Anzac Day 2017
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Affairs, Defence and Security Section
In February 2017, the Minister
for Veterans’ Affairs announced a list of significant anniversary dates
which will be the focus of commemoration during 2017. The Department of
Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) website provides, where known, further
information about the location and nature of the commemorative activities. The
DVA Anzac webpage also
enables a search of local events within Australia. The following anniversaries
are based on the list set out by the Minister.
15 February 2017—75th
anniversary of the Fall of Singapore
British Prime Minister Winston
Churchill described the Commonwealth defeat
at Singapore on 15 February 1942 as ‘the worst disaster and largest
capitulation in British history’. In just over two months, Japanese forces
managed to defeat Commonwealth forces along the Malaysian Peninsula and invade
and occupy the ‘Gibraltar of the East’, the British Empire’s main base in Southeast
In Singapore alone, 80,000 Commonwealth troops (the vast
majority of which were British, Indian and Australian) became prisoners
of war. A further 40,000 Commonwealth troops had been captured in the
fighting on the Malay Peninsula.
Approximately 15,000 Australians (most of the 8th Division)
were captured in Singapore. As many as 7,000
of those would die before the end of the war.
More detailed information on the Malayan and Singapore
campaigns can be found in the digitised version of Australia’s Official War
History; see chapters 7 to 17 of Volume IV—The Japanese thrust.
19 February 2017—75th
anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin
A few days after the Fall of Singapore, with Australia
reeling over the loss of that island and the 8th Division, Darwin was bombed by Japanese aircraft. On 19
February 1942, approximately 240 Japanese planes attacked
Darwin in two separate raids, killing at least 243 civilians and Australian
and US military personnel, and sinking eight ships in Darwin Harbour.
This was the first of many attacks on the Australian
mainland during the war, but the most damaging. There were in total some 97
air raids that occurred over northern Australia during 1942 and
1943. Prime Minister Curtin said at the time of the initial bombing that a
‘severe blow has been struck on Australian soil’.
The largest loss of life was on the American destroyer USS
Peary—of its crew of 144, 91 lost their lives. The USS Peary Memorial in Darwin
commemorates the US personnel that went down with the Peary.
On 18 November 2011, Prime Minister Julia
Gillard announced that 19 February would be proclaimed as ‘Bombing of
Darwin Day’, to ‘ensure the attacks across Australia’s north are appropriately
remembered and commemorated every year’. The first Bombing of Darwin day was
held on 19 February 2012, and the Prime Minister and Minister for Veterans’
Affairs attended the commemorative services.
During the broader Arras Offensive (April–June 1917)
Australian forces played a central role in the First and Second
Battles of Bullecourt. Between February and April 1917, German forces on
the Western Front withdrew to a defensive line known to British forces as the Hindenburg
On 11 April 1917, the Australian 4th Division and
British 62nd Division attacked German positions either side of the village of
Bullecourt, attempting to capture Hindenburg Line trenches. This attack was
made with the support of a small number of British tanks, rather than with the
customary preliminary artillery barrage of enemy positions. All the tanks were
out of action within a couple of hours, and while some trenches were captured,
they could not be held, and Australian troops were driven back by midday.
Casualties were very high—the 4th Division suffered 3,300 casualties on this
A second attempt was made to capture Hindenburg Line
trenches around Bullecourt between 3 and 17 May. Australian
troops seized and held some parts of the Hindenburg Line and the British
62nd Division captured the village of Bullecourt on 17 May. Three Australian
Divisions (the 1st, 2nd
took part in the two weeks of fighting at Bullecourt, and suffered a total of
7,000 casualties. Bullecourt is now home to the Australian
25 April 2017—Anzac
Anzac Day 2017 will be commemorated at
services to be held in Canberra at the Australian War Memorial, and at Gallipoli and Villers-Bretonneux. It will be 102 years since
the Gallipoli landings.
