Royal Australian Air Force 103rd Birthday Commemorative Service

3 April 2024


Chief of Air Force Commemorative Address

Senator Pocock, Air Chief Marshal Binskin, Mr Matt Anderson, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. Aviators.

Thank you Aunty Serena and Maddi for welcoming us to Ngunnawal country today. May I please extend my respects to Aunty Deb, our Air Force Elder, and to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, past and present, who have served with pride and distinction in the Royal Australian Air Force.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us today to commemorate those aviators who made the ultimate sacrifice, on the occasion of the 103rd birthday of the Royal Australian Air Force.

The story of our Air Force is built on our values: Service, Courage, Respect, Integrity, Excellence. An all volunteer force expanding the technological boundaries of the air domain in the most challenging circumstances with courage, perseverance and a strong sense of duty.

A piece of history that helps tell that story is an aircraft affectionately known as “G for George”. G for George is a Lancaster bomber that flew during the Second World War. Flown by RAAF’s 460 Squadron in RAF Bomber Command, it miraculously returned from around 90 missions over the treacherous skies of Europe.

G for George represents the story of the 10 000 Australian aviators who served with RAF Bomber Command.

For Australians in the Second World War, there was no theatre of operation more dangerous than Bomber Command’s air war over Europe. The mission of Bomber Command was to take the fight to Germany. The strategic bombing campaign commenced in the early months of 1940 and continued until the closing weeks of the war.

The cost borne by Commonwealth Air Forces was extraordinary. Beyond the risk of mechanical malfunctions and mid-air collisions, there were the formidable enemy air defences, which included swarms of fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns, fired from the hostile ground below.

It is difficult to imagine the dangers they faced and the devastation they endured. While the numbers do not tell the whole story, they do speak to the sacrifice of these men.

On the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour, you will find the names of 4,149 Australian aviators who gave their lives on operations with Bomber Command. It represents more than 1 in 3 of the Australians who served in the Command, and amounts to 20 percent of all Australian combat losses in the Second World War. While their mission was controversial, these men demonstrated the finest qualities of the Royal Australian Air Force. Despite the extraordinary odds, they continued to fly. Mission after mission. Night after night. While losing mate after mate. Their devotion to duty remains one of our greatest sources of inspiration.

Their story is our story. It is the history of the Royal Australian Air Force. Their character and courage set the benchmark for who we aspire to be. As we celebrate our 103rd birthday, we honour the memory of those who served in Bomber Command. As we honour the memory of all those who have died in service of our nation throughout our history.

When our Air Force was born in 1921, we inherited the proud reputation of the Australian Flying Corps which had flown in the skies over Palestine and France throughout World War I.

We strengthened that reputation during World War II in the skies of Europe and North Africa, and of course across Northern Australia. We fought back the Imperial Japanese Forces from our region, In Papua New Guinea, Timor, in Borneo and as far afield as the Philippines.

We fought again in Korea, the Malayan Emergency, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. As well as contributing to peace operations and responding to countless crises and natural disasters, both at home and abroad.

Today’s Air Force operates in increasingly challenging times marked by rapid technological advancement, strategic competition and complex integrated threats.
We uphold the legacy of those who have served before us, and honour the sacrifice of all the men and women who have died while serving the Royal Australian Air Force, by reaffirming our commitment to peace, stability and cooperation in our region, and by strengthening our hand to deter war.

While the threats, technology and tactics have changed since World War II, the nature of air warfare has not. As before we require our aviators to be audacious and innovative, courageous and brave, and dedicate themselves to protecting our way of life.

Our people are our greatest asset – our asymmetrical advantage – and as we celebrate our 103rd birthday, I thank all aviators of the Royal Australian Air Force, both past and present, for their wonderful service to our nation.

I acknowledge that we have not always created a place where all aviators have felt safe and valued. As we recommit ourselves to address the scourge of suicide and suicidality in our ranks, we recognise the tragedy of their story is also part of our history, and we commemorate their service and sacrifice today.

I am grateful we are joined today by representatives from the Royal Australian Navy and Australian Army. While we each have our own identity, with our own customs and traditions, we operate together as an integrated force. For 103 years, we have fought side-by-side to protect Australia’s interest, as we will again if circumstances demand that of us.

Let me also acknowledge our allies and partners, represented so well by the Service Advisors and Attaché Group here today. Australia has never fought a war alone – it is part of our strategic culture to work cooperatively with allies and partners to address our shared security challenges. I thank you all for being here today.

Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge and thank the many thousands of people who stand in our silent ranks: the family and friends of our aviators. I thank you for supporting your loved ones. For enduring the separations and sacrifices of service life. And through that, I thank you for your contribution to our national security.

We can be justly proud of our Air Force’s incredible history. And we can be equally proud of the achievements of our aviators today. They are doing magnificent job building the ready, resilient and resourceful Air Force we need to be to meet the challenges of our times

Happy birthday to the Royal Australian Air Force.
Per Ardua ad Astra.
Thank you.