Sunday, 13 March 2022

It’s an honour to be here today at this plaque unveiling ceremony to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Allied Service in the Pacific.

In doing so we honour our shipmates.

The plaque, dedicated to WWII Australian Merchant Navy and U.S. Army Small Ships, recognises the contribution these courageous men and boys - and might I add one woman Vi Miller - made to the Allied effort.

People who remained unrecognised officially for many years after the war.

The U.S. Army Small Ships Section was a unique organisation formed in response to advancing Japanese Forces in the South Pacific.

This fleet of wooden sailing ships, trawlers, tug-boats and crews unfit for military service played a decisive role in the New Guinea campaign and during the liberation of the Philippines.

The section employed more than 3,300 Australian civilians alongside U.S. Army personnel, Merchant Seamen and civilians from around the world, and included Australians who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Today we connect our past with our present.

Catherine “Kitty” Anderson, the daughter of Captain Gustav Samuel Anderson, who served in the Pacific is here today, as are daughters and nephews of a former President of the Association, Frank Finch, who penned the poignant Ode to Shipmates that has pride of place on the plaque.

The history of the U.S. Small Ships section is inspirational, as I am sure you all know.

John Sheridan Fahnestock was an experienced sailor who, along with his brother Bruce, wanted to help supply U.S. troops under siege in the Philippines.

U.S. Army Major General Arthur Wilson asked Fahnestock if he would command small boats, adding, “before you answer, let me say that you must find the boats and the crews”.

So that’s just what he did.

The Small Ships supported amphibious landings and conducted reconnaissance, troop transport, rescue and supply operations.

Its success shows the cooperation and ingenuity needed to achieve the Allied victory in the Pacific.

When people pull together with a common purpose and determination, we know they can achieve heroic outcomes.

Despite the fact their service saved thousands of lives, the Australian small ships section went unrecognised for many years. It wasn’t until 2009 that those who served received Imperial Campaign Awards.

And I’m pleased to note that this recognition was in no small part due to the efforts of the U.S. Army Small Ships Association, founded in 2003.

This plaque is the first public memorial in South Australia dedicated to these brave seafarers. We are indebted to them all.

Such symbols of remembrance are important to enable us to honour the courage and sacrifice of our veterans and give comfort to families.

Memorials are also important points of reference so each new generation can better understand how our lives today have been shaped by the fortitude and service of others.

I thank the U.S. Army Small Ships Association for their ongoing advocacy and support of such a worthy group of men and boys.

I also acknowledge, with gratitude, the value of our ongoing Defence relationship, now Alliance, with the United States, forged in blood during the Pacific campaign.

I wish the association well in its on-going quest to recognise the women who shouldered the war effort at home, serving as receptionists, and providing other allied services behind the scenes.

It is a privilege to have unveiled this plaque recognising the great efforts and sacrifice of South Australians who served with the WWII Australian Merchant Navy and U.S. Army Small Ships Section.

Lest we forget.