Australians involved in one of the longest battles of World War II have gathered in Canberra.
Australians involved in World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic have gathered in Canberra 75 years on to reflect and remember.
The battle was one of the longest of the war, beginning at the start of the war in 1939 and concluding almost six years later when the Germans surrendered in 1945.
In total, 65,000 sailors and merchant seamen of the Allies died, along with 6,000 Royal Air Force crewmen.
One of the survivors attending the commemorations, 91-year-old Ernest Baddeley, said he has never forgotten what he encountered.
“Our guns were no good. They were no good at all,” he said.
“The plane flew over us, went to the next line of convoy, and it went that slow for a second, it was that low, we seen the bombs fall. And it went down to this ship and missed the stern by about six feet.”
During the Second World War, two supply routes across the Atlantic Ocean were vital to the Allies in their fight against the Germans.
Germany had sought to sabotage the Atlantic supply lines, resulting in the long, arduous battle that killed tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides.
Australians were involved in large numbers, with more than 5,000 awarded the Atlantic Star for their service.
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester paid tribute to their efforts.
“The awards of thousands of Atlantic Stars to Australians gives us just some sense of how many people from our shores were linked to this battle and risked their lives in this campaign,” he said.
“We, as a nation, thank you and respect you for your service. We thank you for the sacrifices that you’ve made, which allow us to enjoy the many freedoms we value so highly today.”
Ernest Baddeley was just 16 years old when he enlisted in the merchant navy, serving on a number of vessels in the battle.
He said many of the young men did not fully understand what they were signing up to do.
“It made me realise, you know, that I was just risking my life. I honestly didn’t … none of us on the ship expected to survive.”
Lionel Mead, a 92-year-old veteran, was just 17 when he enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy.
He said Australia should be proud of its contribution to ending World War II.
“Well, quite clearly, it’s a recognition that, in the Second World War, the Australian navy was able to play a significant part, and particularly with the alliance in the early stages, with the Royal Navy.”
“And then later, most definitely, in the Pacific, we were very much a part of that move northward towards the end of the Pacific War.”
(First published on SBS News on May 1 2018)