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Category: Army History/WW2

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Volunteer Defence Corps (WW2)

The body that had the greatest effect upon the organisation of the army was the Volunteer Defence Corps. It was inaugurated on 15 July 1940 under the auspices of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers', and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA now RSL)
There is now an Associate Site called ON GUARD with the Volunteer Defence Corps

Four types of VDC (Corporal Tom Goodall, Corporal Joseph Gill and Sergeant Alfred Thomson). A pen and ink and water-colour by Tony Rafty, created at Queenscliff  1943
Australian practice rifle made with bush timber and has an iron butt. The butt is stamped 25.

It is complete with bayonet, stamped XXV, and scabbard, capable of being unfixed and was made from part of a reaping machine.

This rifle was made by Captain Leonard Cariston Seton, of 29 Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps, Moree.

 A number of rifles of this type were improvised for used by the Graman Platoon for training in rifle exercises, fixing and unfixing bayonets and bayonet practice. The rifles were only one of a variety of weapons improvised by Captain Seton, who has stated that the improvisations ranged from a prismatic compass to machine guns.

Volunteer Defence Corps numbers in 1944

Line of Communications Area No. of VDC Battalions Full time personnel Active part-time personnel Reserve part-time personnel Total personnel
Queensland 23 547 4,008 8,053 12,608
New South Wales 33 498 11,472 10,730 22,970
Victoria 24 154 5,444 13,585 19,183
South Australia 10 68 2,983 4,194 7,245
Western Australia 16 130 5,037 4,343 9,510
Tasmania 3 88 1,222 2,348 3,658
Total/s 111 1,485 30,166 43,253 75,174

The Volunteer Defence Corps 

During the war, a number of private- or government-sponsored movements emerged to assist the war effort. Some, such as the Australian Red Cross or the Salvation Army, had peacetime functions, which these organisations redefined as wartime aid to the nation's service men and women. Others were new entities, for example, the Australian Women's Land Army. 

The body that had the greatest effect upon the organisation of the army was the Volunteer Defence Corps. It was inaugurated on 15 July 1940 under the auspices of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers', and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA now RSL)

Australia. 1942. The Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) was raised and maintained in its early years by the RSL and later handed over to Army control. It comprised men from every part of Australia and every walk of civilian life - volunteers unfit for combat in the regular forces, over the age limit or in reserved occupations. VDC members are shown marching with rifles over their shoulders, training before the issue of uniforms.

Its founding principle was to provide a means by which ex-servicemen could make a contribution to the defence of their communities. 

  • In May 1941, the Volunteer Defence Corps became part of the army. 
    • The following year, it became a Corps of the CMF 

Once it was under the government's control, the government expanded its membership in order to allow fit males who were in reserved occupations the opportunity to perform some military duty. By September 1942, only 20 per cent of the Volunteer Defence Corps had seen previous service. 

Australia. c. 1942. Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) members conduct an incendiary exercise using home made bombs. The VDC was to engage in guerilla warfare to the best of its ability should the Japanese invade the country.

The army defined the objective of the Volunteer Defence Corps as to 1 augment the local defences of the State by providing static defence of localities and the protection of vulnerable points and by giving timely information regarding enemy movements to superior military organizations More succinctly, its purpose was to

'Deny, Delay, and Protect'.

Some of the particular missions for which the Volunteer Defence Corps prepared included the construction of road blocks, demolition of bridges and piers, protection of airbases, industrial sites, and vulnerable points, coastwatching, and village and guerrilla warfare. When workers joined the organisation, they often provided for the defence of their plants. 

  • For example, protecting the BHP steel works at Newcastle were three Volunteer Defence Corps battalions, each representing an eight-hour shift. When the manpower situation became difficult, the Volunteer Defence Corps expanded its role, especially in the manning of anti-aircraft batteries and coast defence fortifications.
Click to go to the VDC site

Anzac Day arm band RSL/VDC >>>

So that the Volunteer Defence Corps could achieve its mission, the army organised it geographically to correspond to the line of communication areas. 

In each Line of Communication Area, the army appointed a Volunteer Defence Corps commander.

