Today is ANZAC Day. The day we set aside to look sacrifice right in the eyes.
And today, the one we see staring right back at us is a brave, sacrificial Australian. Wing Commander Charles Learmonth, DFC & Bar.
Just 26 years old, Charles knew sacrifice. He put himself in harm’s way to push the enemy back from our shores. But his greatest sacrifice, which saved hundreds of lives, didn’t involve a bomb or a bullet.
We see him on that sparkling afternoon. Handsome. Talented. Brave. A Victorian who’d married a lovely West Australian. He has already flown 159 missions against the enemy. A deeply impressive man, his DFC citation read that he had “displayed tactical ability amounting to genius.”
We see him that day, at the controls of his Bristol Beaufort — an Australian made torpedo bomber which, frankly, had a lot of problems. A mysterious shake had destroyed 90 other Beauforts and many of its crews.
We see the two other Beauforts Charles is leading on a training run, cruising low above the Indian Ocean on that warm afternoon in January, flying not far from here, near Rottnest Island.
And then we see it happen. The rattle becomes a shudder. The shudder becomes a violent shake, from the tail, all the way to the cockpit.
And here’s what we don’t see. We don’t see him screaming. We don’t see him yelling at how unfair it all is — though it absolutely was.
Charles didn’t yell. We know this because we have the notes from his radio transmissions. He radioed Flight Lieutenant Ken Hewitt, who was a pilot of one of the other Beauforts.
Charles asked Ken to fly in close and observe his shuddering tail, which he knew would soon be the death of him. Charles wanted Ken to see what the problem really was.
Charles also carefully described what he could see, hear and feel what the problem was — knowing that there was no way he could fix it. But if he described it well enough, he knew that someone, someday could fix it.
In those moments, when Charles Learmonth had every right to think about his life, what he deserved, he thought of others, the dozens of air crews who would be able to fly safely, if they could solve the problem in the plane.
These transmissions didn’t last long. A few minutes of shuddering and the trim tab on his tail flipped upright, forcing the plane to sharp descent. Charles Learmonth's Beaufort crashed into the sea.
There were no survivors.
But good things come with sacrifice.
With the information from Charles’ radio transmission, the problem in Beauforts was found. It was a small component in the elevator trim tab. All the RAAF Beauforts were grounded while they were modified. And the problem didn’t return.
We will never know how many more crews would have perished with that problem. But we do know why it was stopped. It was because of the sacrifice of Charles Learmonth.
The sacrifices you make today may not be spectacular. But you can be sure that the good things that will come to your family, your community, your nation, when you make sacrifices. Even small things like seeing a problem that no one else has solved, and doing something about it.
This year we mark the centenary of the RAAF in which Charles Learmonth served. And it is a story of sacrifice.
350,000 women and men have given up civilian life to serve, and 11,100 airmen and women have given their lives defending our homeland.
Why do they do it? The answer is in their motto: per ardua ad astra. Through adversity, we reach the stars. Through hardship, setback, giving up our own interests — through sacrifice comes the good. That’s how we reach the stars.
11,100 Charles Learmonths have gone before you and me, sacrificing themselves with the RAAF, so that we would be safe today. 350,000 have worn our flag, our southern cross — a universal symbol of sacrifice — they’ve given up some of their freedom, so you would have your freedom today.
So I hope you join me in saying a prayer of thanks for the life of Charles Learmonth, and the armies of brave Australians who have walked in his path.
We say a prayer of thanks for the ANZACs, and indeed all the men and women who have served, and those who continue to serve our country every day.
We pause to reflect on the contributions made by the members of our ADF who have displayed great courage, discipline, and self-sacrifice in choosing a life of service to their country.
I believe we need to continue holding this same sacrifice as a cornerstone of our Australian culture.
Just as it is important to reflect on our national identity, even more so is the need to continue to preserve our values, as we honour the ANZACs whose sacrifice built it.
Because it’s by that sacrifice, through that adversity, that we have our peace.
