President’s Report 2014

 

Because of our involvement with the 2/3rd our focus tends to be exclusively on WW2 and the proud role played by the regiment in that conflict.

However this year being the one hundreth anniversary of the commencement of WW1 I thought it appropriate to reflect briefly on the impact the ‘Great War’ as it was ironically named, had on our nation at that time.

This was prompted by a recent stopover in the NSW town of Gundagai. Like most country towns Gundagai has a war memorial – travellers see these memorials but rarely stop to take in their significance. In Gundagai the main war memorial is Anzac Grove near the Murrumbidgee River. The memorial sits at the centre of a grove of 52 Kurrajong trees representing the 52 Gundagai soldiers killed in WW1. Total Australian casualties were close to 60,000 – a number so great that it is hard to comprehend but often in life it is the little things that have the greatest impact. In this case 52 young men were killed from one small town when its population at that time was less than 2000 – it brings the loss back to a scale we can better grasp.

Returning to Melbourne I was motivated by this experience to look closely at another WW1 memorial which has been a familiar landmark since my childhood and one which I either drive or ride past nearly every day. It is the imposing war memorial overlooking the bay at Brighton Beach. Until now I had never properly examined the rows of names on the memorial. I was staggered to count the names of 614 soldiers from Bayside –(a small group of suburbs from Brighton to Beaumaris) who were killed in WW1. This at a time when Melbourne’s total population was just  670,000 and Australia’s was less than 5 million. With memorials such as these replicated all over the country we can better understand the devastating impact the loss of so many young lives was to such a young nation. At about 65% the Australian casualty rate was among the biggest of the war.

The ‘Great War’ was supposed to be the ‘war that ends all wars’ – sadly as we are all too aware, in just twenty one years the world was plunged into WW2.

In this edition of Take Post under the heading ‘A time to reflect’ Secretary Colin Bragg raises some pertinent issues for the Association to consider. Questions posed relate mainly to the future makeup of the Association in particular whether there will be sufficient interest and involvement from the membership to take up positions on the committee and/or as office bearers.

Since the current administration took over the running of the Association in 2008 much has been achieved and most if not all the objectives articulated by the ‘old guard’ at the handover have been met. In fact I believe what this administration has delivered has exceeded expectations. But in that time there has been no change to the committee or office bearers. The strength of any organization is its ability and willingness to regularly regenerate with new talent and new ideas. With that thought as a guiding principle I informed the committee at our recent meeting of my decision to stand down from the Presidency.

It has been an honour and a privilege to have served the Association over these past six years. Having been the first non service member to hold the office of President of the Association and being the first descendant to follow their father in that role are significant honours which I am very proud of and humbled by. However, I firmly believe having overseen the successful transition from the previous administration and with the Association in a good position that now it’s time for new leadership to take the organization to the next stage of its development.

This should not be seen as a daunting task as most of the ‘heavy lifting’ has been done.

In the same way that the ‘old guard’ appealed for descendants to step in and take over the running of the Association, the current administration would like to see some fresh faces including some of the younger generation inject new blood and take the Association forward, building on the solid foundation already in place.

In my 2012 President’s report I highlighted how other WW2 associations without a succession plan were being forced to cease operations. Our Association is in a stronger position than many others with initiatives such as the highly successful website together a significant descendants group aka ‘the Remembrance Group’. However the need for us to have a succession plan of our own and have the next group of members willing to continue the work is vitally importance to the future of the Association. I am confident that we have enough members within our ranks who will ‘answer the call’.

My sincere thanks to each member of the committee for their continued dedication and willingness to work for the good of the Association over the past six years. Ann Bragg, Anne Rae, Graeme and Matthew Heddle, Colin Bragg and David McDonald. Much has been achieved in that time and that should be a source of great pride for all involved.

But this has only been possible due to the tremendous drive and professionalism of Honorary Secretary Colin Bragg. He has been the real engine room of the Association and deserves enormous credit for the countless hours and commitment he has given to the task.

Research Officer, David McDonald, has ably supported Colin. David is an invaluable authority on all things military, and the 2/3rd history in particular. His extensive knowledge and wise counsel have made him a vital member of the committee and the Association more broadly.

