Centenary of Anzac
21st September 2016
Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 10:17 :44 ): I am pleased to return to my contribution to this debate. I note the point at which I left off was about the contribution of many people in World War II serving at the Rathmines Catalina seaplane base which is in my electorate which was the largest flying boat base in the Southern Hemisphere at the time, with planes operational along the eastern seaboard into the Pacific, the Philippines and beyond. The Catalina base had an amazing role. While it is a base, it is obviously the personnel who do that work. I referred to some of the base commanders who were there, two of whom I have met over time. One was a friend of mine, Attie Wearne, and Lyn Hurt, who I referred to as having led a torpedoing raid in the New Guinea theatre of war. His aircraft was severely hit by shrapnel from anti-aircraft guns from a Japanese response to their attack. He had a piece of shrapnel hit him in the carotid artery. He was lucky that that shrapnel was not removed during the flight back to Darwin harbour or it is believed that he would have bled to death. He survived and went on to do wonderful things in our local community.
The next person I wanted to speak of was a former Rathmines Base commander, Sir Richmond Kingsland, AO, CBE, DFC, a man who post-war played a huge role in civilian life as a senior public servant, including a significant role in civil aviation, first in New South Wales where he established much of the operations at Kingsford Smith Airport and then Australia-wide. I had the honour of meeting Sir Richard Kingsland at a ceremony in 2005, a few years before his passing, when the base was placed on the State Heritage Register. I will quote from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age which published an article after his death in 2012:
Some of his air force exploits, before and during the war read like a boys' own annual or spy thriller. The urge for excitement that led him to "perform slow rolls 15 metres above the water in a float plane" did not die in the post-war years, as his career led him into administrative positions that tied him to a desk.
It would be something to behold, to see somebody doing a slow roll in a float plane, 15 metres off the water. I will mention some of Sir Richard Kingsland's exploits. In 1939 he and some other crew from the Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] were dispatched to England to pick up Sunderland flying boats to return to Australia, to be used for a number of purposes, particularly reconnaissance on the large Australian coast. In 1939 things in England changed and it was thrown into the war with Germany. The Sunderland crew, with Richard Kingsland as their squadron leader, stayed on and was seconded to the Royal Air Force [RAF] to use the Sunderland flying boats for patrols for submarine spotting and harrowing over the Atlantic—which they did to great effect.
Sir Richard Kingsland must have made a mark as a very competent flyer because in 1940, with the Allies hoping to rally French resistance in Morocco, Kingsland was tasked with flying Field Marshal Lord Gort, Commander in Chief of the British Field Force and Sir Alfred Duff Cooper, Minister of Information, to Rabat in Morocco in a Sunderland flying boat of the No. 10 squadron. As they travelled, however, the French in Africa were siding with the pro-German Vichy Government. Immediately after Kingsland landed on a narrow estuary and delivered his passengers ashore he received an urgent coded radio message to deliver to Lord Gort alerting him to the developing situation. However, the two men—a high-ranking officer and a high-ranking diplomat of the British government—were already on shore and attempting to set up dialogue with the Vichy French, which was not going to work.
Kingsland had to make a decision about what he was going to do and he did what I guess many other reluctant heroes would do. He found a way to get to shore, even though he was ordered to stay on the Sunderland flying boat. Under the cover of night he took a boat to the shore where he then found a way to commandeer a car to get to the consulate where he alerted Lord Gort and took him with him to collect Sir Alfred Duff Cooper. They were pursued by the Vichy French police and Kingsland was arrested, along with the other person. They were thrown into jail but the Vichy French police had neglected to take his side-arm from him.
I imagine that if one is locked up in a police station it would be good to have a handgun. He took his revolver, shot the lock out and was engaged in a gunfight with the police. I understand two of the police officers were shot. He escaped and once again commandeered a vehicle. He rescued the other member of the party and they made their way back to the harbour where they commandeered a boat, which they took out to their Sunderland aircraft. It was still in the dark early hours of the morning. They reached the boat, which was surrounded by Vichy French police boats, and they were placed under arrest, but that was not going to hold back Sir Richard Kingsland from escaping with his important cargo. At the first hint of light, when he knew it would be enough for him to be able to do a flyby, he hit the starters of the four engines. In that era, the engines of such a large aircraft would normally be warmed up. The engines came to life and immediately they came under gunfire. There were heavy seas and he used the waves to allow the Sunderland to take off as quickly as possible. They flew to Gibraltar where he delivered his crew and passengers safely.
That was an amazing episode, which received a brief note from Lord Gort which said, "Thank you very much for being my chauffeur." He was later awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. The amazing story did not stop there. Sir Richard Kingsland returned to Australia and while he spent time at the Rathmines Air Base, he returned to the Pacific theatre of war, particularly Rabaul in New Guinea, where he flew flying boats. He is an amazing person and I was proud to have met him. Countless stories of heroism have emerged from the bloody and deadly conflicts, from the first Anzacs to those who fought for our freedom in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and, more recently, in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other conflicts. Our observance of those sacrifices has never been more relevant than today. While we are fortunate to live far removed from such conflicts, we must remain mindful and appreciative of the ongoing efforts of the Australian troops in Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as the work of the Australian peacekeepers stationed in trouble spots around the world.
Madam Speaker has compiled a number of stories that she has imparted to the Parliament. It is a wonderful collection of stories, but we know they are only a collection. For all of those stories that are recorded, many more went unrecorded. It is important for us to remember there are countless more heroes. Those people had brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers lost their children in war. Some were parents themselves who never saw their own children. They gave the ultimate sacrifice. I appreciate the record that has been compiled by Madam Speaker, which has been read onto the record of Parliament. They are significant stories.
We have a remarkable history and incredible people who have served our nation. When they have served on Royal Australian Air Force bases such as Rathmines, many people stayed on and built communities around them. I understand the grandfather of the member for The Entrance was George Mehan, who served at the Rathmines Air Base. His father stayed in the area, as did many others, and they went on to build a great community. Their legacy lives on, not only from what they did in times of war but also from what they did post war.
When we mark the centenary of the original Anzacs we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms and quality of life that we enjoy today. The Anzacs demonstrate to us that otherwise ordinary people can be heroes and make a difference to the lives of others. They could never have known that their gallantry and deeds would become part of a national legend, but that very humility is why we remember them with such reverence more than 100 years later. I thank the member for Lane Cove for introducing this motion for members to debate. I commend the motion to the House. Lest we forget.
Website: Read full Parliamentary debate