Remembrance Day Commemoration – Honiara, Solomon Islands


Honiara, Solomon Islands

Friday 11 November, 2011

This morning we pause at the moment the First World War ended ninety-three years ago.

We remember the more than ten million soldiers who died in a war that was supposed to end all wars, and all those who have died in the wars that followed it.

They include the men who died on this island and off this coast.

They include 84 men who died off this coast when the Canberra was torpedoed and shelled by Japanese warships in the early hours of the morning on the 9th of August, 1942.

August 1942 was one of the darkest months in the darkest year in Australian history.

At the same time as Australians were dying off this coast they were also dying on the Kokoda Track as the Japanese pushed towards Port Moresby.

One of the men who died that month was the Captain of the Canberra, Frank Getting.

As he lay dying on the bridge of his burning ship he told the ship’s surgeon who was trying to save him to look after the other wounded men.

His last order to his second in command was “carry on”.

Three weeks later there is a fair chance the same command was being given on the Kokoda Track.

At Isurava the Australians were outnumbered. On the 29th of August their headquarters was about to be overrun.

That was when Bruce Kingsbury became a hero. Private Bruce Kingsbury was a real estate agent from Melbourne. He grabbed his bren gun and charged into the enemy, mowing down 30 and pushing the rest back into the jungle.

When he ran out of bullets he lent against a rock to reload his weapon and was hit and killed by a sniper’s bullet.

His actions earned him the first Victoria Cross on what was then Australian territory.

His courage halted the Japanese offensive that day and stopped the Australians from being overrun.

Some have speculated that his actions saved Australia. We will never really know.

We owe a great debt to men like Captain Frank Getting and Private Bruce Kingsbury – and the thousands like them at Kokoda, Milne Bay, on the Coral Sea, on the home front and across the Pacific.

Prime Minister John Curtin foretold what was to come in his Anzac Day message in April 1942:

“Today as in 1915 men are dying so that the nation may live…

There will come a new dawn, bringing with it peace and freedom for the peoples of the world, but we can reach it only by striving bravely through the storm and the blood and the grief of war.”

That new dawn has come; it shines over us because of those we remember today.

They include the thousands of Americans who died off this coast and on these shores.

The things we did together changed the course of history.

The success of American forces at Guadalcanal changed the course of our history. They helped to force the Japanese decision to withdraw back along the Kokoda Track.

The work of one Australian Naval officer had an equally large impact of the course American history and the history of the world.

A year after the sinking of the Canberra, Sub Lieutenant Arthur Evans was stationed here in a secret observation post on top of the Mount Veve volcano. It was secret because more than 10,000 Japanese troops were garrisoned below.

From that point he spotted an explosion – and dispatched two Solomon Islanders in a dugout canoe to investigate.

They found 11 survivors from a US patrol boat – including a young Lieutenant named John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Today Australian soldiers, sailors and air crew are still serving in the spirit of Kingsbury, Getting and Evans.

Here in the Solomons, in East Timor and Afghanistan.

In the last twelve months we have lost 11 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Of the millions who died in the great conflicts of the last century, and of the more than 100,000 Australians amongst them – today we think particularly of these 11 men.

Of their wives and girlfriends.

Their mum and dads.

Their sisters and brothers.

And their children.

None of us can fully understand or feel their loss.

But we can do one thing.

We can honour these men.

We do that by honouring a sacred pact – a pact made almost 100 years ago and passed on from one generation to the next – that we will remember them.

Lest we forget.