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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 war.

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.


Australia at War

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 domestic duties.

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. 


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