Today is August 15, 2019 and it’s a warm winter’s day in Currumbin. A gentle breeze drifts across the tranquil water of Currumbin Creek, gradually moving onto the banks and gently touching the shoulders of people united at our cenotaph at Currumbin RSL. Like a tender hug. We’re here for the VP Day Ceremony. Also known as Victory over Japan Day (VJ Day), Japan’s surrender to Allied Forces came after the devastating nuclear bombings in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today marks 74 years since Allied Forces achieved victory in the Pacific.
Australian Air Force Cadets 213 Squadron are dressed proudly in their uniforms waiting to the side of the cenotaph, their shirts matching the blue of today’s sky. They’re all honoured to be an integral part of each Currumbin RSL ceremony over many years. Cadet Larkin and Cadet Corporal Larkin are wearing medals from their Great Uncle, Mick McGory. Their parents are standing by – Tony Larkin is McGory’s nephew who is currently a Safety Coordinator for the 213 Squadron and his wife Karen Larkin is Instructor of Cadets ACW – Aircraft Women.
Tony says “It’s our way of saying thank you. I grew up with my uncle. I saw firsthand what the war did to him. He served and sacrificed so much so that we can be free.” McGory was in the 460 Squadron in Europe, Bomb Aimer in Lancasters, Bombardier in B-24 Liberators and in the Fifth United States Air Force. He flew 30 missions in Europe and 30 missions in the Pacific. Among his medals is a DFM – Distinguished Flying Medal for ‘exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy’. Today is especially personal for this lovely family.
The ceremony begins with the Gold Coast Tweed Pipe & Drums band. The Commander leads seven bagpipers and two drummers dressed in their Scottish kilts along Currumbin Creek playing ‘When the Battle is Over’ and ‘Lochanside’. When they reach the Cenotaph they play ‘Kilworth Hills’. It’s not the breeze but the music that gives us goose bumps. The Australian Air Force Cadets then march respectfully to the Cenotaph with Cadet Rooney carrying the RSL flag and Leading Cadet Rooney carrying the Australian flag – they too are wearing medals and theirs are from their Grandad.
Chaplain Phillip North begins the ceremony telling a story of soldiers jumping into fox holes in the heat of battle praying to God to keep them safe. There was nowhere else to take cover from the bullets. Most of us listening can only imagine the fear faced in battle but there are still ex-servicemen present at the ceremony who know all about it.
Currumbin RSL President, Michael Humphreys speaks next and reminds us that a staggering 1 million Australians served in World War II. Considering that Australia’s population was just 7 million at the time, it’s mind blowing. Mr Humpheys continues “40,000 Australians died and 1000’s were wounded. For those who returned and those that stayed behind, the years ahead were a challenge.” It would have been a rarity for someone to have family or friends who were not affected. Mr Humphreys acknowledged and thanked them for their service and ended his message with “We will ensure you will always be remembered.”
Battery Sergeant Major Rod Dux then leads his men dressed in full uniform with white helmets and rifles by their side to the Wreath Laying Ceremony. The ‘Wreath of the Nation’ is laid by retired Lieutenant Colonel David Freeman. Doug Baird, whose son Cameron was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously laid the ‘Bravest of the Brave’ wreath. Then the Navy wreath by Mr Jim Stathis, the Army by Mr Bill Buxnell and Airforce by Mr Merve Reece. The NZ Armed Forces wreath is laid by Mr Barber and the War Widows wreath is laid by Bron Drinkwater.
Shortly after is the Volley of Remembrance. The blast from the seven rifles firing into the air in unison is so powerful that if feels as though you’ve been hit in the chest. The sound echoes across the creek, birds are heard squawking flying away in fear, a baby cries and for a split second we get just a tiny taste of what it would be like on a battlefield. The smell of gunfire lingers for a moment before the calm breeze clears it away and once again we’re as far away from taking cover in a fox hole as we can get. Safe. Free. Alive.
An additional Volley of Remembrance is fired for Gordon Armstrong, affectionately known as Gordy, who had roles within Currumbin RSL’s Memorial Club, Sub-Branch and Veteran’ Support Centre. Gordy sadly passed away two days ago – the day before his birthday. An emotional moment for all, there is barely a dry eye in the ceremony.
The VP Day Ceremony is bookended with music from the Gold Coast Pipe & Drummers with ‘Scotland the Brave’, ‘Marie’s Wedding’ and ‘The Barron Rocks of Aden’ as we all take in the significance of the moment and remember all of those who sacrificed so much, including their lives so that we can live with freedom.
Lest we forget.
Blog by Carmen Mudie