Sadly with each passing year we lose a number of our 2/3rd service members. Last year among those we lost was Cec Rae – a man synonymous with the 2/3rd not just because of his enormous contribution to the Association over such a long period but because he embodied all the fine qualities for which the Regiment stood.

Cec was a man of the highest integrity, strength of character capped off with an irreverent sense of humour.

In this edition of Take Post Secretary Colin Bragg has included a fitting tribute to Cec, a snapshot of his life and his decades long work for the Association.

He will always be remembered whenever the story of the 2/3rd is told.

Ironically I concluded my report last year with the recollection that during a morning tea with Cec he had described the 2/3rd as a ‘brotherhood’. Well Cec, few have served that brotherhood better than you.

President’s Report 2013

Every so often in life you find yourself witnessing or being part of an event which has a profound impact on you. For me and I suspect all those present, such an event was the Air Defence Luncheon which took place in May last year. This was a gathering of a small group of regular Army personnel coming together with a select group of 2/3rd veterans.

The Army contingent (Royal Australian Artillery) comprised four young lieutenants Pru Connell, James Easton, Jimmy Nguyen and Sam Rynne who were in the final stages of their officer training and their C.O. and instuctor Captain Mike Squire. The young officers who I estimate were all aged in their twenties were training in gunnery for ground based Air Defence.

Representing the 2/3rd were Cec Rae, John Campbell, Ian Rutter and John Marshall. Accompanying this impressive group were Cec’s son Ian, Secretary Colin Bragg and myself. The setting was around a long table in the quiet surrounds of the wine cellar of the City RACV Club.

By way of background this gathering resulted from an approach made by Captain Squire to our Association that his officers meet with a group of WW2 anti aircraft veterans to hear first hand how ‘Air defence’ as it is now known, was conducted at that time.

Over a long lunch the two groups interacted, generally with one of the young lieutenants in deep discussion with one of our ‘boys’. During the course of the afternoon these pairings would change or become a small group. The intention at all times was to keep the mood intimate and relaxed with a lack of formality to encourage conversation.

For my part I found it a very special experience to move quietly around the room observing the mutual respect and genuine warmth that was evident between those present as they exchanged information, experiences and anecdotes punctuated by frequent bouts of laughter. A selection of photographs taken on the day appear in this edition of Take Post and on the website and capture some of the atmosphere of the occasion.

The highlight and only formality of the afternoon was the presentation by Captain Squire to each member of the 2/3rd contingent of a highly polished, pristine condition Bofors shell as a thankyou for their time and willing participation. This was a wonderful gesture which surprised and delighted the veterans.

If this group of young lieutenants and their C.O are at all representative of the current crop of officers in the Defence Force then we are in good hands and the ADF has much to be proud of. As always our 2/3rd boys were a credit to themselves, the Regiment and the Association.

I stated at the outset what a profound effect the event had for me – it was very moving to witness the dignified coming together of two groups so different in age and experience but united by a common bond. I felt privileged to have been present at such a unique and memorable occasion. My thanks to Captain Squire and Secretary Colin Bragg for making the idea a reality.

Over recent times much attention has been focused on the development and launch of the Association website. The website together with the digitization of ‘On Target’ are two important examples of the new world of electronic archiving and communications.

As we become more familiar with this new world and marvel at its speed and convenience we can also be lulled into a false sense of security that such electronic data is permanent and safe. Our indefatigable Secretary had a rude reminder of how fragile this digital world can be when late last year our website was the target of a hacker resulting in the site being taken down for a period of time. Colin and I speculated that the hacker might have been the disgruntled descendant of a WW2 Lutwaffe pilot shot down by a 2/3rd battery! However while the rest of us were enjoying our Christmas and New Year, Colin endured a very tense few weeks in constant communication with the website technician trying to ascertain the extent of the damage and if it could be restored what new security would be required to prevent a reoccurrence.

Fortunately the damage was minimal and the website was repaired albeit with a new layer of security software and backup.

