Category Archives: World War II

Left to ruin: we must preserve our forgotten wartime defences



Fort Drummond at Mount Saint Thomas, NSW.
Alexander Lee, Author provided

Alexander Mitchell Lee, Australian National University

Australia built a number of coastal defences to help protect the country from any enemy attack during the second world war. Now, almost 80 years later, some of the physical remnants of those historic facilities lie forgotten and decaying.

These monuments to the nation’s home defence are in desperate need of preservation. While their condition varies greatly, too many have faded into obscurity.




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In defence of Wollongong

For example, if you take a drive through the city of Wollongong today you could be forgiven for thinking the city played no role in the war. There is little indication this city was once heavily defended against a much-feared Axis attack.

If you take a 15-minute drive south of the city centre you’ll find some remnants of the city’s home defences. The well-developed Port Kembla Heritage Park, with its cluster of tank traps and ruined gun instalments, alludes to the history of a city that was once extremely important to Australia’s war effort.

Small concrete pyramids designed to stop tanks.
The pyramid tank traps at Port Kembla.
Brian Yap/Flickr, CC BY-NC

This site, known as Breakwater Battery, was the first, smallest and weakest of three interconnected strongpoints designed to defend the industry of the Illawarra region of New South Wales from attack.

But this raises the question: where are the other two stronger points of Wollongong’s defensive network?

Our hidden defences

These sites still exist but are hidden. If you head to the leafy suburb of Mount Saint Thomas or Hill 60 Park in Port Kembla, you will find the more impressive remnants of the city’s defences.

Mount Saint Thomas and Hill 60 Park once hosted the military centres of Fort Drummond and the Illowra Battery respectively.

Dug into the hillside in both locations are impressive concrete casemates that once housed powerful naval guns. Hundreds of men and huge amounts of Australia’s limited wartime resources were dedicated to building and staffing these sites in the wartime period from 1941-1942.

The Illowra Battery, sitting right on the coast, was designed to replace Breakwater Battery as the pivot of local defences. It was strengthened over time with barbed wire, radar and tunnels deep in the hillside.

In the case of Fort Drummond, the 9.2-inch coastal guns were originally slated to be installed in Darwin in the Northern Territory, but were diverted south to strengthen the defences of Wollongong.

The prioritisation of the defence of Wollongong over Darwin, which was bombed, shows just how important protecting this southern region was.

The three strong points were designed to operate in concert to defend the region from an attack on Australia’s manufacturing core.

The industrial Illawarra was an economic behemoth for wartime Australia, producing everything from bullets to aircraft parts. It exported the materials of war across the British Empire, as far away as England and Singapore, and alongside Newcastle (in NSW) was the heart of Australian industry.

Yet, despite their important role in the war, these monuments are now overgrown, slowly being reclaimed by nature.

An overgrown site of one of the coast al defences.
The Illowra Battery exterior: the entrance is heavily overgrown and the path to the site is undeveloped.
Alexander Lee, Author provided



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Kept in the dark

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the dark tunnels of Fort Drummond were converted to mushroom farms, not military history attractions.

As for Hill 60, instead of being developed as a tourist attraction the place has appeared on lists of the most haunted places in the Illawarra.

Reports five years ago that Hill 60 would be redeveloped, opening the tunnels, adding signage and highlighting the area’s Aboriginal history, have come to nothing.

Such stories of neglect are repeated at other defence sites across Australia.

Significant sites in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Newcastle are dilapidated and eroding.

Even in areas of historical significance to Australia, where the country’s colonial history has been well preserved, such as the Sydney suburb of La Perouse, the nearby second world war artillery battery sites and lookout posts are neglected.

Considering these sites are often in idyllic locations and — by necessity at the time they were built — boast impressive ocean views, it is odd their value, even as tourist sites, remains unrealised.

There are other sites across Australia that have received investment in preservation, such as Fort Lytton in Brisbane and Fort Scratchley in Newcastle. These are now tourist destinations.




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With relatively small investments the neglected sites could be made more accessible. The public would then be able to learn and understand their history and significance.

Signposting, basic repairs and publicising these important relics of our wartime history would be easy first steps to revive public interest in these locations.

