THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The Second World War (1939 to
1945) involved most major countries of the world. Australia was at war
from the beginning joining Great Britain as it declared war against
Germany. Australians fought in many parts of the world until the final
victory over Japan was declared in August 1945.
Initially the war was centred
in Europe and North Africa but Japan's entry into the conflict in
December 1941 shifted the Australian focus to the Pacific region. In
February 1942, as Singapore surrendered, 22,000 Australian men and women
of the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) became Japanese prisoners of
The Japanese appeared
invincible as they spread south through the islands of Borneo and Timor,
Australia seemingly helpless. The flimsy defences in Papua and New
Guinea were the only obstacles preventing a possible Japanese invasion.
In 1942 the scene was set for the Kokoda Campaign upon which
rested Australia's future.
Although Australia had been
at war for over two years, it was not until the Japanese were about to
capture Port Moresby in 1942, that the conflict became a close reality.
Australian cities (particularly Darwin) were bombed and Japanese
submarines sunk ships in Sydney Harbour. Under these changed
circumstances, Australians united in a way that they had never done
before and prepared themselves to fight the threat to the immediate
north. Industry was focused
on producing materials for war. Ships,
trains and planes were redirected to carry men and materials north.
Australia had to borrow large amounts of money from other
countries to pay for these war materials. Natural produce, such as
wheat, beef and wool, became more valuable as countries affected by war
were suffering desperate shortages of food and clothing.
Men of military age
volunteered or were conscripted into the armed services but women also
joined the forces. American servicemen arrived in increasing numbers, as
Australia became a major American military base.
These troops were welcomed because they brought the much-needed
military strength to defend Australia. Great Britain, up to then
Australia's traditional and strongest ally, could not provide such
assistance, as it was already heavily committed in other campaigns
elsewhere in the world. The
bond formed between America and Australia during the war has remained
strong to this day.
Life in Australian cities and
towns changed dramatically. Young men were notably absent and women had
to perform many daily jobs previously undertaken by men. Women organised
themselves into the Land Army and went to live on farms to keep up
production while the men were at war.
Women also managed factories, shops and businesses, ran canteens,
packed clothes and food for the troops and still continued their normal
The war brought terrible
hardships for many at home. Women
lived in fear of their sons, brothers, husbands or sweethearts being
killed in action. Many who had lost loved ones had to bear the responsibility
of raising their children alone. They suffered clothing and petrol
rationing and restricted interstate travel. Life was put on hold for
most Australian families. It was not until peace came in August of 1945,
when the fighting men and women returned home, that life could return to
normal in Australia. These same people led Australia into a rapid
post-war economic boom, the benefits of which we all enjoy today.