On behalf of the Association I want to thank Colin for ‘taking one for the team’ during that stressful time and to also thank those members who so willingly donated to the cost of the website repair. The website is an unqualified success and figures produced by David McDonald at our last committee meeting show the number of hits continues to increase.

An overall snapshot of the Association currently indicates that it is tracking well in most key areas. One area of concern however is the number of members who are not ‘financial’, a fact highlighted in the Secretary’s Report. I have emphasised previously how important it is for all members to ‘be on board’ in order to ensure that the Association remains viable into the future and is able to undertake initiatives such as those introduced in recent years. The financial contribution asked of members is not great but it is vitally important.

As is customary at this time of the year I want to thank all members of the Committee for their continued support and involvement – Anne Rae, Ann Bragg, David McDonald, Graeme and Matthew Heddle and of course Colin Bragg for his outstanding work as Secretary, production of Take Post and for putting such a professional stamp on all aspects of the Association.

I conclude with this thought. Recently over a very enjoyable morning tea with Cec Rae he described the relationship between the men of the 2/3rd as a ‘brotherhood’ such was the bond that existed and still does between them. As one of the small group charged with the responsibility of taking Association forward, I consider it a honour to be able to serve such a special ‘brotherhood’.

President’s Report  2011

This time last year we noted two important anniversaries for the 2/3rd – 2010 represented the 70th anniversary of the formation of the regiment in July 1940 and the 65th anniversary of the Unit Association, which was formed in July 1945.

2011 is significant for a further important anniversary in the proud history of the regiment. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Crete, Tobruk and Western Desert battles involving batteries of the 2/3rd. An extract from ‘On Target’ provides a snapshot of the record in these theatres of operation.

“On 1st August 1941, the first anniversary of the formation of the 2/3rd L.A.A Regiment, Colonel Rhoden, in a letter, marked the occasion by complementing all concerned on their efforts and record, summarising as follows:

7th Battery – Achievements: Action in Crete as static Battery. Bofors guns. Credited with 62 planes in six weeks. Loss in personnel, approximately 200.

8th Battery – Achievements: Action in Tobruk for six months. All types of captured guns. Credited with 30 planes. Loss in personnel, approximately 50.

9th Battery – Achievements: Action in Western Desert for three months as mobile Bofors unit. Credited with 9 planes. Loss in personnel, 1 killed.”

Unfortunately the Greece/Crete campaign has long been the subject of some controversy owing to the fact that it was never recognised by the Australian Government with a dedicated campaign medal. However there is growing pressure to have this situation righted. Dr Maria Hill author of the book Diggers and Greeks has established a petition at the book’s website with the aim of pushing the Government to retrospectively create such a medal. This would be most appropriate in 2011, the 70th anniversary of the campaign.

The Association supports such a move and would encourage members and others to add their names to the petition. For further information see the sidebar or go to ‘News & Events’ on the Association website.

Whilst on controversial issues most members would have received notification from the Association or seen in the media the changes proposed to this year’s Anzac Day March.

In essence the changes would see all WW2 veterans riding in vehicles, unit banners grouped together and descendants marching at the rear as a separate group. This would only apply to the Melbourne March.

At its February meeting the committee moved that a submission be put to the Victorian RSL stating our objections to several of the contentious proposals, namely the grouping of banners and the separation of descendants and requesting a period of consultation with associations with no change for 2011.

The response was quick and unambiguous – the changes as proposed would apply to this year’s March and are ‘non-negotiable’. It was also pointed out that a similar decision was taken in 1980 with respect to WW1 veterans.

Clearly in the light of this ‘directive’ individual veterans and descendants will have to consider their own attitude to participation in this year’s march and in all likelihood, future marches.

On a positive note there is good news concerning the 2/3rd commemorative tree and plaque. At the last AGM I reported that over 100 trees were being removed from the Shrine grounds and that some 200 more drought tolerant species would be planted as replacements. One of the trees removed was ours along with it’s accompanying plaque.

On a recent visit I was pleased to see that we now have a new tree and that our plaque is back in place. The location is virtually the original site - on the lower slope near St.Kilda Road – the section between Park and Dorcas Streets and opposite tram stop 19.

