Senate Speech on Remembrance Day 2019

On Monday, 11 November 2019 Senator Eric Abetz of Tasmania made the following speech in regard to the death of Tasmanian World War II veteran TX3754 Adye Glen Rockliff of C-Company 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion in World War Two:

“Today I had the privilege of laying a wreath on behalf of the Prime Minister and the people of Australia at the Hobart Cenotaph to commemorate the contribution of our service men and women on this Remembrance Day. As I did so I recalled that last month a simple death notice marking the passing of Tasmanian World War II veteran TX3754, Adye Glen Rockliff. The death notice read as follows: (the widows, children, grandchildren and friends of Adye's comrades from C-Company of 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion extend our deepest sympathy to his family.

A humble, able and much respected man; and—most poignantly—the last surviving prisoner of war of this unit. One of Dunlop's Thousand). He was 98 years old. Adye enlisted in the Second AIF, aged 18, and trained initially in Tasmania. The 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion was formed in June 1940 and served in Egypt, Syria, the Netherlands, the East Indies and New Guinea. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Blackburn, the battalion was primarily a South Australian unit, although it had subunits: B Company in Victoria, C Company in Tasmania and D Company in Western Australia.

In April 1941, the battalion embarked for the Middle East. In June and July it saw action against Vichy French forces in Syria with the 7th division. Following Japan's entry into the war, Australian troops from the Middle East were transferred to the Pacific region. In early 1942, the Japanese advanced through the Netherlands East Indies. Four days after the fall of Singapore, and on the day Darwin was bombed, Australian troops disembarked in Java from the troopship Orcades, having been diverted on their return journey to Australia.

Adye's unit was joined by the 2nd/2nd Pioneer Battalion and the 2nd/2nd Casualty Clearing Station, which had served at Tobruk. The clearing station included the much renowned surgeon Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, a man whom I had the privilege of meeting.

These units and others already on the island became known as Black Force.

On the night of 28 February, when the Japanese began landing, Tasmania C Company was at the forefront of the action. It resulted in the loss of seven members killed and 28 wounded, but afterwards they found that they had killed no fewer than 200 Japanese. However, Black Force was ordered to surrender on 9 March, following the Dutch capitulation the day before.

Members of Black Force unit spent captivity in a wide range of locations, including Thailand, Japan and Singapore. One hundred and thirty-nine from the 2nd/3rd MG Battalion died as prisoners. Adye and other Tasmanians moved to a prisoner-of-war camp and came under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Weary Dunlop. They were then transferred to Changi, in Singapore, and then the Burma-Thailand railway.

Nine thousand five hundred Australians worked on this railway, where 2,646 died from the deprivations, the effects of tropical diseases and malnutrition. This was despite the heroic efforts of doctors and officers like Weary Dunlop. After 18 months of this brutal existence, Adye and some of his unit were selected to work in Japan in undersea coalmines. His convoy of 14 transport ships suffered bad weather and attacks by allied submarines, meaning only four ships reached Japan. Twenty-seven members of his machine gun battalion died on one of those sunken ships.

Rockliff survived in the coalmine until the end of the war. He returned to Tasmania after six years at war and immediately found it difficult to reacclimatise to normal life, no longer fighting to survive each day or dealing with life-or-death issues. He found Australia had changed. His brothers and sisters had grown. And he felt the loss of being part of a large organisation such as the Army. Like his prisoner-of-war camp commander Weary Dunlop, after the war Adye became an advocate for his returned comrades, often battling the department for medical and social assistance for fellow mates.

In recent years, he took the opportunity to write to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and also to write a book on his wartime experience, entitled simply The War Time Memories of Adye Rockliff. Adye was the loving husband of his wife, Sheila (deceased); loving father of John (deceased), David, Kathy and Chris; father-in-law of Merril and Sue; and grandfather of Claire, Megan, Aaron and Luke.

Adye Glen Rockliff's sacrifice in war for his family and his country was typical of many Australians who served in World War II and those who continue to serve in the Australian Defence Force. His battles with the Department of Veterans' Affairs remind us of the importance of getting the right response by government to the recommendations of the Productivity Commission's review of veterans' entitlements. His life reminds us of the importance of Australian values mateship, loyalty and courage in the face of adversity and that there are virtues, values and principles which are worthy of sacrifice.

His sacrifice and that of his fellow veterans was acknowledged by the Prime Minister in his recent visit to Hellfire Pass and the memorial to our prisoners of war that were on the Burma Thailand Railway. The memorial, I had the honour of visiting—and, indeed, of hearing, as I walked around, the reminiscences of former Labor minister Tom Uren and former Liberal government Senate leader John Carrick, both of whom continued their service, after the war, in this parliament.

It is appropriate on days such as this to reflect that our privilege to serve in this place was bought with the blood and lives of our forebears and continues to be protected today by similarly minded individuals in our ADF. In my home state, we have seen the Headstone Project in Tasmania mark the final resting place of World War I veterans who previously lay in unmarked graves. It is right and proper to continue the tradition of acknowledging the sacrifices of our diggers on Remembrance Day and to offer our deep heartfelt thanks to all those who served in any war or conflict. "

"Lest we forget”.

The Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association extend their commiserations to the family of Adye Glen Rockliff and record their gratitude to Senator Eric Abetz for addressing the Senate.

The Association also acknowledges with thanks the source of the speech in the Senate as published in Hansard.

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