Commemoration and remembrance of the sacrifices that our servicemen and women have made on distant shores from the Dardanelles to Long Tan is something that we as a nation do comparatively well. We have select days enshrined to commemorate significant events in Australia's military past such as the landings at ANZAC Cove, the signing of the Armistice and the Battle of Long Tan.
What we may be not so good at, in a collective sense, is reflecting on what our service personnel go through on our behalf on home soil.
Depending on the scale of the event, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) are often well positioned and well used in times of natural disasters. There are countless examples of bushfires, floods, cyclone and even drought, where the ADF join efforts with other agencies, bolstered or lead efforts to prevent death or injury and feature in relief efforts in the face of mother nature behaving badly.
On February 3, 2011, Tropical Cyclone Yasi crossed the Queensland coast as a category five monster, the size of which the state had never seen before. In anticipation of the pending disaster the ADF stood up the Headquarters of Joint Task Force 664 to command what would be around 2,000 defence personnel; numerous aircraft, ships and other vehicles that performed tasks such as aeromedical evacuation, one of the largest in Australia's history, and the clearance of debris by army engineers along hundreds of kilometres of Queenslands roads.
Although evolving into a bigger operation to deal with the aftermath, the operation known as Operation Yasi Assist only lasted two weeks and the military commanders were ultimately subordinate to civil authorities, however the risk levels for service personnel were high and the working conditions severe.
In August this year we will commemorate the 75th Anniversary of military sacrifice on home soil that occurred during wartime in the face of an enemy. By August 1944 over 2200 Japanese prisoners of war (POWs) were interned on Australian soil. Half of these were housed in a POW compound at Cowra NSW. On August 5, 1944 at approximately 2am, these prisoners launched a mass breakout. Armed with improvised weapons such as knives and clubs many broke through the wire fences into open farmland while others set fire to camp buildings.
The breakout ultimately failed with the prisoners either being caught or killed, and some even committed suicide. The Japanese lost 234 men during the escape. Five Australian soldiers lost their lives during the breakout or soon after. Two of these men were posthumously awarded the George Cross for their gallantry while trying to contain what the Japanese themselves referred to as a suicide attack.
On August 5 this year commemoration activities will take place at Cowra where those present, both Australian and Japanese, will reflect on the loss and sacrifice that occurred in that place 75 years ago. It happened on home soil.
Perhaps August 5 could be a day each year where we pause to remind ourselves that our soldiers, sailors and airmen all too often find themselves in harms way here at home.
Lest we Forget.