The educational and touristic values of Australia’s second world war defences are readily apparent. All they require is a little bit of attention after so many decades of neglect.The Conversation

Plenty of graffiti just inside the coastal defence site.
Inside the Illowra Battery graffiti covers the walls next to the tunnels, visible behind metal bars.
Alexander Lee, Author provided

Alexander Mitchell Lee, PhD Candidate, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Rebuilding Australia: what we can learn from the successes of post-war reconstruction


Prime Minister Ben Chifley introducing Australia’s own car, the Holden, at a manufacturing plant in Victoria in 1948.
National Library of Australia

David Lee, UNSW

As Australia begins to plot a recovery strategy from the first recession in the country in decades, the Morrison government needs to examine what has worked well in the past.

Crises require strong leadership, national cohesion and a framework for carrying out recovery efforts on a grand scale.

As such, there is a case to be made for a new Commonwealth agency to lead the recovery effort, built on the model of the Department of Post-War Reconstruction that helped Australia emerge from the turmoil of the second world war.

The Department of Post-War Reconstruction

In December 1942, Prime Minister John Curtin established the Department of Post-War Reconstruction. Even though the war was still raging, its task was to begin planning and coordinating Australia’s transition to a peacetime economy.

The department brought together a talented group of officials, many of them from the new discipline of economics, to advise the government. Its establishment reflected the efforts to which the Commonwealth government went after the war to professionalise the Australian public service.

The department did not have a large staff. It was devised as a policy department that would coordinate the work of other agencies. The treasurer, Ben Chifley, was appointed the first minister for post-war reconstruction. H. C. “Nugget” Coombs, one of Australia’s “seven dwarfs”, named for their diminutive stature, was his first departmental secretary.




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One of the major successes of the department was its contribution to the full-employment policy, a goal set by post-war governments to achieve a higher standard of living and regular employment for all Australians after the war.

To that end, the department helped establish a new employment agency, the Commonwealth Employment Service, to match workers with jobs. It also helped overhaul the social welfare system and create the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

Full employment became a bipartisan policy goal throughout the economic “golden age” from the end of the war to the 1970s. The policy was so popular that even the smallest deviation from it, such as during the “credit squeeze” of 1960-61, almost cost the Menzies government re-election.

H. C. Coombs at a conference in 1948.
Wikimedia Commons

The Department of Post-War Reconstruction didn’t succeed in pushing through sweeping new federal powers for reconstruction in a 1944 referendum. Nonetheless, it found ingenious ways to foster Commonwealth-state cooperation, for instance, through section 96 grants (which provided federal funding to the states on terms and conditions set by the Commonwealth), and the federal funding of housing, hospitals and later universities in the states.




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New Commonwealth-state bodies were also devised to support the coal and aluminium industries. The Commonwealth and NSW state Joint Coal Board, for example, completely revamped the almost moribund NSW black coal industry. A revived and mechanised NSW coal industry became internationally competitive and a significant export earner for Australia by the 1970s.

On the international front, Chifley and Coombs supported Australia’s participation in the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, which reinvented the global financial system based on fixed exchange rates with the US dollar as a reserve currency. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were also established at the time.

Chifley and Coombs supported the new international arrangements because they understood the revival of the global economy was essential for Australia’s own prosperity. As they hoped, the Bretton Woods system, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Marshall Plan for western Europe all laid the global foundations for Australia’s domestic recovery.

How a post-pandemic agency might work

The federal government has already trialled a new policy-making agency during the COVID-19 pandemic with its “wartime” National Cabinet, which featured federal and state governments and their agencies working as one.

There are many ways a new economic recovery agency could build on the cohesion demonstrated by the National Cabinet and advise the Commonwealth government on rebuilding the economy.

Specifically, it could help replicate Curtin’s achievement in 1942 by advising on comprehensive reform of the Commonwealth-state taxation system. This process is already under way with several states calling for the substitution of land taxes for stamp duties.

A post-COVID-19 agency could also be involved in the revamping of the welfare system (post-JobKeeper/JobSeeker) to cope with the higher levels of unemployment and under-employment.

