13 KELTIE STREET
PHILLIP ACT 2606
GPO BOX 9998
CANBERRA ACT 2601 TELEPHONE (02) 6289 6736
AUSTRALIA FACSIMILE (02) 6289 6257
Saluting Their Service
OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY
I refer to correspondence currently circulating which is critical of the conduct of Department of
Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) staff at the recent commemorative activities in London for Bomber
The comments that have been made around the professionalism of my staff, including a lack of
empathy, are disappointing and untrue. Departments and individuals take criticism from time to
time, however in this case the unwarranted comments have moved from being constructive to being
inappropriate and unjustified. Given the negative perceptions this correspondence has raised among
the veteran community, I feel it is important to respond and set the record straight.
I appreciate that what follows is lengthy, however it is important to provide context to the claims
that have been made.
DVA has a proven record in the conduct of commemorative missions and is very proud to have
been able to support the travel of more than 100 Australian veterans of Bomber Command to
London for the dedication of the Bomber Command Memorial.
Traditionally, commemorative missions involve up to eight veterans. Through the ex-service
community and specifically the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Association and Bomber
Command Association, expressions of interest were sought for the mission party from 7 March.
This process was extended on two occasions to close on 4 May. Due to the overwhelming response
from the veteran community, the size of the official delegation was extended.
Those who nominated had to be prepared to depart Australia with the official group, adhere to the
official program and return to Australia with that group. No family or carer could accompany this
group and the veterans had to be cleared medically by the DVA Principal Medical Advisor. Of the
44 nominations received, 31 veterans were deemed medically fit to travel. All 31 took part in the
mission. The dedicated staff from DVA and the RAAF who accompanied the official delegation to
London, including support and medical teams, were highly professional and caring individuals
who provided complete support for the veterans of this delegation.
Most of the remaining 70 (+) veterans who travelled independently chose to do so because they did
not wish to be part of the official delegation to avoid the restrictions placed on that group and they
preferred to travel with their families. Many travelled to the UK or Europe beforehand and indeed
many remained for an extended stay after the dedication ceremony. Veterans who travelled
independently had family members and/or carers to provide immediate support. These veterans
were able to make use of the $5000 subsidy offered by the Government as well as the free travel
insurance that was offered through Defence Health and facilitated by the RAAF Association.
This has been supported by the National Secretary of the RAAF Association, Wing Commander
Ron Usher MBE (Retd), who in a recent email to RAAF Association membership states that:
“... to understand what occurred in the background, one would have to understand the critical
difference between those who were on the official DVA party and those who were afforded the
opportunity to be subsidised by DVA to travel to this very important event. I personally know of a
number of veterans who declined to apply for participation in the official DVA party because they
either did not wish to be part of a regimented group that would be the centre of media attention or
because they wanted their wives to accompany them. Instead they chose to apply for the $5000
grant ... I make the point that neither DVA nor the RAAF was responsible in any way for the
subsidised group; that group was left in no doubt that they travelled on their own but most of them
had the advantage of being offered free travel insurance through the underwriters of Defence Health
(Chartis Insurance), regardless of age and regardless of pre-existing conditions and have been
offered an Akubra hat through Defence Housing (both at the initiative of the recently retired RAAF
Association National President, Roxley McLennan). That the hats were not able to be provided in
time for the veterans' departure was unfortunate but the logistics were a trifle difficult what with
some veterans departing from WA and others from Brisbane as well as most of them from Sydney,
over two days. However I am assured that this very generous offer from Defence Housing will
result in all veterans who are on my list to receive the DVA grant, will receive an Akubra Hat...”
However, throughout this mission, DVA staff and the RAAF personnel provided backup and
support to the wider Bomber Command group from Australia. The allegation that medical support
was denied to the wider Bomber Command group is simply untrue. Medical support including two
doctors and four nurses provided support to all Australian veterans throughout the week. I stress
that this was available to and accessed by Australian veterans, including those who travelled
independently with their own family and carers. In fact, on arrival in London the DVA and
RAAF medical staff were called upon to provide medical support to veterans from the wider
group who had suffered falls during transit in Korea and did so immediately.
