Friday, April 24, 2009

We are free because of their sacrifice

The National Editorial


THE Anzac tradition will again be in the spotlight tomorrow as Papua New Guineans join Australians and New Zealanders in remembering the sacrifices of the first Anzacs as well as those who laid down their lives in the service of their country in more recent conflicts around the globe.

Tomorrow, it will be 94 years since Australian and New Zealand troops waded ashore on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. It was for many the final journey of their short lives.

Although it is nearly a century since the terrible events of Gallipoli, it is important for all of us to pause to reflect on the tragedy of war and conflict, which continue even in this seemingly peaceful time.

In the year since last Anzac Day, six Australian soldiers have died in action in Afghanistan, bringing the total to 10 since the start of that conflict in 2002, in the aftermath of the Sept 11 attacks in the United States in 2001.

That is the greatest loss of lives of Australian soldiers in war since the Vietnam War which ended more than three decades ago.

Australian defence personnel will gather at the Bomana war cemetery in Port Moresby at dawn tomorrow, joining their comrades at bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste for the traditional Anzac dawn services.

On the Gallipoli peninsula, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders will attend the traditional dawn service. Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith will represent his government. And in France, hundreds, many travelling across the English Channel from the UK, will gather for the service at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Across Australia and New Zealand, tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out for the dawn services and Anzac Day services.

Australia’s biggest march occurs in Sydney with more than 20,000 veterans and their descendants expected to turn out.

Thousands of war veterans will re-live battles fought long ago in faraway lands – stories of courage, sacrifice and, ultimately, triumph against impossible odds.

They will also be remembering mates who never made it back, forever to lie in graves far from home. They will remember the misery, fear and suffering that war always inflicts.

Brisbane man George Palmer will remember the night he survived the nightmare on PNG’s Kokoda Track, thanks to what he says was a botched bombing.

The World War II veteran recalled the horrifying events yesterday. Japanese soldiers outnumbered the Aussie diggers of the 39th Battalion 10 to one at Kokoda, so artillery and US low-level bombers were called in to carpet-bomb their location, he says. Instead of the bombers targeting the enemy, they were mistakenly given the Australians’ location and Mr Palmer says they all thought they were about to die – from friendly fire.

“We could hear them, but we couldn’t see the planes,” he said.

“But the bombers ended up dropping the bombs five

miles out to sea.”

The off-target bombing and a hard-fought battle against the Japanese, with some timely help from the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, is how Mr Palmer lived to tell the tale, and to march in Brisbane tomorrow.

Here in PNG, those who fought and those who lived through World War II will have their own memories of the fateful events of that era. Soldiers from distant lands criss-crossing their homeland, causing massive devastation for reasons most of them could not fathom.

From the jungles and beaches of Rabaul and Wewak, from the mountains of Morobe to Kokoda, Guna, Bona and Sanananda, Papua New Guineans joined hands with the Australians to fight off the rampaging Japanese.

Few of the Fuzzy Wuzzies are left today, but those who are still with us and their descendants can take comfort in the knowledge that their sacrifice all those years ago allows us to live in freedom today.

The generous response from Papua New Guineans to the Victorian bushfire disaster earlier this year shows that an abundance of goodwill towards Australia continues to this day.

Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare’s State visit to Australia next week will no doubt reinforce the already strong ties between our two nations, which had become strained during the previous Howard regime.

New Zealand also continues to play an active role in the development of PNG, particularly on troubled Bougainville.

So on the eve of this Anzac Day, we salute those who fought and died in battle, and acknowledge that we are forever indebted to them.

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