The agency could advise or coordinate a strategy for new infrastructure to create jobs, such as the building of hospitals, public housing and a transition to cleaner energy. Another possibility would be a return to independent petroleum refining, similar to Billy Hughes’s Commonwealth Oil Refineries that operated from 1919-52.




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And a new agency could advise on reviving other major industries, such as tourism, the airlines, the higher education sector and even the banking system. During the Global Financial Crisis, the Rudd government had to underwrite loans to the banks and guarantee bank deposits. A major intervention may again be required.

Creating a Department of Post-War Reconstruction was considered by some to be the “boldest experiment” the country took after the war. And as a result, Australia’s post-war recovery was a remarkable success. This is what we need now – another bold experiment, in the spirit of bipartisanship.The Conversation

David Lee, Associate Professor of History , UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Coronavirus lessons from past crises: how WWI and WWII spurred scientific innovation in Australia



CSIRO Archives, CC BY-SA

Tom Spurling, Swinburne University of Technology and Garrett Upstill, Swinburne University of Technology

In the wake of COVID-19, we’re seeing intense international competition for urgently-needed supplies including personal protection equipment and ventilators. In Australia, this could extend to other critical imports such as pharmaceuticals and medicines. And when our manufacturing sector can’t fill unexpected breaks in supply chains, we all face risk.

However, Australians have lived through crises of comparable magnitude before. During and after the two world wars, scientific innovation played a crucial role in reform. It led to the creation of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and an array of subsequent discoveries.

Some may assume life will go back to normal once COVID-19 withdraws. But if the past is to be learnt from, Australia should prepare for a greatly different future – hopefully one in which science and innovation once more take centre stage.




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The birth of the CSIR

It was WWI that heightened awareness of the role of science in defence and economic growth. In December 1915, Prime Minister William (Billy) Hughes announced he would set up a national laboratory “which would allow men of all branches of science to use their capabilities in application to industry”.

A CSIR council meeting in 1935, held at the McMaster Laboratory in Sydney.
CSIRO Archives, CC BY

This led to the formation of the CSIR in 1926, and its rebirth as the CSIRO in 1949. In the years after WW1, the CSIR contributed greatly to improvements in primary production, including through animal nutrition, disease prevention, and the control of weeds and pests in crops. It also advanced primary product processing and overseas product transport.

In 1937, the CSIR’s mandate was expanded to include secondary industry research, including a national Aircraft and Engine Testing and Research Laboratory. This was motivated by the government’s concern to increase Australia’s manufacturing capabilities and reduce its dependence on technology imports.

War efforts in the spotlight

The CSIR’s research focus shifted in 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbour. Australian war historian Boris Schedvin has written about the hectic scramble to increase the nation’s defence capacities and expand essential production following the attack, including expansion of the scientific workforce.

Minister John Dedman died in 1973.
Wikipedia (public domain)

The John Curtin government was commissioned in October, 1941. Curtin appointed John Dedman as the Minister for War Organisation and Industry, as well as the minister in charge of the CSIR. Dedman’s department was concerned with producing military supplies and equipment, and other items to support society in wartime.

Dedman instructed the council to concentrate on “problems connected with the war effort”. The CSIR responded robustly. By 1942, the divisions of food preservation and transport, forest products, aeronautics, industrial chemistry, the national standards laboratory and the lubricants and bearings section were practically focused on war work full-time.

Scaling up production

The Division of Industrial Chemistry was the division most closely involved in actual production. It was formed in 1940 with Ian Wark as chief, who’d previously worked at the Electrolytic Zinc Company.

Wark was familiar with the chemical industry, and quickly devoted resources to developing processes (using Australian materials) to produce essential chemicals to the pilot plant stage. They were soon producing chemicals for drugs at the Fishermans Bend site, including the starting material for the synthesis of the anaesthetic drug novocaine (procaine).

The researchers developed a method to separate the drug ergot, which is now essential in gynaecology, from rye. They also contributed directly to the war effort by manufacturing the plasticiser used in the nose caps of bullets and shells.

CSIRO today

In response to the current pandemic, CSIRO at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong, Victoria, is working with the international Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness to improve understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They are currently testing two vaccine candidates for efficacy, and evaluating the best way to administer the vaccine.

