During that one month – August 1942 – in the Pacific, over 50,000 people on both sides of the conflict lost their lives in battle and to tropical diseases and starvation.
That toll fell heavily on the families and the children to whom men and women did not return. For generations afterwards, stories of service and sacrifice, courage and camaraderie have continued to be passed down from person to person and family to family. And many other stories – of regret, brokenness, grief and loss – simmered away in families and memories – too often untold.
Yet, from that time, great and enduring friendships developed. Our commemorative services – and we convey our thanks to the Returned and Services League of Australia (NSW) for this service – provide important opportunities to catch up with friends, mates and to share those stories.
Our friendships with our Allies and with our Pacific ‘family’ have deepened and remained steadfast. Over time, important new friendships – including with Japan – have emerged, whose families and communities shared the same deep grief of loss. I acknowledge the presence of the Consul-General of Japan amongst us and his friendship to the State of New South Wales.
Although there is a declared winner of a war, we all know that no-one wins a war.
Today, we recall both the relief and regret this day represents. We express our deep gratitude to the veterans among us and, to those who are not with us, for their service and sacrifice.
As we remember those from 80 years ago who did not return after those terrible battles of 1942, in a few moments we will follow the example of those who filled Martin Place on that day in August 1945, the eve of VP Day. After a solemn moment of reflection, we too will drift away, just as the crowds drifted away that evening 77 years ago, thankful for peace, mindful of the cost of war, and with trust that that war will forever be the last war.
Lest we forget.