The creation of our own 2/3rd website was the big news at last year’s AGM. Despite the best intentions it has been a somewhat difficult gestation period but thanks to the wonderful efforts of our resident website midwives Secretary Colin Bragg ably assisted by Research Officer David McDonald we can proudly announce the arrival of a very healthy, good looking and intelligent website (www.antiaircraft.org.au). On behalf of the Association and the wider 2/3rd family I congratulate Colin and David for a first class effort and a great result.

In addition to his very full portfolio as Secretary, Colin went ‘back to school’ during the year - first learning the mysteries of website design and maintenance and then followed this up with a crash course in desktop publishing in order to produce this year’s Take Post. The results speak for themselves – like all that Colin does - totally professional. Colin and Ann are planning a major home extension this year, if this DIY trend continues Colin will be taking courses in architecture and building construction!

Another aim of the Association alluded to last year was to have our book ‘On Target’ digitised in order to preserve the regiment’s history and to expose it to a wider audience. The cost to digitise a book of 347 pages was always going to be the barrier, potentially running to thousands of dollars. Enter David McDonald. Thanks to David’s excellent contacts and the generous offer of datacomIT to do the job as a community service ‘On Target’ has been digitised and is in the process of being uploaded to our website.

Whilst Colin and David have been driving forces I must thank the other members of the committee for their involvement and contributions during the year – Vice President Matthew Heddle, Treasurer Ann Bragg, Anne Rae and Graeme Heddle. It is great group – enthusiastic and committed to the 2/3rd cause. As President I’m rather like the bulldog on the radiator grill of a Mack truck – it might be at the front, but the serious power and grunt is behind it.

In conclusion, to the original 2/3rd ‘boys’ - on behalf of the committee, thank you for your continuing support and valuable input. From that initial meeting of thirteen descendants and partners back in 2007 to flag the possible establishment of a ‘Younger Generations’ or ‘Remembrance’ group that would continue the work of the Association - to 2011 with membership of ninety and growing – you can be satisfied that your decision to form such a group was a good one. To quote John Lennon at the end of the Beatles’ last live performance ‘ I’d like to say thank you and on behalf of the group we hope we’ve passed the audition’.

President’s Report 2012

At a time in the future when the history of the Association is reflected upon I believe two recent years will be considered as milestones in what has been a long and proud history.

The first of those is 2007 when the committee at that time led so effectively by President Ron Bryant and Secretary John Campbell had to face the reality that despite years of dedicated service time was their new enemy – one which couldn’t be stopped with a shell from a Bofors gun.

The decision had to be made to either allow the Association to fold or put out a ‘call to arms’ in the hope that the younger generation of the 2/3rd family would step up and ensure the continuance of the Association.

As we are all aware the latter decision was made and at an initial meeting of thirteen in 2007 the Remembrance Group (the name coined by the committee at that time) was formed charged with the responsibility of taking over the running of the Association.

Five years on from that landmark decision the Association continues as a viable entity.

Currently membership of the Remembrance Group stands at one hundred – a long way from the small beginnings in 2007.

The significance of this decision to invite the ‘younger’ generations to form a new administration thereby ensuring the continuation of the Association was brought home to me very clearly on reading the President’s report of the 2/12 Australian Field Regiment Members Association which appeared in their 2011 newsletter, ironically also called Take Post.

To quote part of President Dr Hugh Melville’s report to members:

“It has become obvious that the 2/12th Australian Field Regiment Members Association is running out of steam, as with all such unit associations from WWII. This is simply due to natural causes i.e. deaths and the ever increasing age of its members.

Your committee at its January meeting that at this year’s Annual General Meeting on September 29th, the affairs of the association would cease to function and that the Association would be disbanded”. Dr Melville continues:

“ This of course includes the production of Take Post which has been such a binding factor in maintaining the ‘esprit de corps’ of the Association. This issue will therefore be the final issue.”

Clearly had it not been for the ‘call to arms’ made by Ron Bryant and his committee in 2007 and importantly the positive response to that appeal, our Association may well have been in an identical position.