CSIRO’s directors Trevor Drew and Rob Grenfell share progress on COVID-19 vaccine testing being carried out at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong.

Australian scientists have made monumental contributions on this front in the past. In the 1980s, CSIRO and its university collaborators began efforts that led to the creation of anti-flu drug Relenza, the first drug to successfully treat the flu. Relenza was then commercialised by Australian biotech company Biota, which licensed the drug to British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

The CSIRO also invented the Hendra virus vaccine for horses, launched in 2012.

Prior to that, Ian Frazer at the University of Queensland developed the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which was launched in 2006.




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What can we take away?

COVID-19 is one of many viral diseases that need either a vaccine or a drug (or both). Others are hepatitis B, dengue fever, HIV and the viruses that cause the common cold. Now may be Australia’s chance to use our world class medical research and medicinal chemistry capabilities to become a dominant world supplier of anti-viral medications.

As was the case during WWI and WWII, this pandemic drives home the need to retain our capabilities at a time of supply chain disruption. While it’s impossible for a medium-sized economy like Australia’s to be entirely self-sufficient, it’s important we lean on our strengths to not only respond, but thrive during these complicated times.

In 2020, Australia has a much greater and broader research and production capacity than it did in 1940. And as we march through this pandemic, we can learn from the past and forge new paths to enhance our position as pioneers in sciencific innovation.The Conversation

Tom Spurling, Professor of Innovation Studies, Swinburne University of Technology and Garrett Upstill, Visiting Fellow, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Humane and intimate, how the Red Cross helped families trace the fates of WW2 soldiers



File 20170510 7921 1gjs8ng
Australians shelter from Japanese snipers in Borneo, 1945.
Australian War Memorial collection/Flickr

Fiona Ross, University of Melbourne

Private Rawson’s mother first contacted the Red Cross in early April 1942, six weeks after her son was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. For her, and thousands of other Australian mothers, fathers, wives, sisters and brothers, this began three and half years of longing and fear, and above all, silence. The Conversation

For the duration of the war, Mrs Rawson’s only news of her son’s fate were the snippets received and sent on to her by the Red Cross Bureau for Wounded, Missing and Prisoners of War.

In the Spring Street premises, lent to the Red Cross by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, volunteers received Mrs Rawson’s enquiry, made a file for her son and added a card to a rapidly growing system:

Surname: RAWSON

Rank: PTE. [Private]

Reg No. VX43216

Unit: 2/29th. Btn. H.Q. COY.

9/4/42 Enq. From Vic. – Unof. Msg. [unofficially missing] MALAYA

Over the next 18 months they retrieved and updated the card as numbered lists of missing and captured servicemen reached the Red Cross:

19-8-42: Cas.[casualty] List V.319 rep. [reported] Missing.

27-5-43: List AC 494 adv.[advice] Tokio cables interned Malai Camp.

21-6-43: Cas list V467 prev. rept. [previously reported] Missing now rpt.[reported] P.O.W.[prisoner of war]

10-9-43: List WC 13 adv. Card rec. Washington POW [prisoner of war] Jap.[Japanese] Hands.

28-10-43: List JB. 213 adv. Singapore Radio Allege POW.

Then the reports cease. Nothing more, for two years.

Private Rawson’s card is now the first one in box 45 of the archival records series “Missing, Wounded and Prisoner of War Enquiry Cards”. This series was transferred to the University of Melbourne Archives in 2016 as part of the Red Cross’s Gift to the Nation – the records of its first 100 years in Australia. Digitised copies of cards from the second world war are now available to researchers online.

Cards from the Red Cross’s enquiry bureau.
University of Melbourne Archives

In an era before vision statements and key performance indicators, the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau expressed its ethos as a “Golden Rule”:

No definite information that would be of solace to relatives should be allowed to remain in the office over-night.

The Red Cross saw this work as a “humane and intimate administration”. Speed and accuracy were the essence of the service, which during WWII helped over 58,000 Australian families to learn the fate of loved ones displaced by the war. The vast majority of these enquiries concerned personnel in the Australian Imperial Force.

