D-Day Anniversary

Photo of cemetery in Normandy
06 June 2019

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (12:53:58): By leave: As one of the few members of this Parliament whose paternal grandparents, father, aunt and several uncles were in Europe under German occupation 75 years ago I take the opportunity to honour those who began their liberation: They are the brave men and women who participated in the liberating forces that landed at Normandy. My uncle Gerard was a political prisoner in a German concentration camp and did not survive the brutal cruelty of the Nazis who subjected him to a death march from Hamburg to Ravensbruck concentration camp. While I was a Rotary foundation scholar in Canada in the 1980s I met many Canadian World War Two veterans, some of whom had participated on D-day. My Rotary mentor, Bill Dale, QC, is no longer with us. He said he always regretted that the tank he commanded had a mechanical fault which prevented him from landing 75 years ago on the beaches of Normandy. He did get his chance to serve in Europe after the landing.

The Canadian Rotarians who served in the Second World War spoke fondly of Australian soldiers, especially pilots, they had met during the war. The goodwill amongst the Allied soldiers towards each other, and especially the Commonwealth soldiers, had a strong impact upon me. D-day was an incredible international exercise of men and women from all different countries risking, and in some cases giving, their lives to free people from countries other than their own. My father was many kilometres away from the beaches of Normandy in the Netherlands, but he quickly found out about the battle. A German soldier in the Wehrmacht occupying 's‑Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, where my father lived, said somewhat happily to him, "We will all be going home soon, the Allies have landed in France." That indicated to my father that many German soldiers were reluctant participants in the war.

I mention also the father of an American friend of mine, Kevin Conneely, who had a significant rank in the tank corps of the American army. He is no longer with us, but 75 years ago he was a classic Irish Roman Catholic Midwest young man who did extraordinary things to fight for freedom on D-day and in Europe generally. The obvious bond between United States servicemen and Australian servicemen of his generation had a real impact on me. I have spoken about matters told to me by three people who were in Europe 75 years ago, my father, Bill Dale and Mr Conneely.

I note one other historical figure who should be remembered and that is Winston Churchill. He, more than any other person, was responsible for the commencement of freedom for Europe 75 years ago. Apparently the Allied High Command had to almost physically restrain the British Prime Minister from landing on the beach himself 75 years ago. In the Boer War and the First World War Winston Churchill was frequently on the front line risking his life. Although Mr Churchill, as he was then, was not allowed to land with the forces at Normandy he was on those beaches within days of the landing. Mr Churchill played a significant role and is responsible for saving many millions of lives. It is appropriate that we honour this significant moment in history, the loss of life and the casualties incurred by those brave men and women who took part in this liberating force.