Condolences - Corporal Richard Atkinson

Last Wednesday at about 9.30 am, Australia lost one of its finest in the cause of freedom. Another one of our finest was seriously injured in the incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with him for a full and speedy recovery.

Corporal Richard Atkinson’s life was cruelly cut short, but his memory will live on not only in the hearts of his family but also in the heart of a thankful nation. Anyone who saw the pictures last week of 22-year-old Tasmanian Corporal Richard Atkinson and his fiancée, Dannielle, could not help but have been affected by the pathos of a young life so abruptly ended, and with it many dreams and aspirations. Corporal Atkinson leaves behind his fiancée, Dannielle, to whom he was engaged only one month before his deployment and with whom he had planned a trip to Italy. He also leaves behind his parents, Ross and Kate; brother, James; and sister-in-law, Sumah, who are all, deservedly, so very proud of him.

Corporal Richard Edward Atkinson was born in Hobart in 1988. He attended school in Tasmania both at Trevallyn Primary School and at the Launceston Church Grammar School. His high-school yearbook from Launceston Church Grammar School records his ambition to be an Army man. In a tribute, Launceston Grammar headmaster Stephen Norris said he was highly respected, reliable, kind, considerate and well mannered and showed initiative. In grade 12, Corporal Atkinson was selected as the boys’ captain of Wilkinson House and captain of the soccer team. He received the school’s top sporting award, the full blue.

Just yesterday Corporal Atkinson’s father graciously spoke with me about his and his family’s sense of loss. He told me that, whilst farewelling their son in September last year before his tour of duty, they knew the risk but it was an abstract concept—that it happened but to others. Devastatingly, the abstract has turned into a harsh reality for the Atkinson family. Nevertheless, his father Ross told me of his and the family’s pride in Richard. He told me about their last talk, courtesy of Skype, only 14 days before his death where Corporal Atkinson reinforced how he considered that he and Australia were playing an important role and how pleased he was with what he was doing. In short, he believed in the task in which he was engaged. To borrow some words of our latest Victoria Cross recipient, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith: ‘I do what I do because I believe in the country that we live in. I believe that we are making a difference in stemming the flow of terrorism.’ Corporal Atkinson’s father also indicated to me his great appreciation of the wonderful work of the Department of Defence and the support that he and the family are receiving in their time of loss.

Corporal Atkinson joined the Army in 2007. He was promoted to lance corporal in 2009 and his dedication to his section was rewarded with his promotion to corporal in 2010, prior to their redeployment. Corporal Atkinson was in a mixed patrol of Australian and Afghani troops, moving on foot through the Tangi Valley, at about 9.30 last Wednesday morning when a roadside bomb exploded. He was part of an operation trying to drive the Taliban out of the Deh Rahwod area, west of the Australian base at Tarin Kowt, a vital strategic area in the war against the Taliban insurgency. In the past few weeks Australian and Afghani soldiers had successfully discovered several insurgent caches, including large amounts of explosives. On Saturday, in a memorial service at Tarin Kowt, Major David French spoke of Corporal Atkinson’s ‘cheeky nature and quick wit as well his dedication to his job and his professionalism in always leading from the front’. Major French said:

Akka was never happier than when he was on the job and he was bloody good at it.

Best mate and fellow engineer, Corporal David Myers, said:

Words will never do justice to describe the kind of mate “Akka” was. He would want to be remembered by us with a smile on our faces and laughter in our hearts …

Our deepest sympathies go to Corporal Richard Atkinson’s fiancée, Dannielle Kitchen, of the Northern Territory; his parents and his extended family. We feel incredible sorrow about a young man, his life full of promise, on the cusp of marriage and starting his own family, being cut down in a foreign land. We will never fully know the sorrow of Richard’s fiancée and family, but we feel intensely for them as they carry their loss in the hope that it will ease their sense of loss. It is consoling that Richard was convinced that we were and are doing the right thing and that he was doing good in Afghanistan. After receiving the Victoria Cross, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, in urging Australians to remember our digger heroes who have died in Afghanistan, said:

These are the guys who put their hands up willingly and they didn’t come back.

They are our mates and their families live with that every day.

I urge the public to remember that they are heroes, they are the ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Corporal Richard Atkinson is a hero, who volunteered and made the ultimate sacrifice. May his service and sacrifice in the cause of freedom be an inspiration to all.

A thankful nation salutes his volunteer spirit, his service and his sacrifice.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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