Typically families first received missing, wounded, killed or captured notification from the armed services. They then turned to the Red Cross to learn more about their loved one’s fate. However the Red Cross also attempted to trace the whereabouts of civilians – both Australian and foreign citizens – living overseas who were caught up in the war in Europe or the Pacific.

The index cards were the administrative cornerstone of the bureau’s enquiry service. For such a harrowing and solemn business, the cards are a marvel of clerical efficiency and precision. Entries are heavily abbreviated and the volunteer typists rarely missed a capital letter or full stop.

There are no back-stories, no narrative, in most cases not even first names, just the barest facts about a missing person’s fate, ultimately summarised in one word at the top of each card; “repatriated”, “safe”, “recovered”, “liberated”, “located”, “missing”, “POW” (prisoner of war), “deceased”.

The Geneva Bureau in Switzerland which performed a similar service to the Red Cross in Australia.
University of Melbourne Archives

Yet the staccato shorthand belies both the complexity and compassion of this wartime service. Most of the bureau volunteers were themselves next-of-kin of POWs. They somehow managed to channel their anxiety into the myriad of clerical tasks that enabled information to flow between state, national and overseas Red Cross bureaus, searchers in military hospitals and the armed services. Cards, files, lists, letters and cables in the face of fearful waiting.

Bureaucracy and heartbreak often make for peculiar companions in the Red Cross archive. Within the Red Cross’s administrative file titled Bureau 1943 we find a few stray copies of letters to family members, laden with sympathy and sadness:

Dear Mrs Bould

We have, as you know, been making enquiries to try and obtain news of your son…and we have now had an unofficial report from a member of the Battalion who has returned to Australia.

His account of what happened when the Japanese attacked Kokoda toward the end of July is a sad one… According to our witness, [Private] Bould was busy on a job, ahead of the Unit’s defence position, when he was hit by a bullet which killed him instantly. The witness spoke as though he had known your son well… and added: “He was a particularly well-liked chap and a game soldier”. This is a tribute of which any soldier might be very proud, and we trust that it may bring you some slight comfort in your distress.

Please believe that our heartfelt sympathy goes out to you and that we will continue to do our utmost to find further witnesses who may be able to confirm or deny what we have so far learned.

Good relations with the Australian armed services were crucial to the bureau’s information gathering work, but the relationship was often strained. A few pages away from the bureau’s gentle letter to Mrs Bould we find the army threatening to withdraw cooperation because, in its opinion, the bureau was too hasty in providing information to next of kin. From the army:

It is not the policy of this Department to declare the death of a soldier as the result of hearsay information …

The sheer volume of these cards is hard to fathom; 59 archive boxes each containing around 1,000 cards, each card bearing witness to a family’s trauma and tragedy. They are uniform, ordered and monochrome. The lack of colour suits them. Emotions are suppressed beneath precision and procedure.

There is no nuance or commentary, just the cold, hard, abbreviated facts of war. Seventy years on, the sombre silence of these cards is a testament to the lives of those who went to war, and those who waited at home, longing for their return.

For Mrs Rawson, the silence about her son ended in October 1945 after the Red Cross volunteers updated her son’s card one more time:

Army Cas. 5231 adv. a/n [above named] died of disease whilst POW Siam Dysentry 31-10-43.


University of Melbourne Archives Series 2016.0049: Missing, Wounded and Prisoner of War Enquiry Cards will be available online to researchers from May 2017. Further information, and a name-based search option is available from the University of Melbourne Archives digitised items catalogue. Private Rawson’s card is item 2016.0049.44698. Read more about the Enquiry Cards.

Fiona Ross, Senior Archivist at the University of Melbourne Archives, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


‘It makes one feel and realise what a dreadful thing war is’ – a nurse’s story


Janet Scarfe, Monash University

Five thousand Australian nurses served during the second world war. The most famous of these, Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel, survived a massacre on Bangka Island, and Japanese “hell camps” in Sumatra.

For many other nurses, life in WWII was by turns tedious, perilous and adventurous. Dorothy Janet Campbell was one of the vast majority who survived without capture, imprisonment or fatal illness. Her experiences are caught in her extensive diaries and photographs shared here by her niece Janet Scarfe.

