Regardless of one's political beliefs surrounding more recent military engagements, the Australian community continuaes to hold in their hearts enormous affection for Anzac Day and, in turn, the men and women who have served our country.
Anzac Day is a day to remember those who have lost their lives, to reflect on their memory and to pay tribute to their legacy. When we do this, we reflect on the values which those past and present have fought for. The 25th of April, is increasingly becoming a day to reflect on the strength and spirit of Australian culture.It is also a time reflect on our soldiers’' service and the continuing burden that many veterans face as the physical and mental scars of war never fade.

We must also pay homage to our soldiers’' families, for their unwavering commitment to their loved ones. We must also think of the family, whose loved ones do not return from deployment. For those who do not return home, their families are left with the ever-present feeling of emptiness. Without question, we must do all we can to support these families.

 

2/40 Infantry Battalion, Headquarter Staff. 2/40 Infantry Battalion, Headquarter Staff.

Four words have come to embody the spirit of ANZAC: courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice. Those four words are extremely appropriate when considering the sacrifice of the 2nd/40th Battalion.
 
For those of you who are not aware, the 2nd/40th was a battalion of the Australian armed forces recruited mainly from Tasmania, with 795 out of the 919 boys in the battalion calling Tasmania home. This battalion took part in fighting against the Japanese on Timor in 1942. Outnumbered and lacking supplies, the majority of the 2nd/40th's personnel were captured and spent the rest of the war as POWs. However, 264 young men from the 2nd/40th Battalion lost their lives-74 in battle and 191 in captivity.

 

Timber statue memorial to Tasmanian POWs at Greens Beach, northern Tasmania.

I now want to take you on a journey of these men's sacrifice and let you know what is being done in Tasmania to remember these heroes. In July 1940, the young men of the 2nd/40th started training at Brighton, Tasmania. They moved to mainland Australia in 1941. In March of that year they moved north to Katherine in the Northern Territory, the remainder of the battalion arriving there on 25 April 1941. They trained in Katherine before moving on to Darwin.
 
In December 1941, the Japanese entered the war in the Pacific. The 2nd/40th were transported upon the Zealandia and the Westralia. They arrived at Timor on 12 December 1941 to form part of Sparrow Force, which was tasked with defending the island against invasion. Japanese air strikes began in January 1942 as a precursor to the invasion that finally came on 20 February 1942 with Japanese soldiers carrying out airborne and beach landings across the island. Outnumbered and with limited supplies, after the initial contact the battalion destroyed the airfield and moved inland, reducing a number of Japanese positions as they went. This included an attack upon Usua Ridge, where the Japanese 228th lnfantry Regiment suffered at least 123 casualties on 22 February.

 

B Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion.B Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion.

By the next morning, 23 February, circumstances had changed dramatically. The young men found themselves in a desperate situation. The battalion was surrounded near Champlong. Lacking cover from enemy fire, the young men were presented with an ultimatum: surrender to the enemy or be subjected to a full-blown aerial bombardment that would destroy the entire battalion. Lieutenant Colonel William Leggatt was forced into the unenviable position of having to surrender his command. As a result of this decision, the 2nd/40th Battalion was captured by the Japanese.

Although some managed to escape, the majority of the young men were taken as prisoners and spent the rest of the war in captivity in camps throughout South-East Asia. These camps were scattered across the region, with Australian soldiers in captivity in Java, Burma, Thailand, Japan, Singapore and Sumatra. The conditions these men found themselves in were nothing short of disgraceful. There really is no other way to describe it. Unfortunately I do not have time tonight to go into the full detail. Ultimately these men would not return to Australia until September 1945.

B Platoon, C Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion.

Headquarter Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion AIFHeadquarter Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion AIF

So many Tasmanian lives were touched by the terrible fate of the 2nd/40th Battalion. Men from one in 10 of the island’s families joined the battalion during the Second World War only to lose their lives or be taken prisoner by the Japanese-one in 10 Tasmanian families! The heartache and stories of these men are very close to my heart, as my father was a member of the 2nd/40th. My father was one of the lucky ones who did return home after surviving for 31/2 years as a prisoner of war-surviving both working on the Burma Railway and Changi.

Rod Stone is of the view, and I share his view, that Tasmania's culture was shaped by the men of the 2nd/40th and their sacrifice. The effect of their enduring sacrifice was felt in Tasmania. It touched so many Tasmanian families that being affected in some way was inescapable. Consequently their story permeates Tasmanian culture and history. However, there are people who have not heard of the 2nd/40th.

 

Cenotaph (war memorial) in Hobart, Tasmania


The 2nd/40th fought against the Japanese. Over the years, much has been said in this place about this battle. In fighting the Japanese, they fought against incredible odds. The Japanese fighting force was more experienced and better equipped than our forces. The equipment of Sparrow Force was outdated. The rifles they used were from World War l. But they were tenacious and they fought with courage and distinction. They made Tasmania proud.

 

A Company, 2/40 Infantry BattalionA Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion.

On 23 February last year, my brother Michael and I had the honour of officially dedicating a memorial garden in Launceston to the 2nd/40th Battalion. On that same weekend, a simple stone memorial commemorating the battalion was unveiled in Hobart. These memorials will accompany a plaque at North Motton in Braddon and a small memorial at Greens Beach in memory of the sacrifice of these men. I was honoured to give the dedication at the memorial. There was a real sense of peace among the many people in attendance. I felt that the memory of the men was regained and recognised, while the feeling of loss for the men who were no longer with us was heartfelt. It was a truly special tribute to the men who left Australia 72 years ago. in addition, we heard many of the stories of their widows and wives-the raising of their families-which were profoundly moving. It was a nice closure and a mark of respect to be able to honour the 2nd/40th Battalion.

Rod Stone has been the real instigator and coordinator of the two memorials in Launceston and Hobart.It has not been easy to obtain recognition for these men, but now their families have a place to go to remember their sacrifice. Those families and their descendants will, for years to come, have somewhere to go to remember those lost souls.

 

D Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion.D Company, 2/40 Infantry Battalion.

It is sad to see this government attacking the sacrifice of our soldiers by ripping away the meagre $250,000 in benefits going to the orphans of those who sacrificed their lives for this country. As 25 April. approaches-and we will not be in this place then-l wanted to make a contribution to those men and women who gave their lives and to those who did come home but suffered, along with their families, the scars and the injuries of war.

Lest we forget.

Speech by Tasmania Labour Senator, Helen Polley, Canberra 2014


 

Ron Cassidy with Rod Stone on the front of Examiner newspaper.