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Category: Army History/WW2

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Australia Remembers 1945-1995

In 1995, we honoured our veterans through Australia Remembers 1945-1995 - a pageant of events commemorating the end of World War II.

All Australians were given an opportunity to remember those who served in the armed forces, those who died and those who worked so hard at home to fuel the war effort. Australia Remembers celebrated the heroism and sacrifice of Australian servicemen and women in their battle for peace.

A total of $9 million was allocated for commemorative events in cities, suburbs and country towns across Australia.


The former Prime Minister, The Hon Paul Keating MP

Australian War Memorial, 14th August 1994

( Australia Remembers 1945-1995 launch )


'The generation we will commemorate and thank was a heroic one. Our freedom was their legacy: the robust democracy we enjoy, the security, the marvellous continent which is ours, the unequalled personal freedoms.

But they left us more than that. They passed on a tradition and a faith for us to live by. By their example they taught us about the ties that bind us, and our common cause.

And by the same example they compel us now, not just to remember them, but to pass on the lesson to our children.'

Many items were commissioned or encouraged for the commemoration including this bar coaster and match box.

The 'Australia Remembers' 50th Anniversary Commemorative activities, to celebrate the end of the Second World War in the Pacific, provided the Australian people with the opportunity to learn about the history of their country and the impact that the war had upon Australia and South East Asia.

Australians, and the younger generation in particular, have been offered an insight into the experiences of the Second World War generation.


It has often been said that the best means of ensuring that peace is maintained is to acknowledge history as it was. A country can never be really sure of its future until it is aware of the past. History has shown that those 'who forget or ignore the past are condemned to relive it'.

In recreating the scenes of jubilation, Australians have been able to recapture the sense of celebration which marked the end of the war in the Pacific.

The ceremonies of 1995 overshadow, but will never erase, the importance and relevance of events so long ago. Australia and neighbouring South East Asian countries suffered greatly during the Second World War. The names of Sandakan and Outram Road are synonymous with brutality, a careless indifference to the lives of others.

Antique bronze; Australia Remembers Medal 1945-95 with green and gold ribbon. This medal was commissioned by the Queensland Department of Health and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Pantograph engraved reverse with recipient's details.

Associated with Corporal L Graham, 2/9 Battalion. The Wacol Pavilion, Brisbane was opened on 26 January 1948 to care for veterans with psychiatric disabilities. In 1995 administration of the facilities was transferred from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Queensland Department of Health. This coincided with the 1995 Federal Government initiated 'Australia Remembers : 1945-95' campaign, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two. 

The West Moreton Regional Health Authority saw the opportunity to enact a ceremony in conjunction with the handover. The ceremony paid tribute to the complex's resident veterans with psychiatric disabilities and marked the change of administration. This is an example of the medal which was commissioned for the occasion. It was awarded to Mr. Graham who was a resident.

THE celebrations and commemorations of 'Australia Remembers 1945-1995' will climax on August 15 with the 50th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific (VP) Day - the effective end of World War II.

Vastly different locations and circumstances meant Australian service personnel celebrated the end of the war in very different ways. After six years of struggle and back breaking toil in widely differing theatres of war from the skies over Europe, through the deserts of North Africa to the islands of the Pacific, both service personnel and civilians could look forward hopefully to a life unthreatened by war.

The cost had been heavy - more than 39,000 names of those slain are recorded on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour - almost four percent of a total enlistment of about 993,000.

Casualties were less than those suffered in the First World War, but it was still a heavy price to pay for a relatively lightly populated country. More than 47,000 were also wounded or injured in operational areas and 22,000 captured as Prisoners of War.

Both of these experiences were traumatic and would affect some of the Australians for many years to come. Although less important than the cost in human suffering, the financial cost to the nation was considerable.

Australia spent about [pounds sterling] 2.1 billion in prosecuting the war. In today's terms, this figure represents about $24 billion - almost 30 per cent of national income over the period.

While many essential jobs were taken over by men too old to enlist as well as women who made a vital contribution, the efforts of those people who were prevented by legislation from serving in the Armed Forces should not be forgotten.

Many of them were working in occupations such as fishing, mining and farming which were classified as 'exempt', making it very difficult (though not impossible) to enlist in the forces. Yeppoon resident Jack Stapleton was a professional fisherman since 1936 and was classified as exempt.

The war was brought home to Jack in April 1942 when he landed at Wreck Beach on Keppel Island while catching fish. "I had been told that some people had landed there the previous day from a submarine. I saw where they had got water and found where the fresh skins of several sheep and goats had been hidden away. I was satisfied they were Japanese, so I went back to Yeppoon and told the authorities," Mr Stapleton said.