Dorothy Campbell, 1940.
Author provided

South Australian Dorothy Campbell (known throughout her life to all as “Puss”) served in the Australian Army Nursing Service from 1940 to 1946, in England during the Blitz, in the Western Desert during the siege of Tobruk, in Papua New Guinea, and in Queensland and South Australia.

She spent many nights in air raid shelters and nursing in a tin hat but she was never directly bombed on land or sea.

Campbell’s diaries and photos record the nurses’ day to day lives, mostly away from the wards. She and her friends took full advantage of their split shifts and days off. There were sherry parties, tennis and golf, and sightseeing.

For all that, Campbell’s “real work” was “looking after our boys”. Long periods of inactivity, such as waiting for hospitals to be set up or weeks at sea became tedious, despite the games and socialising.

Campbell nursed in several hospitals that were state of the art, including the Australian Hospital in Surrey and in the Greek hospital in Alexandria. She also worked in freezing tents in Queensland and grass huts in Buna in Papua New Guinea.

She was devoted to her patients – provided they were genuine. She deplored the “B Class” men she nursed in England in 1940. Deemed unfit for service and awaiting repatriation to Australia, they made difficult patients, malingering, drunk and dismissive of the nurses’ orders. By contrast, the sick and wounded evacuated straight from Tobruk received her complete attention:

How I love to be able to help them, and to listen to their great stories they tell … it makes one feel and realise what a dreadful thing war is …

Occasionally she described cases as “very interesting” or “difficult” but mostly her comments relating to work were “busy”, “very busy” or “dog-tired”. Comparisons between her diary entries and the hospital daily war diary show what an expert in understatement she was.

Campbell was never too tired to sight see. She loved England and Scotland. In Alexandria, she sponged her patients very early one Saturday morning, rushed off duty and caught the train to Cairo with several nurses and officers. They shopped, dined and danced till late, saw the sphinx and pyramids, rode camels and donkeys, had their fortunes told (“damn lot of rot”) then caught a small plane back to Alexandria on Sunday afternoon.

She and the other nurses had a rich social life. In Alexandria, there were sea bathing and sailing, occasional dinners with colonels yearning for some female company, mosques to visit, and customs to marvel at.

The American base near Buna guaranteed a rich social life. She learned to drive a jeep, spent time off socialising with American officers and fell for one who was charming but duplicitous.

Dorothy Campbell (first women on the left) at an American officers’ club, Buna c1943.

Campbell’s diary entries change over the years. Exhaustion and monotony set in as the war ground on. England, Egypt and Papua New Guinea were highlights.

Queensland in 1942-43 and 1945 was dull and she never liked dull. Entries from Townsville in 1945 were brief and largely confined to golf games (nine holes most days between shifts) and the narrow-minded matron. There were few photos. Her exaltation at the news of peace was personal, professional and patriotic. Here are her diary entries for 15th and 16th August 1945:

Wednesday. 15th

Very exciting day PEACE. Every body very excited – Party arranged in Red + Hut for all Hosp. (pts and staff.) – had few drinks in our Mess first, then… went to Sgts Mess – and then to dance, and then on to Officers Mess and spent very bright evening happiest night ever spent in army – felt rather ill and went out for walk…

Thursday Aug 16th [Townsville].

Terriffic [sic] headache., after a few hrs felt better and got busy and arranged party in our Mess – Off [duty] 1–6 – had a little rest and helped to prepare supper… Went off duty 8pm to party, it was one of the best we have had and it kept on until 1 am. every body thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The diaries end abruptly the night before she boarded the train home to Adelaide on 28 November 1945. Her great adventure was over.

Campbell (front right wearing green) in the 1994 Adelaide VP Day Parade. CLICK TO ENLARGE.
Author provided

She had nursed men with battle wounds and serious illnesses. She knew the anxiety of air raids and long sea voyages. But she also relished all the opportunities that came her way, particularly the friendships, the sightseeing and new experiences.

Campbell remained in the Citizens Military Forces until 1958 and was decorated for her work with the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps.

After her demobilisation, Campbell worked as a radiotherapy technician, one of the first women in South Australia to do so. She remained single, explaining to a small boy in an Anzac Day school talk that she “had loved them all and married none”.

