Chief of Navy Speeches: 'Answering the Call' statue unveiling at the Port of Melbourne

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27 November 2015

Councillor Bernadene Voss, Mayor of the City of Port Phillip, The Hon. Martin Foley MLA, Minister for Creative Industries, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I commence my address by remembering and saluting the naval service and the life’s work of the late LCDR Mackenzie J Gregory, the former President of the Naval Heritage Foundation.

It is very good to have Mac’s family with us for this unveiling of his legacy.

“Mac” started at the RAN College as a Cadet Midshipman in 1936. He survived the sinking of HMAS Canberra and was aboard HMAS Shropshire in Tokyo Bay when the surrender was signed in 1945.

He devoted many years to keeping naval history and heritage alive. The first Council meeting at which Mac proposed the memorial was in October 2008.

It was Mac’s sustained perseverance, and that of his team and all those who shared his vision, which has given us this memorial.

In 2011 Mac was awarded a Pride of Australia Medal for his work in preserving the memory of those who gave naval service. He donated the prize to the work of the Foundation.

He was ably assisted in his work by his friend and the first Vice President of the Foundation the late Don Boyle and by others here today.

As Patron of the Foundation I congratulate and thank all those who have kept Mac and Don’s vision alive and brought it to fruition.

I thank the Department of Veterans affairs for supporting this memorial as Centenary of Anzac project.

It has also received funding from the Victorian State Government through the ANZAC Centenary Grants Committee.

A succession of Mayors and councillors of the City of Port Phillip have seen this project through to installation.

I ask the Mayor to convey the thanks of the Naval Heritage Foundation and the Navy to all Councillors and city staff who made it possible to place this memorial here.

I am delighted with this work of art. The artistic understanding, skill and craftsmanship of the sculptor, Louis Laumen (Loui Lowmen ) has captured the spirit of this young sailor with great accuracy and truth.

It is a work of simplicity, dignity and beauty. It has the power to move us. That is all we can ask of our memorials.

This one succeeds admirably and I thank Louis for his dedication to the project and the months of creative work which he has put into this sculpture. I know that he and Mac worked closely on this concept for many years.

Our sailor is wearing the uniform of the 1939 – 45 war. He represents both the officers and sailors who fought the war at sea.

He also represents the other two naval services, the Womens Royal Australian Naval Service, who were the Navy’s essential backstop ashore, and the RAN’s Nurses whose service was, as always, ‘beyond praise.’

In the six years of that war the RAN Reserve expanded from 4400 officers and sailors to over 30,000. Most of these young civilians went through Flinders Naval Depot, now HMAS Cerberus.

They trained hard and fast and then transited through HMAS Lonsdale to join their first ship. And so, ready or not, they went to war.

Appropriately our newly qualified bronze sailor here is looking out at the entry to Port Phillip Bay on a bearing of 210 degrees.

Beyond is the open sea - his new home where he must brave what the naval prayer accurately calls “the dangers of the sea and the violence of the enemy.”

What will become of him? He may be posted to a one of the Navy’s fast well armed modern cruisers Sydney, Perth, Canberra or Australia, each of which fought with great honour.

He may join an elderly destroyer of the famous “Scrap Iron Flotilla” and fight it out with U Boats and the German and Italian Air Forces in the Mediterranean.

He may be posted to one of the “greyhounds of the Navy”, the fast modern destroyers.

Our young reservist sailor is very likely to join one of the 56 Australian built Bathurst Class minesweepers.

These little ships were work horses not race horses. They fought across the seven seas.

They sank submarines, they shelled enemy beaches and wherever convoys needed protecting and troops ashore needed to be sustained from the sea they were there.

In the first years of the war many of our ships both large and small did not survive the battles in which they were engaged. Ships companies fought to the end often against heavy odds.

In the Second World War 219 officers and 1951 sailors of the RAN lost their lives. Most lie with their ships and have no grave but the cruel sea.

So when one considers what new recruit sailors who “answered the call” were facing when they went into battle, one can only admire the mental strength, resilience and the enduring courage that these very young men displayed.

We who are serving in naval uniform today are their heirs.

They were heirs to the generations of sailors who had trained and drilled here since 1859 when the Victorian Naval Brigade was founded in the Port of Melbourne.

During the First World War the Port of Melbourne Reserve Depot trained sailors went into action in New Guinea in 1914. They were in the crew of HMAS Sydney when she defeated the German raider SMS Emden.

Melbourne depot sailors stood the long watches in the bitter cold of the North Sea and the Atlantic until the war of 1914-18 was won.

The very last of the RAN’s sailors of the First World War died just over a decade ago. The much larger number who volunteered for the Second World War are now few in number, in their nineties, and they too will be gone in a few years.

That inevitable fact makes the placement of this memorial very timely because here, in bronze, is a permanent reminder of these great hearted sailors who gave so much in both world wars and the conflicts since.

Our sailor looking out to sea reminds us of those who never came back. But he also reminds us of those who came home and lived out their lives as our fathers and grandfathers and have since died.

While remembering the RAN’s sailors we do not forget the thousands of sailors of the Australian Merchant Navy who served and the hundreds who died and were wounded in both world wars.

It was Merchant Navy ships which carried the sinews of war, food, fuel, ammunition and troops, to the battlefronts of the world and sustained the populations at home until victory was won.

This memorial is also a tribute to their service under the Red Ensign.

This fine new statue is a place of reflection where our generation, and those that come after us, can pause, and remember what we owe to all those who fought and returned from the sea - and to those who lie there still.

The legacy of all those Australian sailors commemorated here is our life long liberty.

Lest We Forget.