In May 1942 he went to Brisbane - where he was unknown to recruiting staff - to join up. Jack was unable to join the RAAF Small Ships Section, which was his first choice so he enlisted in the Army, concealing his exempt status.

After very brief training in Goondiwindi he was posted to New Guinea, and ended up on an anti-aircraft artillery battery at Gurney Airstrip outside Milne Bay. "I'd had no training on the Bofors gun before this but we picked it up pretty quickly, especially since the Japanese aircraft were coming over several times a day, almost every day," Jack said.

Apparently he did well enough to be promoted to sergeant before the area quietened down enough for his unit to be withdrawn to Australia in 1944. When VP Day arrived he was at Singleton Camp in NSW and clearly remembers the celebrations held in the nearby town.

Another example of the importance given to the 'exempt' classification of food production in the war effort is shown by the history of Jack Nash, originally from Toowoomba. He enlisted in May 1941 at the age of 19, as a reinforcement for the 2/11 Infantry Battalion, 7th Division (then stationed in the Middle East).

"I left Australia in August and joined my unit in Syria. The unit left the Middle East in February 1942, initially bound for Singapore, but when Singapore fell, we were diverted back to Australia," Mr Nash said.

"We arrived in Port Moresby in August and had our first contact with the enemy south of Kokoda in September. I went down with amoebic dysentery and malaria in December and was evacuated to Australia," he added. Mr Nash was medically downgraded and discharged in December 1943 to work on a cattle station near Ayr, but he could not settle into station life and was transferred to a job on line maintenance with the railway in Darwin, another exempt occupation.

He was working at Parap, just south of Darwin, on VP Day and was told of the end of the war by two RAAF friends. Unfortunately a combination of plenty of work and a severe shortage of alcohol in the area at the time prevented any real celebrations until a later date!

But food production was not the only concern in Queensland during the war.

Despite having a population of only one million people, the state became the main jumping-off point for hundreds of thousands of Australian and allied personnel heading for Papua New Guinea and other Pacific war zones.

  • While Townsville and Brisbane were the two principal bases for this onward movement, Rockhampton was transformed into a major staging point on the road and rail network, in addition to housing the headquarters for the United States Army First Corps.

Temporary holding camps were spread over much of the available land near the town.

The area now occupied by CQU, and owned at the time by the Estate of G Kerr, was designated an 'Infantry Regiment Staging Area', designed to accommodate about 4000 troops living in tents.

The staging area also comprised semi-permanent facilities such as kitchens, bathhouses and latrines. There were 32 of these buildings and 15 concrete tent floors. The concrete tent floors were probably for the Regimental Headquarters.

The staging area also had a large stockade, or military prison.

Rockhampton became an important hub on the rail-road network, not only because of the movement of the vast amounts of stores needing to be shipped out through Townsville to the war zones, but also for handling the frequent troop trains carrying units north.

During the Australia Remembers celebrations, these movements will be re-enacted by a replica troop train, using a steam locomotive and wooden carriages of the time. The carriages were scattered across Queensland, but have been gathered together for the event.

The train will depart Brisbane on August 7, 1995, and will arrive in Rockhampton on August 8 for an overnight stop before going on to Townsville and Cairns.

Of course, Queenslanders were not the only people to celebrate VP Day.

Len Walling, now living on the Capricorn Coast, was born in Victoria.

"I joined up in Melbourne in May 1940 and trained at Trawool and Puckapunyal in Victoria, then I was posted to the 2/16 Field Squadron Royal Australian Engineers, arriving in the Middle East in early 1941 and worked and trained in Palestine until 1942," Mr Walling said.

"My first major taste of action was clearing minefields at El Alamein on October 22, 1943, where I was injured in the right foot and leg by a mine and evacuated to a hospital in Alexandria," he added.

Mr Walling was returned to Australia in 1944 and was medically downgraded in July 1944, due to his injured leg.

"I was then posted to a tank repair workshops in South Melbourne and was still there when the war finished. I can still remember the big celebrations all over the town," he said.

Mr Walling's story is typical of all Australians who, no matter where they were, celebrated as best they could the end of the conflict. Much has been said, and will be said this year by politicians and others on the subject of the end of World War II.
But nowhere is the end of the war more fittingly or touchingly portrayed than in the photograph forming the centre of the 'Australia Remembers' logo - an ordinary Digger home and reunited with his family at last.

Bill Eade


Australia Remembers


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