She spoke of her time in the war to her family only in the broadest terms (“When we were away …”). She kept her diaries to herself to the end of her life. But kept them on her bookshelves for easy discovery.

The Conversation

Janet Scarfe, Adjunct research associate, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Seventy years after Hiroshima, who was Australian war correspondent Wilfred Burchett?


Tom Heenan, Monash University

Seventy years ago, on September 5, 1945, Wilfred Burchett’s report on the aftermath of the Hiroshima atomic bombing was published in London’s Daily Express. Burchett was the first Western journalist to enter Hiroshima after the bombing and was shocked by the devastation.

Under the banner “I write this as a warning to the world”, Burchett described a city reduced to “reddish rubble” and people dying from an unknown “atomic plague”.

Burchett’s report has been dubbed the “scoop of the century”. At the time it was ignored by most Western newspapers and dismissed as pro-Japanese propaganda. The story is now considered his finest. In October 2014, it earned him a place in the Victorian Media Hall of Fame, but the decision was not universally applauded.

Wilfred Burchett’s report on Hiroshima.
Honest History

Groundbreaking reporting on Korea

Though Burchett cut his journalistic teeth with the Express, he built his reputation covering the Korean and Vietnam wars from behind the communist lines. For this, Burchett was dismissed as a communist propagandist and traitor, though few know the real story.

In Korea, Burchett accused the American-led United Nations’ forces of prison camp atrocities and waging bacteriological warfare. The latter was Burchett’s most controversial story and has since been supported by a 2010 al-Jazeera report. But it sullied Burchett’s reputation in the West and angered the US military establishment.

Burchett had seen remnants of germ warfare attacks. He had interviewed captured American fliers who had confessed to Chinese interrogators to conducting germ warfare raids. He had also assisted the World Peace Council’s International Scientific Commission’s investigation, which backed the North Korean and Chinese allegations.

Robert Menzies’ government campaigned against Burchett’s return to Australia.
AAP

Attempting to “kill” the story, the US military’s Far Eastern Command (FEC) asked the Menzies government in Australia for permission to “exfiltrate” Burchett from North Korea in September 1953. The government refused, fearing an electoral backlash if Burchett suddenly appeared on Australia’s doorstep. FEC persisted with a US$100,000 enticement, but Burchett was not for sale.

Meanwhile, the Australian government investigated the possibility of charging Burchett with treason. ASIO agents were despatched to Japan and Korea to collect evidence, but their investigations uncovered little. In early 1954, the government conceded there was no hope of prosecuting Burchett.

To deter him from returning to Australia, the government publicly kept open the prospect of prosecution while privately acknowledging it had little chance of success. It found a willing ally in FEC. Concerned about Burchett’s reports from Indochina, FEC asked the Menzies government for permission to discredit the journalist.

Consequently, Burchett was subjected to government-backed smear campaigns and barred from Australia. Repeated requests for the restoration of his Australian passport were refused. According to the then-immigration minister, Harold Holt, Burchett had “severed all connection with Australia” because of his “activities” abroad.

Changing views

The Vietnam War altered Western views of Burchett.

Burchett had access to the North Vietnamese leadership and the South’s National Liberation Front. On requests from the British and US, he attempted to persuade Hanoi to release captured American airmen. His 1967 interview with the North Vietnamese foreign minister, Nguyen Duy Trinh, was considered one of the “scoops” of the war. It was the first inkling that Hanoi was willing to entertain peace talks.

When talks commenced in Paris in mid-1968, Burchett was courted by the US delegation’s chief negotiator, Averell Harriman. For his assistance, he was granted entry to Britain and the US. He even breakfasted with the US national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, at the White House.

But Burchett was still unwelcome in Australia. Fearing he might return, the Liberal prime minister, John Gorton, warned ministers against criticising the journalist outside the parliament. Recognising the flimsy nature of the case against Burchett, the government wanted to avoid being sued for defamation.

Burchett finally returned in early 1970 on a privately chartered light plane. The Gorton government had threatened airlines with steep penalties for flying Burchett into the country.

With the Whitlam Labor government’s election in December 1972, Burchett’s passport was restored. As Whitlam explained, there was no evidence to justify its continued denial.