While the Bomber Command Memorial Trust – UK (BC-UK) organised the two key events of the
week for all Commonwealth Bomber Command veterans, being the reception at Guild Hall on the
evening of 27 June and the dedication ceremony of the new Memorial on 28 June, DVA with
support from the Australian High Commission in London arranged and coordinated three other
Australian only events. These included an Australian commemorative service at the Air Forces
Memorial at Runnymede on 26 June, a reception at Australia House hosted by the Australian Chief
of Air Force later that day, and a commemorative service at the Australian Memorial at Hyde
Park Corner. All Australian veterans and their families were invited to attend these events and were
actively included. In the days between formal events, each group had their own separate program
or participated in other activities.
In recognition of the distance of the Air Forces Memorial, Runneymede from London, DVA
through the Australian High Commission engaged a transport company to provide buses to and
from the memorial. All veterans, both the official delegation and the wider Bomber Command
group, received the same bus transport. I accept that there were transport issues encountered on this
day. Runnymede itself is in a rural setting and access is via a narrow, single lane which would only
allow buses to reverse in two at a time. With six bus loads of passengers, this inevitably took some
time. You would be interested to know that a senior DVA officer, Liz Cosson, remained until this
was complete and travelled back with the last bus.
On that day there were two bus break downs, with one affecting each group. One break down
delayed the return of some veterans and family members from Runnymede, which was
disappointing for all concerned. This caused them to miss the reception at Australia House.
DVA with support from the High Commission arranged a separate reception for this group later in
the week to ensure all veterans had the opportunity to visit what was an iconic location for all those
who had served in Bomber Command.
Whilst the bus break down was unavoidable, DVA cancelled the contract with the bus company
once all veterans arrived safely at their next destination. Importantly, DVA support staff remained
with the veterans until a replacement bus arrived, arranged for follow-up medical checks on
their return and provided a meal and refreshments for the group at their hotel that evening. The
claim that those stranded were left waiting for seven hours is overstated. While I do not excuse the
break down, the wait for passengers was closer to two hours.
Regarding the unfortunate fall of a veteran at Runnymede, support was in fact provided
immediately by both a DVA staff member and the RSM Ceremonial. While various commentators
have publicly thanked RSM Ceremonial for assisting and accompanying the veteran, they have
failed to acknowledge the support provided by the DVA staff member who stayed by the veteran’s
side until he was safely returned to his hotel.
For the BC-UK Reception hosted by the City of London at Guild Hall, Australia was only granted
40 places at the event due to restricted numbers. DVA insisted that all 40 invitations were
allocated to the wider Bomber Command group through the Bomber Command Association. The
official delegation did not attend this event at all, other than providing medical support in the form
of a RAAF doctor and a nursing officer.
At the official dedication ceremony of the new Bomber Command Memorial on 28 June, Australia
was allocated 80 places in the Memorial seating area. The BC-UK's plan for the 80 seats allocated
was for 40 veterans with 40 carers. DVA did not support this proposal and negotiated with BC-UK,
through the High Commission, for all 80 seats to be dedicated for veterans only. The majority of
these were provided to the wider Bomber Command group (49 seats) with the remaining places
going to the veterans from the official delegation (31 seats). The total number of seats allocated to
Australian veterans was significantly more than our New Zealand and Canadian comrades attending
the ceremony. DVA arranged for eight support staff to provide assistance to all 80 Australian
veterans in the seating area. The support team were allocated standing room only by the BC-UK
organisers. However, on the day, as a result of a request from the BC-UK organisers, just prior
to the service commencing, that some of our staff members occupy seats left vacant by other invited
guests who had failed to arrive on time, some of the support team were consequently seated.
As I have already mentioned, in the days in between the formal ceremonies each group of
Australian veterans had their own separate programs or participated in other activities. Veterans
and families travelling independently undertook a range of sightseeing activities, including visits to
museums and other venues. This program differed from the daily program of the official delegation.
Prior to the official delegation departing Australia, DVA, with the assistance of the High
Commission, had booked a visit to the RAF Museum at Hendon for Friday 29 June. This included
a sit down lunch at the Museum cafeteria, which has a limited capacity and requires early bookings.
A few days before the museum visit, DVA became aware that the wider Bomber Command group
had decided to visit the museum on the same day and time. Given that the catering capacity of the
facility was already overwhelmed, DVA arranged and paid for a packed lunch with drinks and fruit
to be provided to the wider Bomber Command group and their families/carers.