Lest we forget.
Anzac Day will look very different this year, due to the difficult decision to cancel local services around the country.
Only a selection of dawn services will be held, which the public have been asked not to attend.
And it's vital we stay home, in order to beat COVID-19.
But we can all still participate in ANZAC Day and honour Australia's fallen.
Driveway Dawn Service
I encourage you to light a candle and join millions of Australians this year for the Driveway Dawn Service. The RSL is encouraging people to gather in their driveway at 5.55am.
The ABC will broadcast the National Commemorative Service live from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra from 5.30am local time on its main television channel, ABC iview, RN and across its 55 metropolitan and regional radio stations.
The easiest way to tune in from WA is by using the ABC listen app and selecting ABC Radio Perth or by tuning your radio to 720AM.
At 6.00am, the Commemorative Service will broadcast The Ode, The Last Post and a one-minute silence.
Commemorating At Home
Take some time to remember those who have fought and sacrificed in the service of our country.
I will be thinking of my grandfather, Flight Lieutenant Norman “Bill” Hastie DFC who, on 31 March 1945, flew into combat against the Japanese for the last time. His aircrew's mission: rescue two downed Aussie airmen.
The RAAF Catalina aircrew landed on the water under heavy enemy fire. Bill was severely wounded as they rescued their countrymen before flying safely home. Bill, his flight crew and their Catalina are pictured above.
The Gallipoli Centenary Commemorative Ceremony from 2015 will be broadcast on the ABC main channel at 12.30pm, followed by the Villers Bretonneux Centenary Commemorative Ceremony from 2018, starting at 1.30pm. State and Territory 2019 Anzac Day marches will be available on iview from late on 24 April. Consult a local guide for details relevant to your area.
Governor-General David Hurley's Anzac Day address will be broadcast at 6.55pm (local time) on the ABC’s main television channel and on ABC Radio at 7.05pm local time (5.05pm WA).
Carrying The Fire: ANZAC With Kids
One of the things I will miss most this year is the opportunity to involve my kids in the rituals of ANZAC Day. For the last two years my boy Jonathan has marched with me in Mandurah.
But there are many ways we can teach young people about ANZAC Day from home.
- The Australian War Memorial has put together some children's activities, including colouring sheets, instructions on how to make a paper poppy and remembrance wreath.
- The Memorial has many educational resources for children of different ages, including diary excerpts from a Gallipoli veteran. There are also historical resources available at the Department of Veterans Affairs ANZAC Portal.
- You might also like to consider baking some ANZAC biscuits with the kids.
For the appropriate ages, you could also put on Peter Weir's classic war film Gallipoli.
I contacted Peter several years ago to ask about the movie and asked him how much he drew on Charles Bean's work. Peter wrote back that Gallipoli was heavily inspired by Bean’s official history. He even gave me the exact page number in volume 2 of the Official History that informed the final scene. It reads:
"The 10th went forward to meet death instantly, the men running as swiftly and as straight as they could be at the Turkish rifles. With that regiment went the flower of the youth of Western Australia, sons of the old pioneering families, youngsters—in some cases two or three from the same home—who had flocked to Perth with their own horses and saddlery in order to secure enlistment in a mounted regiment of the A.I.F. Men known and popular, the best loved leaders in sport and work in the West, then rushed straight to their death. Gresley Harper and Wilfred, his younger brother, the latter of whom was last seen running forward like a schoolboy in a foot-race, with all the speed he could compass."
We are not able to observe ANZAC Day as we wish to this year. But there are still many ways we can honour those who have served to keep Australia safe.
May the ANZAC example of sacrifice, mateship and courage be our guide as we care for one another through this present crisis.
Interview with 6PR's Simon Beaumont
"If it wasn't for Kuga's actions in the early detection of the concealed enemy position, his drive and courage in the face of enemy fire, both Kuga's handler and the patrol would have walked into the enemy ambush with potentially devastating loss of life."