ANZAC: Lest we forget!

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Sue Langford - Australian High Commissioner

Today, 25 April 2017, marks 102 years since the landing of thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops on the shores of Gallipoli and the birth of the term ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps).

The thousands of soldiers who went ashore in the early hours of 25 April 1915 were met with strong resistance by Turkish soldiers.  Against the odds they held their ground.  They did not give up. At the end of the first day, some 2,000 ANZACs lay dead or dying. After eight months, the Allied forces withdrew from Gallipoli.  Over 10,000 Australian and New Zealand lives were lost.

For over a century now, we have commemorated the day of the landing as ANZAC Day.  We acknowledge the bravery shown by the ANZACs on 25 April and for eight months on Gallipoli.  

Today we honour all Australian and New Zealand men and women who have served in Gallipoli and in all wars that have followed. We honour not only those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also those who went to war and then returned home to try to resume a normal life and live with the horrors they had seen and the lossof the friends with whom they had served. 

We meet here today not to glorify war or praise the victors, but to remember all those who have served our countries during times of conflict and crisis and honour their selfless sacrifice. This is the true meaning of ANZAC Day. 

Today, I want to reflect on the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942,fought right here in the Pacific in an area separating the Solomon Islands, the eastern tip of New Guinea and the coast of Australia. 

Next week – 4-8 May – marks 75 years since this battle. The battle of the Coral Sea was betweenthe Imperial Japanese Navy and the Allied forces. It was the first time fighting took place entirely by aircraft attacking ships.  Aircraft carriers from opposing sides did not sight each other nor did they fire directly upon each other.

To understand the significance of this Battle, we must go back to late 1941.  Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on 7 December 1941 resulted in a terrible loss of life and the destruction of much of the United States Fleet.  The following day, 8 December 1941, the United States declared war against Japan.  War had come to the Pacific.  After a series of unbroken victories stretching from Pearl Harbour to Java, the Japanese Navy held undisputed command of the eastern Pacific Ocean.  

The threat of isolation or invasion was very real for Australia and most South Pacific Island countries, including Samoa.  It was a tense and uncertain time for the Allies.

Seventeen-year old American Marine,Carl Matthews, stationed in American Samoa in 1942 wrote thatan attack by the Japanese was expectedany day.  The Second Marine Brigade and the Marine ArtilleryBattalion defending the island would have been no real match for a sizable Japanese force. He wrote that the marines stationed on Samoa in 1942, [and] the citizens of Samoa…should ever be grateful to those who fought and died in the Battle of the Coral Sea. 

The Battle of the Coral Sea was an important turning point in the war in the Pacific.  Both sides portrayed the Battle as a victory.  The Japanese sank more ships than they lost while the Allies not only prevented the Japanese from achieving their objective, the occupation of Port Moresby, but reduced the forces available for the Japanese for future operations.

Before the Battle, the Japanese had a continual string of victories while afterwards, it suffered an almost continual series of defeats, including at Midway one month later. Without Coral Sea, there would have been no Midway, no Guadalcanal, and no victory in the Pacific.It was the largest naval battle ever fought so close to Australia.  

Able Seaman Roy Scrivener, acrew member on Australia’s HMAS Hobart, described the battle as:  ‘the most magnificent sight I had ever seen. There were two aircraft carriers, there were battle ships, there were cruisers, there were destroyers and trailing astern and a little separated, were the tankers with their destroyer escorts.And what a wonderful feeling I had until I realised, my God, they’re not here to play games. We’re all here for fair dinkum trouble!’

And trouble they found. The battle came at a great cost with close to 2,000 lives lost. 

We honour their courage and bravery.We also recognize the valour of the Japanese.

ANZAC Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli in 1915.  It goes beyond the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. On ANZAC Day we remember those who served in the Australian and New Zealand defence forces on active service from the Boer War to Afghanistan, including those currently serving with United Nations missions.  We remember service personnel and civilians of every nation who suffered or continue to suffer through war.

ANZAC Day is a day for us to stand together to remember and thank in our own way all those who lost their lives or suffered injuries as they fought courageously for their country and their families back home. We remember their sacrifice and their bravery and we honour them with utmost respect today. 

Through this remembrance, their memories will live on. Lest we forget. Soifua.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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