The official delegation’s visit to St Clements Danes church (The Royal Air Forces Church) in
London was an informal visit on the return journey from the Hendon Museum to the delegation's
hotel. The Vicar offered to conduct a short service for the group while they were at the church.
This visit coincided with the separate reception at the High Commission for the group of veterans
and families who had been inconvenienced by the bus break down after the Runnymede service and
missed the Chief of Air Force reception earlier in the week.
The final service for the week held at the Australian War Memorial at Hyde Park Corner was an
appropriate and dignified ending to what had been an emotional and memorable week for all the
veterans. As with the service at Runnymede, two veterans from the wider Bomber Command group
along with two veterans from the official delegation were invited to lay the first two wreaths. Dr
Ron Houghton, the President of the Bomber Command Association Australia was nominated by the
Bomber Command group to be one of the wreath layers at the ceremony. Unfortunately, Ron
arrived after the ceremony had commenced and the Bomber Command group in his absence had
quickly nominated an able replacement to perform this role during the ceremony. After
Dr Houghton was located, a seat was provided for him adjacent to the Master of Ceremonies (MC)
and he was called forward at the appropriate time during the service to lay a wreath on behalf of the
Bomber Command Association. The quick thinking and reaction of the DVA ceremonial officer,
the RSM Ceremonial ADF and the MC, ensured that Dr Houghton was included in the ceremony
appropriately and was not forgotten as has been suggested.
At this service, there were two seating areas cordoned off by the DVA and Defence ceremonial
team in the interests of safety. The front section was reserved for all Australian veterans and
official guests. As there had been a light rain that morning and the grass slope immediately
behind the forward area was slippery, this small section was left clear as a safety measure. Further
seating was provided behind the slope on a flat surface well within view of the ceremony and some
veterans chose to sit there to be with their families.
As indicated by the National Secretary of the RAAF Association in his recent email, Defence
Housing Authority (DHA), not DVA, offered to provide Akubra hats to all veterans travelling
independently of the official mission party. DVA understands that DHA presented hats to
the veteran groups departing from Sydney only, on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 June at the airport.
Veterans who had already commenced their journey or departed from Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth
did not receive their hats before the London events. I understand DHA are arranging for the
remaining hats to be sent to any veteran who missed out.
As the National Secretary of the RAAF Association, Wing Commander Ron Usher MBE (Retd)
concluded in his recent email: “... reports that I have received reflect nothing but credit on DVA, the
RAAF (both in Australia and in the London High Commission) and on the volunteers who
organised the veterans who travelled to the Dedication ...”. I can assure you that the conduct of the
DVA and RAAF teams was commendable, empathetic and responsive to the needs of all the
veterans. It is unfortunate that some family members and associated travellers have misrepresented
the level of support provided by DVA.
27 July 2012
And in response.....
Several Points only in regard to the Secretary for DVA’s letter of the 27th July
Let the Veteran Community judge for themselves Mr Campbell!
I am told that there will be a very full document released in the next 2 days. It was already being finalised before the letter from the DVA Secretary was produced in an attempt to discredit many of the relatives of veterans and the veterans themselves. I am writing this as that document will speak for itself by virtue of being based on emails from DVA, notes, letters and correspondences verbal and written from veterans and their families. In the meantime, I welcome the opportunity to address some of the attempts by the Secretary for DVA to convince the veteran community that not only I, but many Bomber Command veterans and their families have been experiencing some aberrations in their vision and thought processes!
1. THE PUBLICISING OF THE MISSION Please note that there was never widespread advertising of this in even the Veteran let alone in Newspapers. A significant number of veterans did not know about it and also the nomination process was changed such that some thought they had to be nominated and others were told this was not necessary. This resulted in some veterans missing nomination as they were relying on others to submit their applications. Some veterans only heard of this e.g. through ABC’s Macca! It can be assumed that this sloppy, hit and miss application process occurred because it was thrown together pretty much towards the end of the time with this being evidenced by the Minister’s Press releases in early June.