4 May 2017—75th
anniversary of the Battle of Coral Sea
The Battle of the Coral Sea occurred off the northeast
coast of Australia in early May 1942. It was the first fleet action where
aircraft carriers engaged each other, but none of the opposing vessels ever
sighted or fired directly on each other. The Allies lost several ships,
including the fleet carrier USS
Lexington. However, the damage sustained by
Japanese carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku prevented those ships from
participating in the decisive Battle of Midway in June 1942. Since it also thwarted
Japanese plans to occupy Port Moresby by sea, it came to be seen as an
important moment in the war.
Australian involvement consisted of the heavy
cruiser HMAS Australia (II) and the light
Hobart (I), both of which were attacked by
Japanese aircraft on 7 May, without damage. Japan subsequently attempted to
capture Port Moresby using an overland route, leading to the Kokoda Campaign.
The Royal Australian Navy’s website contains a summary of the Battle of
the Coral Sea in which
HMAS Australia was the Flagship of the Support Group (TG 17.3)
patrolling the Jomard Passage.
4 June 2017—75th
anniversary of Bomber Command Operations
This year is the 75th anniversary of the
commencement of the Royal Australian Air Force squadrons’ operations with
Australians served with Bomber Command during the Second World War. The very
high numbers of civilian deaths in German cities such as Hamburg and Dresden
has meant that the role of Bomber Command (and the Australians who fought in
it) has always been controversial, with an official memorial in the UK not unveiled until
2012. Bomber crews themselves sustained very high
casualty numbers throughout the war. Some 3,486 Australians were killed flying
as a part of Bomber Command, with a further 650 dying in training accidents.
for Veterans’ Affairs has announced a $50,000 grant to assist veterans’
travel to Canberra for the commemoration
on 4 June. The commemoration will be held at the Australian War Memorial’s
Bomber Command Memorial.
25 August 2017—75th
anniversary of the Battle of Milne Bay
Japanese forces landed at Milne Bay in eastern
Papua on 25 August 1942. Expecting light defences, they were confronted by 9,000
Allied troops (mostly of the 7th and 18th Infantry Brigades). Japanese forces
withdrew by 7 September, and Milne
Bay is considered to be the first decisive defeat of a Japanese land attack
in the war. The battle cost 167 Australian, 14 American, and at least 700
3 September 2017—Merchant
In a media
release marking Merchant Navy Day in 2016, the Minister for Veterans’
Affairs stated that ‘memorials around Australia record
the more than 600 Australian merchant mariners known to
have lost their lives in war, however there are likely more unknown because
some Australians served in the merchant navies of allied
The 3 September was chosen because it was the date on which
the British Commonwealth entered the Second World War (in 1939) and on that
same day, the first merchant ship to be lost in that war, SS Athenia,
was torpedoed, with loss of lives. Australia has been recognising 3 September
as Merchant Navy Day since 2007.
On 7 October 1990, Governor-General Bill
Hayden unveiled the Merchant Navy Memorial on the shores of
Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin.
6 September 2017—Battle
for Australia Day
Battle for Australia Day was proclaimed
by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs on 26 June 2008. In his
media release the Minister stated that ‘the first Wednesday in September has
been chosen by the veteran community as it represents the first defeat of
Japanese forces on land in the Battle of Milne Bay’.
Japanese invasion’ (Wartime, 77,
January 2017), the Australian War Memorial’s Steven Bullard reviews the
evidence concerning Japan’s intentions towards Australia during the Second
World War. He concludes that although the possibility of invasion was discussed
at senior levels within the Japanese military, it was never accepted as a
September 2017—70th anniversary of Australian Peacekeepers and Peacemakers
Australia’s first peacekeeping operation occurred in 1947,
when military observers were sent to Indonesia under the banner of the United
Nations (UN) to monitor the ceasefire between Dutch colonial and Indonesian
independence forces. Since then, Australian military, police and some civilians
have served on more than 50 peacekeeping missions. A commemorative
service is held at the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial on Anzac Parade in
This year’s 100th anniversary of the Battle of Polygon
Wood will be commemorated with a Dawn
Service at Buttes New British Cemetery. The
Fifth Australian Division Memorial is located at Polygon Wood.