Wilfred Burchett with Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh.
Burchett Archive/State Library of Victoria

Defamed and exiled

Rumours persisted that Burchett was on numerous communist governments’ payrolls. The most damaging came from the Soviet defector, Yuri Krotkov. He and Burchett had met in Berlin after the war. They renewed acquaintances when Burchett moved to Moscow in 1957.

Krotkov defected to Britain in the early 1960s claiming to be a KGB agent. In reality, he was a minnow attached to a KGB prostitution ring, specialising in diplomatic honey-traps. MI5 dismissively off-loaded him to the Americans, and in 1967 he appeared before the McCarthy-ridden US Senate Sub-committee on Internal Security where he alleged Burchett was a KGB agent and on China’s payroll during the Korean War.

An account of Krotkov’s testimony was published in the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) pamphlet, Focus, in November 1971 and tabled in the Australian Senate. In February 1973 Burchett issued a writ for defamation against Focus’ publisher, DLP senator Jack Kane.

The case was heard in the NSW Supreme Court in October 1974. Though strapped for funds, Kane’s case was well supported. The chairman of the Herald & Weekly Times, Sir Philip Jones, lent his backing, as did Menzies. ASIO assisted with the names of Australian POWs whom Burchett had met in Korea, while Australia’s military chiefs-of-staff took the stand on Kane’s behalf.

Even Kissinger kept an eye on the case. He and the American ambassador to Australia, Marshall Green, feared the trial could re-ignite allegations that the US had deployed germ warfare in Korea.

For two weeks Burchett’s reputation was butchered in the box and mainstream press. Despite this, the court found he had been defamed. As the article had been tabled in the Senate, it was protected by parliamentary privilege. Burchett won the case but costs were awarded against him, forcing him into financial exile.

Wilfred Burchett (far right) and his wife Vessa (2L) with Vietnamese politician Pham van Dong (far left) and Ho Chi Minh (2R).
Burchett Archive/State Library of Victoria

Debates over legacy persist

Though he died in 1983, Burchett remains a controversial figure. Rumours persist of Burchett’s alleged KGB recruitment. In 2013, academic Robert Manne claimed to have proof of Burchett’s KGB links. Drawing on a document uncovered by Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, Manne asserted that Burchett was put on the KGB payroll in July 1957.

No evidence was produced to show Burchett pocketed KGB money. If he did, the KGB got short-changed. By the early 1960s Burchett had wearied of Soviet communism and sided with the Chinese during Sino-Soviet split. He even worried that Soviet authorities were tampering with his Moscow mail.

Rumours of Burchett’s alleged treacheries still persist. They are part of Australian Cold War folklore and seem to have influenced the Hall of Fame’s decision to support Burchett’s inclusion principally on his Hiroshima story.

Burchett wrote stories that the Australian and US governments preferred not to be told and paid the price. He covered wars in which Australians fought on the other side. He was not “a my country right or wrong” barracker, but reported the facts as he saw them, and for the most part got them right. His career should be judged on all his achievements and not reduced to a solitary story.

The Conversation

Tom Heenan is Lecturer, National Centre for Australian Studies, Faculty of Arts at Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australia: The AHS Centaur


The link below is to an article on the AHS Centaur, that was sunk during World War II.

For more visit:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-29569135


Article: WWII – The Story of Billy Young


The link below is to an article that tells the story of World War II survivor Billy Young. Young was a 16-year-old who survived the Japanese torture of imprisonment during World War II. This piece is an edited selection from the book ‘The Story of Billy Young,’ by Anthony Hill.

For more visit:
http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/brutality-and-survival-the-horrific-tale-of-the-kid-who-refused-to-die-20120728-232ps.html


Today in History: 19 February 1942


War Comes to Australia: The Bombing of Darwin

On this day in 1942, Japan launched the first of a number of air raids on northern Australia, striking Darwin in the Northern Territory. The bombing of Darwin on the 19th February 1942 resulted in the deaths of over 250 people, hundreds more wounded, the destruction of 23 aircraft and 10 ships, with an
additional 25 ships damaged. The Japanese lost 7 aircraft in the attack.

Australia suffered more than 60 attacks from Japanese aircraft during World War II.

For more visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Darwin


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