An ‘unprecedented feat’: PM remembers D-Day landings

Andrew Brown and William Ton |

Crowds have gathered in Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day landings.
Crowds have gathered in Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day landings.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has led Australian tributes marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in World War II,  a reminder, he says, that “peace is always worth fighting for”.

About 3200 Australian airmen, sailors and soldiers took part in the perilous D-Day campaign in France on June 6, 1944, as their brothers and sisters in arms faced off against Japan closer to home.

The Normandy operation was the largest seaborne invasion the world had ever seen and triggered the beginning of Europe’s liberation from the fascist regime of Adolf Hitler.

Alongside British, American and 11 other Allied forces soldiers, the Australians helped form a beachhead from where the armies of the free world would march on Berlin

Mr Albanese said the military landings were an “unprecedented feat” of collective willpower, remembering the sacrifice of Australian forces and other allied nations.

“It rightly holds a place in our collective hearts is one of the most extraordinary turning points in global history,” he told parliament on Thursday

“Cinema has given a sense of how it looked, yet what will always remain elusive to us is how it truly felt. The chaos, the noise, the desperation and, yes, the fear, yet also the determination, the camaraderie, the overwhelming sense of purpose.

“Eight decades on, we are reminded tragically often that peace is far from a foregone conclusion, yet as we remember D-Day, we are also reminded about one of the most important truths: peace is always worth fighting for.”

A poppy
At least 14 Australians were killed during the D-Day campaign, which marked the end of Nazi Germany. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said D-Day was a critical turning point in World War II and the deeds of the troops involved should always be remembered.

“It is our honour as a nation, our privilege as a parliament to acknowledge, commemorate and pay tribute to the 3200 Australians who were involved in D-Day,” he said.

“Our gratitude to them must never wane, our duty to them is to never drift into complacency, when peace is threatened in our times, our memory of them must never fade.”

About 2800 served from the skies while 500 served in navy warships and a number of soldiers helped in the ground offensive with the British Army, RSL National President Greg Melick said.

At least 14 Australians were killed on D-Day and hundreds more throughout the Normandy campaign.

“This Thursday, D-Day’s 80th anniversary, we will join with communities around the world to remember them and all who fought for freedom and peace,” Mr Melick said.

Governor-General David Hurley and his wife will represent Australia at commemorative events hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and in the United Kingdom to mark the D-Day anniversaries.

One of the first Australians to be killed on D-Day, Sub-Lieutenant Richard Pirrie was recognised on the Normandy Memorial Wall in Portsmouth, England on the eve of the anniversary.

Sub Lt Pirrie, who had turned 24 on the day, was in command of a small spotter boat which he took as close as possible to shore to identify and direct fire against the Germans.

His actions successfully neutralised German positions and not a single Allied troop in that portion of the beach failed to get to shore safely.

But the Australian was killed after his boat was struck by gunfire from Germans on shore and a floating mine.

“He was so successful that the Germans realised what he was doing and directly targeted his small boat,” Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson said.

Richard Pirrie who died in the D-Day landings.
Richard Pirrie turned 24 on the day he died in the D-Day landings. (David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS)

Sub Lt Pirrie’s nephew Richard Pirrie said many people saw D-Day as an American, British and Canadian struggle.

“But Australian blood was spilled too,” he said.

About 27,000 Australian airmen participated in the Western theatre during the Second World War.

One in five did not survive.