It is a great pleasure to rise today to mark the 70th anniversary of VP Day and to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of all those who served and all those who died in World War II. VP Day, also known as the Victory in the Pacific Day or Victory over Japan Day, marks the end of World War II. It marks a day when, more than 70 years ago, on 15 August 1945, the Emperor of Japan announced Japan would accept the allies' ultimatum to surrender.
Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Ben Chifley's voice could be heard over the radio airwaves relaying this news to Australians everywhere. His voice beamed:
Fellow citizens, the war is over.
The Japanese government has accepted the terms of surrender imposed by the allied nations and the hostilities will now cease.
At this moment let us offer thanks to God.
Let us remember those whose lives were given that we may enjoy this glorious moment and may look forward to a peace which they have won for us.
Almost immediately, there was an outpouring of happiness, joy and celebration across cities and towns throughout the nation. Hundreds of thousands of people danced on the streets of Sydney and there were similar scenes throughout Australia and around the world. Since then, services have been held every year to recognise the significance of this day.
Last month, the Australian War Memorial held a number of activities to commemorate VP Day, including a last post ceremony and a wreath-laying ceremony. Hundreds of Canberrans attended the wreath-laying ceremony, paying tribute to around 150 veterans and their families who attended. The president of the RSL ACT Branch, Peter Eveille, appropriately claimed it was 'sombre and emotional day'.
The number of World War II Australian veterans is dwindling, with only 25,000 still with us and only 200 veterans who were prisoners of the Japanese still alive. That is out of the almost one million Australians who served in World War II, one-seventh of Australia's population at that time. The war left 40,000 Australians dead, more than 100,000 wounded and 30,000 who had been prisoners of war. For a relatively small nation, we played a significant role in World War II. We fought in campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa. We also played a major role fighting Japan throughout various Pacific nations, including Papua New Guinea, Malaya, Bougainville and New Britain.
Our home came under attack for the first time in history. Japanese aircraft bombed towns in north-west Australia, and Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney Harbour. While 40,000 Australians died, more than 60 million people were killed worldwide. At the ceremony in Canberra last month, the Director of the War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, said the Second World War was 'the most destructive conflict in human history' and 'changed the world forever'.
So, while we pause to honour those who served and pay tribute to the sacrifice they and their families made, it is also important to remember this dark part of our world history, to ensure we never repeat those horrors again. Sixty million deaths is a staggering, horrifying and sobering number. But most of all, it is a deeply saddening number. I think about the men and women who died, and the children, but also their families back home who were left forever broken-hearted; or the men and women who returned home to us, but were never the same, forever scarred by what they had done or seen.
There are no words that accurately describe just how much we owe the veterans of World War II—and in fact, all Australian veterans, and those who currently serve. But it is through services like those on VP Day that show our continued thanks and recognition for their service, and their sacrifice.
We will always remember them.
Lest we forget.