Anzac Day Dawn Service, Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby

Thursday, 25 April 2024


Chief of Air Force Speech

Your Excellency Grand Chief Sir Bob Dadae, Governor General of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea

Your Excellency Peter Zwart, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea

Commodore Philip Polewara, Acting Chief of Papua New Guinea Defence Force

Air Vice-Marshal Darryn Webb, Chief of New Zealand’s Air Force

Mr Glenn Maitland, President of the Port Moresby Sub-Branch of the Returned & Services League of Australia

Representatives of the Australian and New Zealand High Commissions

Members of the Diplomatic Corps


Service personnel of the Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinean Defence Forces,

Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys

We meet at dawn on this 109th anniversary of ANZAC Day in this sacred place, the final resting place for so many service personnel from Australia and New Zealand who died fighting in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War. As dawn breaks over Bomana War Cemetery, the sun is also rising across the East Coast of Australia, and has already risen in New Zealand to herald this special day. 

It is a day for us to honour the extraordinary sacrifice of our servicemen and women and recommit ourselves to do everything within our power to ensure the calamity of war is never visited upon this beautiful country again.

The ANZAC legend was forged on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915. But the qualities of character displayed there – courage, audacity, mateship – were as much at home here in Papua New Guinea. Australia and New Zealand combined arms to defeat the invading forces from Imperial Japan. We are still learning of the depth and breadth of their sacrifice, and honouring their service.

Among them four brave aviators from No 32 Squadron, Pilot Officer Warren Frank Cowan, Pilot Officer David Reid Taylor, Sergeant Russell Bradburn Polack, and Sergeant Laurie Edwin Sheard, who lay at rest here in Bomana War Cemetery. 

On 22 July 1942, they were flying their Hudson aircraft on a reconnaissance mission, when they were engaged by six Japanese Zeros. Instead of fleeing, they turned their aircraft to dogfight with the enemy, but were eventually shot down near Popondetta. They were awarded a posthumous Medal for Gallantry for their efforts this year.

The Battle of Milne Bay followed the next month, an important turning point in the war in the Pacific.

Milne Bay was viewed by the Allies as a defensive stronghold for the maritime approaches to Port Moresby as well as a launching base for air operations.

The Japanese, however, viewed Milne Bay as a place from which they could attack Allied shipping in the South-West pacific, as well as provide air support to their ground forces along the Kokoda Track.

Just after 1am on the 26th of August 1942, the crew aboard a lone RAAF crash rescue boat witnessed a Japanese invasion fleet of warships, troop transports and landing craft looming out of the surrounding darkness of Milne Bay.

The Australian Infantry defending the region as well as the American engineers and air defence units were soon readied for action. The RAAF’s Nos 75 and 76 Squadrons prepared their aircraft for take-off and elements from Nos 6 and 32 Squadrons armed their aircraft for maritime strike missions.

Fighting began later that morning, and continued for the next 13 days, with relentless ground attacks by the Japanese countered by the infantry units.

Air Force Kittyhawk fighters, made repeated attacks on the enemy positions, sometimes firing their canons before their undercarriage was fully retracted after take-off.

Ground crews also performed magnificently in the most arduous conditions. Repair and maintenance work continued round-the-clock, rectifying damage caused by enemy action, persistent rain and mud that tore away undercarriage components and damaged flight controls on landing.

Working out in the open, under enemy fire, and with the most basic tools, the persistence and determination of the ground crews to turn aircraft for the fight remains a source of inspiration for us all.

The Allies rallied, eventually fighting the Japanese to a standstill at the perimeter of the airfield. Slowly, the invaders were pushed back, and forced to retreat into the sea. It was the first land defeat of the Japanese of the Second World War.

Both the Allies and the Japanese lost heavily in the action. Just under 1000 Papuan, Australian, American and Japanese were killed and at least another 500 were wounded over the duration of the Battle.

But the Battle of Milne Bay was only one of several consequential battles fought at sea, on land and in the skies over Papua New Guinea during that period. 

In May 1942 the Japanese attempted a direct sea-borne landing at Port Moresby, but were turned back by a combined Australian and American naval force in the Battle of the Coral Sea, which included Australian ships HMAS Australia and HMAS Hobart.

The Japanese also attempted to occupy Port Moresby by landing troops on the Northern Coast of Papua New Guinea to advance over the Owen Stanley range along the Kokoda Track. They were stopped a mere 25 kilometres from Port Moresby by Australian soldiers in a four-month campaign that resulted in 625 soldiers being killed and a further 1600 wounded.

In recognition of the significance of that battle, our Prime Minister, accompanied by the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, traversed this track together and are now commemorating ANZAC Day at Isrurava Pass, on the Kokoda Track.

Of course the people of Papua New Guinea were deeply impacted by the war, and played a significant role in supporting the ANZAC and US forces stationed in PNG. The Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels carried supplies to troops fighting in nearly inaccessible terrain, and evacuated our wounded. 

Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels are deeply respected by Australians. They are part of our story, the song lines of our nations which simultaneously speak to the depth of our shared history, the strength of our conviction and the potential of our enduring partnership.

On this Anzac Day, we pay our respects to those who served and those who cared for our servicemen. 

Together, they stood united against a common foe. We stand together now to honour their service and sacrifice.

Lest We Forget.