The Royal Australian Navy was the centre of local attention during a high-profile five days in the Philippines, attending two World War II commemorations, hosting two Ambassadors and a Vice Admiral and entertaining local dignitaries and community leaders at an official reception.
HMA Ships Stuart, Leeuwin and Sirius received a grand welcome when they sailed into Surigao - traditional dancers and musicians performed on the wharf while officers and sailors were greeted with shell necklaces bearing a Seal of Surigao pendant.
Vice Admiral Stuart Mayer AO, CSC, RAN, who was embarked in Stuart for its day long passage from Cebu to Surigao, summed up the importance of the Royal Australian Navy’s visit to the Philippines.
“The Navy-to-Navy ties here are very strong indeed, and that is reflected in the number of ships you see operating here for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Surigao Strait,” Vice Admiral Mayer said.
“We believe in the dynamic relationship of two friends of equal talent with much to learn from one another. We have been friends yesterday, we are friends today, and we will be friends tomorrow because of the shared values and endeavours of our people and our navies.”
The Royal Australian Navy ships were in the harbour as backdrop to the official ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the largest naval battle of World War II. The Battle of Surigao Strait was one of four key engagements during the four-day Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944, when combined American and Australian navies defeated Japan, ultimately driving them from the Philippines.
Earlier in the week, Stuart had visited Leyte to mark the Leyte Landing anniversary, and they were joined by WWII veteran David Mattiske, who was an Able Seaman on HMAS Shropshire during the battle.
Mr Mattiske, 94, has been campaigning for the Royal Australian Navy to attend Philippines commemorations.
“If I can accomplish one more thing in my life, it is to make sure Australia gets a better understanding of what our country did in the liberation of the Philippines,” he said.
“It’s important not only from a historical point of view, but for the future.
“US General Douglas MacArthur knew the strategic importance of this area and it is the same importance today. It is very important that we are here.”
Ships’ companies were able to take shore leave while in Cebu; with Leading Seaman Maritime Logistics-Support Operations David Wheeler relating that many were able to enjoy a tour of the city’s historic highlights.
“It has been an eye-opening visit to see a diverse new culture and to learn more about the shared history,” he said.
“The Filipinos are so friendly and I’m glad I was able to participate in the commemorations.”
For the next two months, 11 ships and more than 1000 personnel across two task groups are visiting regional partners in North and South East Asia for multinational exercises and regional engagement activities.
Imagery is available on the Navy Image Gallery: http://images.navy.gov.au/S20192698.