I rise today to highlight two significant commemoration services, which I attended over the last week. I was honoured to be asked to represent the Premier and the Government of South Australia, by laying a wreath at both ceremonies. The first of these was the RAAF’s Battle of Britain Commemoration Service, at the Torrens Parade Ground on Saturday 15 September. Remembering in particular, the sacrifices of South Australia’s members of ‘The Few,’ the Australian airmen who fought to defend Britain from advancing German forces.
The Battle of Britain was fought for 3 months during July and October 1940. The German army, had recently defeated France, after moving through countries, such as Belgium and The Netherlands. It now turned its attention to its largest foe in Western Europe, Great Britain. An invasion or surrender of the island nation could have signalled defeat for the allies in Western Europe, with the United States yet to enter the war. Following the successful evacuation at Dunkirk a small glimmer of hope remained with British Forces that they could prevent an invasion. Yet their air force was facing superior German numbers. The battle was primarily fought using each nation’s air force and is viewed as the first major campaign to do so. RAF strategy on the ground however, was just as important as the bravery of the men in the air. The use of radar systems by the RAF would play a pivotal role in intelligence, handing its forces in the air a significant advantage.
Unable to break the RAF, the Lufwaffe turned its sights on breaking the will of the British people, through bombing London in what is referred to as The Blitz. This moved signalled the beginning of the end of the German invasion of Great Britain. Unable to gain superiority in the air, the German’s were thus denied the ability to send ground forces across the Channel. It would not be long before the turned their focus to the east and the vast, desolate expanses of the Soviet Union.
Although the RAAF did not participate in the battle, Australians and South Australians bravely fought to stop the German advance. The men were part of Britain’s Royal Air Force and although they have sadly passed, 8 were from South Australia. This figure accounts for a quarter of the total number of Australians to take part in the battle.
‘The Few’ include South Australians Flying Officer Robert Bungey DFC, Pilot Officer Charles Bennett, Flying Officer John Cock DFC, Sergeant Desmond Fopp AFC, Pilot Officer Alexander Hamilton, Pilot Officer Bill Millington DFC, Flight Lieutenant Richard Reynell and Squadron Leader Ron Lees KBE, CBE, DFC & Bar.
This service was a commemoration of their achievements and the legacy they forged, which continues to this day within the RAAF. They were ‘The Magnificent Few.’
On Sunday 16th September I joined the SA Peacekeepers Sub-Branch of the RSL at their annual Peacekeeping Commemorative Service. This service commemorates Australian participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.
Australians have played an important role in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations and continue to do so. Our largest involvement has come in our own region, where we have participated in a number of operations, particularly in recent years. These include peacekeepers from the Australian Federal Police and the defence force who carried out roles in the Solomon Islands.
Our defence force in particular, has had a strong role as peacekeeper in the Asia Pacific region and across the globe. The most well-known example of this, is Australia’s involvement in East Timor. Australian troops, led by our current Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC, helped in the formation of one of the world’s youngest nations. However the Australian Defence Force’s role in this sphere does not end there. For over 50 years they have participated in operations from areas, such as Kashmir in the 50’s and 60’s to Somalia and Bougainville in the 90s. In total, Australians have commanded 6 multinational operations, a commendable achievement.
I wish to thank those Australians who have fought, worked and given their lives in warzones overseas, not just for the protection of our own way of life, but so that others can live in peace as well.