23 October 2017—75th
anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein and the culmination of the North Africa
The Second Battle of El Alamein is regarded as the turning point in the war in North Africa. Following
the initial success in the Western Desert Campaign (December
1940–February 1941), Commonwealth forces were forced back into Egypt by
Rommel’s Afrika Korps. On 23 October 1942, the Commonwealth 8th Army (which
included the Australian 9th Division) launched its counter-attack,
known as the Second
Battle of El Alamein. By the time the battle ended on
11 November, a total of 2,350 Commonwealth troops had been killed (620
Australians), but the North African campaign had turned decisively in the
Allies’ favour. On 13 May 1943, Axis forces surrendered in Tunisia, ending the
North African Campaign.
On 31 October 1917, the Australian 4th
Light Horse Brigade led the charge that broke through the Turkish defences and
captured the town of
Beersheba (Be’er Sheva). The Official History of World War I (Volume
VII, the AIF in Sinai and Palestine, chapter
XXII—the eve of Beersheba and chapter
XXIII—the Battle of Beersheba) covers the events in some detail.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the
Battle of Beersheba and there will be some commemorative events hosted
at the site by the Australian
Light Horse Association and writer and historian, Kelvin Crombie. Events
include a re-enactment of the light horse charge and the official opening of
the Light Horse Museum.
will also be held at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Be’er Sheva, the Turkish
memorial, and the Park
of the Australian Soldier.
2 November 2017—75th
anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign and the Beachheads
The iconic Kokoda Trail Campaign
began when Japanese forces landed unopposed at Gona, on the northern coast of
Papua, on 21 July 1942. Having had its plans to attack Port Moresby by sea
disrupted by the Battle
of the Coral Sea, Japan sought to test the overland route from Gona to Port
Moresby, utilising the Kokoda
As the Japanese forces advanced towards the village of
Kokoda, they were met initially by the Papuan Infantry Battalion and the
Australian 39th Infantry
Battalion (Militia). Outnumbered, the Australians and Papuans basically
fought a fighting retreat over the Owen Stanley Ranges for the next two months,
fighting delaying actions at Kokoda,
Australian forces, now being reinforced by experienced
Australian Imperial Force units, retreated as far south as Imita Ridge, just 40
kilometres from Port Moresby. Here they dug in, expecting a Japanese assault. The
attack never came, and the tactical situation had swung in the Australians’
favour: their artillery at Ower’s Corner could now fire on the Japanese
positions, and Australian supplies could be trucked most of the way to the
front, while Japanese supplies had to be carried on foot almost the entire
length of the trail.
Japanese forces began to retreat along the Kokoda Trail at
the end of September 1942. They were pursued by Australian soldiers (mostly of
the 25th and 16th
Brigades) who won battles
at Eora and Oivi-Gorari. The Australians continued their attack on 23 September, and on 2 November, ultimately retook Kokoda village
itself. By 18 November, Australian forces had crossed the Kumusi River at
Wairopi, effectively ending the Kokoda Campaign. Following their defeat
at Oivi-Gorari, Japanese forces withdrew to the beachheads at Gona and Buna, thereby
ending the wider Kokoda Trail Campaign and paving the way for the Australian
and American attacks on Buna, Gona and Sanananda.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs website The
Kokoda Track, written by military historian Peter Williams,
provides detailed information on the Kokoda Campaign, including interactive
maps of the main battles. The number of Australians
killed during the Kokoda Campaign is generally estimated to be about 600. Peter
Williams provides more precise figures, breaking the casualties down by
11 November 2017—Remembrance Day
Day is the anniversary of the armistice which ended the First World War
(1914–18). It is set aside as a day to remember the sacrifice of those who have
died for Australia in all wars and conflicts. It was originally known as
For a history of how Armistice Day became Remembrance Day
see J Amess, ‘A
day of remembrance: 11 November’, Sabretache, 24, April–June 1983,
For further information, see the Parliamentary Library
Day 2008—the 90th Anniversary of the End of World War I (November
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