Page 2955 - Week 09 - Thursday, 13 August 2015

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while carrying two service Ministers, the Vice-President of the Executive Council and the Chief of the General Staff, to a Cabinet meeting, which was to have been held here today. All the occupants of the plane, ten in number were killed.

The 10 victims of the crash were: Brigadier Geoffrey Street, the Minister for the Army and Minister for Repatriation; Mr James Fairbairn, the Minister for Air and Civil Aviation; Sir Henry Gullett, the Vice-President of the Executive Council; General Sir Cyril White, the Chief of the General Staff; Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Thornthwaite, Staff Officer to General White; Mr Richard Elford, private secretary to the Minister for Air and Civil Aviation; Flight-Lieutenant Richard Hitchcock, the pilot; Pilot-Officer Richard Wiesener, the co-pilot; Corporal John Palmer, the wireless operator; and Aircraftsman Charles Crosdale, the flight mechanic.

It is still not clear how the Hudson bomber crashed on a clear Canberra day, but the impact of the crash on the political history of Australia should not be underestimated.

Prime Minister Menzies told the House of Representatives the next day:

We meet this afternoon under the shadow of a great calamity. Yesterday morning only a few miles from Canberra an aeroplane of the Royal Australian Air Force crashed and ten men—each in his own way performing his public duty—lost their lives … It is my sad duty at this stage to speak particularly of our late colleagues, who were not only great servants of our country, but were the daily friends of all of us.

The loss of three cabinet members a month before the 1940 election was a significant blow to the Menzies government. Brigadier Geoffrey Street and Sir Henry Gullett were close supporters and advisers to the Prime Minister, and their loss was keenly felt in the cabinet. Ultimately, their death led to the resignation of Prime Minister Menzies and the downfall of the United Australia Party government in 1941.

The impact of the crash on the public was demonstrated when memorial services were held in Melbourne. The Daily Telegraph of 16 August reported that nearly 100,000 people stood silently in the streets of Melbourne as the coffins of nine victims were carried from the train station to the Church of England and Catholic cathedrals. The Prime Minister, all cabinet members, other political leaders, officials and media representatives travelled on the funeral train from Canberra to Melbourne. Memorial services were also held in Sydney and Canberra.

A memorial to honour the memory of those killed in the crash was erected at the crash site. Today the Australian War Memorial’s Last Post Ceremony recognised the 75th anniversary of the air disaster and featured the story of General Sir Cyril White. For more information about the Canberra air disaster, I recommend that members read Andrew Tink’s very informative book about the crash, Air Disaster Canberra.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The Assembly adjourned at 9.48 pm until Tuesday, 15 September 2015, at 10 am.

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