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
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
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
billion in prosecuting the war. In today's terms, this figure represents
about $24 billion - almost 30 per cent of national income over the
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
|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.