2. CHOICE OF OTHER VETERANS .. to travel independently with families and not to “adhere” to restrictions …. It is said that carers could not accompany veterans. It is also interesting to note that a son of an official veteran was “invited” to participate with his father in all the activities for the week both at the hotel and outside. Another veteran said last week that he was given permission to entertain his UK relatives at the hotel. Perhaps this largesse if known by the wider veteran community would have encouraged the larger, seeming less “disciplined” veterans to have applied to be part of the official group! However it does not refer to that a number of veterans had booked significantly earlier than those in this “June push.” As such, they had already paid both travel and insurance and accommodation and would have stood to lose that. It was NOT as the DVA secretary intimates, that they were independent because they were not willing to adhere to restrictions! This statement by the secretary is very demeaning of the veterans who had committed earlier and were organised! The $5000 subsidy was only achieved in increments and is at the most only a fraction of what it would have cost veterans who travelled with a family member for support.
3. THE AKUBRA HATS - Really it is very insulting to have these hats which are a far lesser quality than the hats of the official veterans, given AFTER the veterans have returned to Australia. Especially when the veterans were left waiting in the sun at Runnymede and those who had to take shelter from the sun in the luggage compartment of the broken down bus! Sizes of veterans’ heads were requested and given long before departure. Also it was known from where they would be departing. In view of the official group travelling business class, with a generous luggage allowance – enough as overheard to bring home their copious shopping- it would not have taken a senior logistics serviceman to have worked out that it would have been more efficient to e.g. take the hats to Runneymede for distribution!
4. MEDICAL SUPPORT No I will not talk to the independent report which I am told is being prepared, based on the available evidence referred to previously BUT on a personal level, we were staying with at least one veteran and his wife at another service club in London. On the day of the Unveiling, he was unwell and could not eat breakfast. We went to Green Park by taxi with him and his wife. He went to the Memorial area. We were in the Salute area. It started to rain slightly. He had NO AKUBRA HAT for protection! My son battled through security to get an umbrella to him. After the ceremony, his wife was very worried about him because of his health condition and that he was unwell even before the service. I went to some DVA staff to ask if they could contact the Memorial area by phone. They said Yes but asked what the veteran looked like. I showed them a photo. They said that “All the veterans had white hair” They engaged in argument and showed no care about the veteran, nor his wife’s concern about his health. They certainly did not offer either to persevere and contact the staff in the area by phone nor to ring a doctor in that area and get assistance for him. The RSM ceremonial showed compassion and initiative and left the DVA staff there while she walked with the wife. They then met with the veteran and my son who had already left while the DVA staff were still arguing the toss – to try to find the veteran. The veteran and his wife were reunited and then stayed seated in the tent with us. The veteran was too ill 2 days later to attend the Australian war Memorial service and he had to remain in his room with no medical support or interest from DVA. They were NOT given any phone numbers to ring, nor did we know any. I totally refute the Secretary’s statement that support was available to the wider veteran community in London. Many of us were staying in locations other than the Holiday inn. We had booked in April! The veteranand his wife had booked in March and had already paid fare and insurance.
5. RUNNEYMEDE AND BUSES I WILL MAKE 2 POINTS ONLY! Liz Cosson was NOT on the last bus. All present who recognised her and her face would confirm that. On the day to us, because she was not proactive in the least and did not initiate contact with us – assumedly as she said she had no responsibility for the other veterans . In her email to me, she maintained she stayed behind after the 1st bus finally left following the photographic sessions, to ensure the people were loaded onto the buses. This is a totally false! She was seated behind me and next to a veteran and his daughter. This was NOT the last bus. All of us who were there witnessed that she just “stood” there as the photo indicated. It is interesting that she does NOT deny that she made 2 statements. The first being that she/DVA had responsibility only for the non official veterans. Then when some of us heard that and questioned her lack of involvement, she said “Why is everyone blaming me?” The answer to that lay in that she stood there bolt upright and uninvolved while the veteran was lying on the ground, bleeding. I ran up and down the waiting veterans and relatives pleading for someone who was a doctor/nurse! The DVA person who went to the hospital was likely the “driver” of the official car which eventually took the veteran, RSM Foster and the veterans’ daughter. It is assumed that the driver waited to take them back. The only person who showed unsolicited care and empathy in mine and many others’ observation was RSM Foster! TWO BUSES AT A TIME Inaccurate! There was ONE OFFICIAL BUS WHICH BLOCKED THE OTHER BUSES FROM COMING UP! This was because the other official veterans and Federation Guard were having their publicity shots taken for about 45 minutes and totally prevented our buses from entering the road. A private vehicle (Mercedes carrying Aussies coincidentally who had to connect with a plane, was trying to get through.) I tried to talk with the driver of this vehicle and the bus driver to get these people through!! Basically publicity was seen as being more important than veterans’ health and shelter.