The second milestone year in the Association’s recent history in my opinion is 2011. It was at last year’s AGM that the Association website was launched. Twelve months on the importance of this initiative cannot be overstated. As an interactive communications tool and a vehicle for presenting the 2/3rd story to a whole new audience it is proving to be a wonderful asset.

All credit for the success of this project goes to our tireless Secretary Colin Bragg ably supported by Research Officer David McDonald both of whom have devoted hundreds of hours to making the website a reality.

One associated but very tangible benefit of developing the website has been the many contributions made by members and their families of photographs, documents and other valuable material which may have been lost over time and now thanks modern technology can be preserved and viewed in an appropriate context. More detail on the website is contained in the Secretary’s report.

Together with the launch of the website last year, we were able to announce the digitisation of  ‘On Target’ the increasingly rare book of the Regiment’s history. As a result this can now be accessed via the website. These are vital contributions to preserving the  history of the Regiment and the Association.

As well as acknowledging the power of work done by Colin and David in establishing and maintaining the website I want to thank the other members of the committee who continue to demonstrate a strong commitment to the Association and its members – Vice President Matthew Heddle, Treasurer Ann Bragg, together with Anne Rae and Graeme Heddle.

Congratulations also to Colin for the outstanding job he has done in sourcing material for then producing Take Post to a standard, which reflects well on our Association.

Sadly each year we lose more of our most treasured asset – our original 2/3rd ‘boys’. Amongst those we have lost since last year’s AGM were three stalwarts of the Regiment and the Association ‘Banner Man’ Dave Thomson, long term (61 years) Association Treasurer John Hepworth and just last month Immediate Past President Ron Bryant, the driving force behind the formation of the Remembrance Group.                             Fortuitously there was a feature article on Dave in last year’s Take Post, which he undoubtedly enjoyed contributing to and subsequently reading. A detailed tribute to John, which featured in the Melbourne Age is reprinted in this edition. A summary of Ron’s significant contribution to the Regiment and the Association is also included.

Although the ranks of the original members are thinning what doesn’t diminish is the continued support and encouragement the committee receives from our ‘vets’ and for that I thank them most sincerely.

In summary much has been achieved since this administration was handed the baton in 2007. However there is no room for complacency. In the Secretary’s report, Colin notes that a number of members have not renewed their membership. This is a concern. If we are to build on the achievements to date and ensure the viability of the Association into the future we need the continued support of all members. I am confident the Association will receive that support.

How quickly the year has slipped by since I made my last report to the Newsletter. These days life in general seems to have sped up and time rushes by. As children it seemed so long between birthdays, but no longer so - they come and go so fast!

During the celebrations of the new millennium much attention was given to the events of past years. Whilst there were heroic and good things to remember there were also many reminders of the loss of life and the misery in the world due to wars. I hope future generations will be wiser in their administration of world affairs and come to more peaceful solutions of world problems.

I am eagerly looking forward to catching up with you all again at our reunion on 24th April and to those who are unable to attend because of poor health I send you my very best wishes and assure you we will be thinking of our absent friends on that day. This year marks a special milestone for most of us as it is 60 years on July 6th since the 2/3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment was formed at the Werribee racecourse.

As I write these notes I clearly remember passing through the gates for the first time as a very raw soldier in my rough ill-fitting uniform. It was a time to embark on new experiences and also a time one formed long lasting friendships.

The main event I attended after Anzac Day last year was the "Battle for Australia" commemoration service at the Shrine of Remembrance. Its purpose was to honour the courage, sacrifice and service of the men and the women who repulsed the Japanese attack on Australian territory.

It was a very impressive ceremony with addresses by the Victorian Governor and diplomats from New Guinea and the United States. Following this, representatives from most of Victoria's Secondary Schools laid floral tributes at the Cenotaph.

Later at the luncheon, an ex-Naval officer told vividly of first-hand experiences in the great Coral Sea and Midway battles. This particular commemoration service was a first for Victoria and is now a permanent feature on the calendar of annual events at the Shrine. It was well organised - there were plenty of chairs provided, and I suggest that if you would like to attend in September this year and are unsure of the details, contact John Campbell in August.

Finally, my thanks to our helpful and hard working Committee, and to all who assisted in the production of "Take Post".

Jack Crittenden