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A very different enemy, but we can still take inspiration from our victories of the past

Opinion

Saturday marks the 75th anniversary of VP Day and although we won’t be able to dance in the streets, it’s important to commemorate one of the most significant milestones in Queensland and Australia’s military history, writes Queensland RSL president Tony Ferris.

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After holding their breath for almost six years, Australians exhaled a collective sigh of relief in the early hours of August 15, 1945.

The nation woke to the news that Japanese troops had surrendered, bringing an end to the ongoing horror and heartbreak that was World War II.

So many of Australia’s military milestones, such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, are solemn occasions that call for sombre reflection.

Victory in the Pacific (VP) Day is significant in that it encourages celebration in line with the scenes of worldwide jubilation recorded on that momentous day in 1945.

Millions of people worldwide took to the streets to dance, laugh, cheer, sing and embrace.

In Brisbane, troops marched victoriously down Queen Street, the Government declared a public holiday, banners were hung from buildings and lights were strung from the clock tower of Brisbane City Hall.

This outpouring of unbridled joy came not only from the end of a war waged on Australia’s doorstep but from the relief of soon welcoming home sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, partners and loved ones from the noble pursuit of defending our country.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of VP Day and while we can’t yet dance in our streets, we must still celebrate this significant milestone in Queensland and Australia’s military history.

Earlier this month, I attended the 100th birthday of WWII veteran Richard Scott.

Richard served as a tail-gunner in a bomber flying over Britain, an incredibly dangerous mission in which he stared down death every time he took to the skies.

To have the opportunity to sit with this sprightly 100-year-old and hear his stories was profoundly moving and a privilege.

We are losing so many of our important stories. We are losing so many of these brave men and women who defended our nation in World War II.

Gordon Wallace, Queensland’s last-surviving “Rat of Tobruk”, passed away only a few weeks ago, severing our last personal connection to a nation-defining battle.

On the 75th anniversary of VP Day, the ranks of World War II veterans are thin and all too soon, there will be no one left.
This milestone must serve as a reminder for us to seek out these stories, preserve them and ensure they are never forgotten.

Some of these stories have been captured by RSL Queensland in a series of video interviews and written accounts; others will be beamed across the façade of Brisbane City Hall each night in the lead up to VP Day in a moving and uplifting multimedia projection.

Of equal importance are the stories of wartime Queensland.

World War II hit uncomfortably close to Queensland shores and in commemorating the 75th anniversary of VP Day, we glimpse the resilience and ingenuity of people preparing to fight and defend their homes.

Invasion was a very real threat following the bombing of Darwin in 1941 and the invasions of our near neighbours, Malaya and New Guinea.

Queenslanders lived with the constant threat of attack: they built bunkers and air raid shelters in backyards, adhered to blackouts and radio silence, rationed essential items and saw Allied troops set up outposts and headquarters in their hometowns.

History teaches us to learn from our mistakes and it also teaches us to prepare for our future.

As we celebrate 75 years since the end of the most horrific war Australia has known, we must reflect on the hard-learnt lessons of those who went before us to guide us through these current troubled times.

Those lessons that taught us the power of resilience and ingenuity, of courage and sacrifice, of mateship and good humour, and of service and endurance.

And when the war is over – be it war with a country or war with a virus – make time to breathe that sigh of relief, share those stories, celebrate and, yes, even dance in the streets.

RSL Queensland’s VP75 Brisbane City Hall Projection can be viewed from Monday August 10 until Saturday August 15, every 15 minutes between 6pm and 10pm. Visit rslqld.org/vp75 for more information.

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