6. THE BREAKDOWN CAUSED THEM TO MISS THE RECEPTION! Only partially true. The REAL delay was because the phones paired to the “emergency numbers” were not answered. Would the Secretary be prepared to access ghe phone records of the phones which were rung to determine the TIME OF THE PHONE CALL ATTEMPTS AS COMPARED WITH THE TIME HELP WAS ACTUALLY DISPATCHED! Let us have the REAL facts and not the glossed over fabrications! Also the Secretary glosses over that the TICKETS for the Unveiling were at Australia House for distribution. Australia House and DVA staff should have known that. Yet the bus was instructed to take them to the Holiday Inn and many of them were not even staying there!
7. DVA STAFF SEATED IN MEMORIAL AREA I personally think that even “if” this is a true story but unsubstantiated I note by any documentation, it is very insulting to other veterans who were relegated to the Salute area. It totally shows a standard of focus on personal gain by the DVA staff who accepted the seating in this area as opposed to any consideration by them of the “wider veteran community” in the Salute area. That they accepted these seats when I am sure that the BC?UK who are being “blamed” for this, would surely have accepted had they said “Thank you but we would really prefer a veteran to be seated here as it is after all THEIR commemoration and not ours!!”
8. HENDON MUSEUM VISIT NO! WE knew about the proposed visit to Hendon WEEKS before and so did DVA. Please don’t insult us by stating that DVA were only aware days before. This is an unfortunate distortion of the truth.
9. ST CLEMENT DANES CHURCH Evidence is available that this was initiated before the delegation left Australia and was confirmed to a member of the unofficial group by a person who told them of their “invitation” to attend. NO SIR with respect, you have been severely misled!
10. SEATING AND SLOPES AT THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL The area at the back was NOT flat! The area between was NOT slippery. With respect sir, you have been misled by your staff. Added to which, had a veteran or family member fallen, the ropes and metal posts would have caused greatly more damage to them than tumbling on the MEADOW.
11. DR RON HOUGHTON, PRESIDENT OF BOMBER COMMAND IN AUSTRALIA WAS NOT LATE FOR THE CEREMONY. My son and I and the DVA people on the left (if they are encouraged to remember!) will tell you that AS THE CEREMONY STARTED I noticed that Dr Houghton was in the front row of the “others” at the back. I noticed him and then went to tell the DVA staff at the left. They said to me that it was too late as he had been replaced! I said to them “YOU COULD DO ANYTHING IF YOU WANTED TO DO IT!” So I then went to the right hand side and down to where RSM Foster was standing. I pointed out to her that Dr Houghton was there (and NO he was not late!) She was slightly discouraging as she said the MC had his notes already! So I went to speak to a few others in the audience at the BACK (BCA mambers) to point out that Dr Houghton was there! They must have gotten tired of seeing me dart about so suddenly Natasha Pine came to tap me on the shoulder to say that they had “Found a spare wreath.” This PROVES that they did not even know what Dr Houghton looked like as I walked physically to tap Ron on the shoulder and indicate to Natasha who he was!! YES THEN AND ONLY THEN BECAUSE OF MY INITIATIVE DID RON GET TO LAY A WREATH. I was quietly amused after as to where they found a spare wreath and hope that it was not acquired from another memorial in the area but was still pleased that finally, after NOT being invited to the GG’s reception at tha Four Seasons Hotel, not being invited to the “impromptu” service at St Clement Danes church, finally some of the DVA staff at the last event got to see the man who has been the force behind Bomber Command in Australia for many years and, reluctantly DVA had to give him the courtesy of laying a wreath on behalf of BCA!
Mr Campbell. Please feel free to attempt to discredit me and others but might I quote a media person who has interviewed Dr Houghton in the last week. He told me that Dr Houghton said to him that “We (the other veterans) were treated like lepers.”
I rest my case sir. Discredit me but please be aware that, in so doing you are discrediting others including veterans like Dr Ron Houghton DFC, President of Bomber Command in Australia. That would be very disrespectful and I am sure that the Veteran Community would easily have a quick reaction to that!
Let the veteran community make up its own minds Sir as to the real truths!!