 It then subdivided each line of communication area into Volunteer Defence Corps groups, each holding several battalions. 

The army abolished the group level in 1944.

Frankston, Victoria 1942-06-18. Members of the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) at Physical and Recreational Training School, L.H.Q. Unarmed combat is a part of VDC training.
  • Post war Volunteer Defence Corps Association badges

A typical battalion held approximately 400 men, organised into companies, platoons, and sections. However, the Volunteer Defence Corps did not have any fixed establishment, as the operational task determined the shape of a particular unit. 

  • The commander of the Volunteer Defence Corps was a Director who held the equivalent rank of a Brigadier. General Blamey attached the position to his staff at Land Headquarters. 

The Volunteer Defence Corps was responsible for its own administration and training, but for operational matters it fell under the control of the officer commanding the Line of Communication Area to which it belonged.

At each command level, down to the battalion, the Volunteer Defence Corps contained a handful of full-time staff to manage administrative and training matters. Most volunteers served on a part-time basis, reporting for duty for only about six hours a week. Later in the war, the army did authorise the recruitment of up to 5,000 Volunteer Defence Corps members for full-time duty to perform tasks such as coast-watching and the guarding of vulnerable points, but the number serving continuously never exceeded 3,000. 

Part-time and full-time serving volunteers did, however, allow the army to divert substantial Line of Communication area troops to other duties. In 1944, the army had replaced over 6,000 army personnel with Volunteer Defence Corps staff .

In fact, the Volunteer Defence Corps was so popular that it attracted far more members than the army believed could be profitably employed, and its establishment was as much a product of individual demand and political advantage as military requirement. When first absorbed by the army, the Volunteer Defence Corps had an establishment set at 50,000. Within two months, recruits oversubscribed the ranks to such an extent that the government raised the limit to 80,000. 

This was still insufficient, and the Volunteer Defence Corps carried a further 18,000 as supernumeraries. The government approached Blarney with the idea of increasing the limit further, but he objected, basing his argument on the absence of a military need. However, Blamey's words had little effect on Francis Forde, who had become Minister for the Army in October 1941. In December 1942, Forde authorised additional expenditure in order to equip a volunteer force of up to 100,000 men.

While the formation of the Volunteer Defence Corps provided the army with additional resources for local defence, especially during the fearful first half of 1942, it did create some problems for the army. The most serious was the provision of uniforms and equipment, as the CMF was desperately short of these items itself. The army attempted to maintain a policy of issuing materials to the Volunteer Defence Corps only once it had satisfied the CMF's demand.

However, the government found this policy politically unsustainable, and capitulated to demands for more resources for the volunteers. An appeal from the Coogee-Randwick Area Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia in September 1940 for uniforms, arms, and equipment was a typical effort by the volunteers for better access to war goods. In this letter the Coogee-Randwick veterans noted that their desire was for sufficient arms so that they might constitute a real fighting force that was able to serve Australia in case of invasion.

The Minister for the Army at the time, Spender, had difficulty rejecting such requests, and instead required the army to provide the volunteers with greater access to rifles. However, the issuance of other weapons, such as mortars and grenades, had to wait until the army had satisfied the demands of higher priority formations. Consequently, in 1944, when the nation's need for them was clearly in decline, active-duty Volunteer Defence Corps battalions were only then reaching an average of approximately 75 per cent of an infantry battalion's equipment establishment.

Like the rest of the army, the Volunteer Defence Corps began to contract in 1943. By December 1943, its strength was down to under 86,000. In July 1944, the army undertook a major reorganisation of the volunteers. The army placed more than half of its membership on reserve status. In October 1944, the 1st Army placed 15 Volunteer Defence Corps battalions onto reserve status and disbanded several other units entirely. The only formation remaining on active status in the Brisbane area was the 10th Australian Anti-Aircraft Group, which contained three static heavy antiaircraft batteries. Shortly after the end of the war, the army demobilised the entire Volunteer Defence Corps.

The Table above outlines the organisation of the Volunteer Defence Corps as it existed in August 1944.

extract from The Australian Army, Albert Palazzo. Oxford University Press ISBN 019 551507 2


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