Kathy, a long-serving staff member of the Australian Embassy, reflects on the history of mateship and bayanihan between Australia and the Philippines that dates back to World War II.
If you’ve ever been to Palo, Leyte, you may have seen the Australian Memorial at the MacArthur Memorial Landing Park. The memorial stands as a reminder of the long-standing friendship between our Australia and the Philippines, and stands close to the site where General Douglas MacArthur first stepped ashore after leading the advance from Australia. Completed in 2014, it was established to honour the 92 Australians who gave their lives during the liberation of the Philippines in the Second World War.
The establishment of the memorial was one of the most rewarding projects that I have been part of, as a member of the Defence Section of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines. We worked together with the Philippine Navy’s Naval Combat Engineering Brigade, commonly called “Navy Seabees” for the construction of the monument, which was overseen by the Naval Engineer Task Unit “Tulong Visayas” in Tacloban City. Without their hard work and dedication, the memorial would not have been completed in time for the Dedication Service on 19 October 2014, on the eve of 70th anniversary of the Leyte Landings.
The extensive support and hospitality provided by the Department of Tourism Regional Office 8 in Tacloban City was outstanding. All these activities happened while the whole province was preoccupied in preparation for the commemoration of 70th anniversary of Leyte Gulf Landings and was still recovering from the devastation wreaked by Super Typhoon Yolanda a year before. The local government of Tacloban and Palo Leyte went all out to provide the entire administrative and logistic requirement for the memorial dedication. Their warm hospitality was greatly appreciated.
The day came for the Dawn Service to unveil the Australian Memorial. It was solemn and deeply moving to be at such a historically significant site for both Australia and the Philippines. Australian and Filipino servicemen, national leaders and local government officials, and Leyteňos joined together to remember all those who sacrificed for peace. In the background, on the waters where Royal Australian Navy ships sailed in WWI, we could see the reassuring sight of HMA Ship Larrakia.
Each year, we return to Leyte to take part in the commemoration activities of the Leyte Landings. Our return in 2019 is yet another memorable experience – we were joined by three Australian veterans who were among the 4,000 Australians who served in the country during WWII on what has become known as the Philippines Campaign.
If you find yourself in Palo, Leyte, we invite you to visit the Australian Memorial, a testament to 75 years of mateship and bayanihan between our countries.