As everyone knows World War 2 began on 1 September, 1939 and hostilities ceased in 1945. Here I look back on the war years in Perth as seen through the eyes of a child aged 7-13. I have done some research and quote official records relating only the effects of the war in Australia itself, i.e bombing raids etc., because I don't have a full recollection of exactly what happened and I'm not sure many Australians do.
I think I vaguely remember mum and dad talking about the war beginning in Europe but of course war itself meant very little to a seven year old girl. I talk in a separate post about what dad and my brother Len did during the war so won't go into that now.
We used to go the pictures quite regularly (the three of us) and in those days there were News Reels shown before the commencement of the films. They seemed to be full of what was happening in Europe and things were not looking all that great. I wish I could remember more than I do but perhaps it is better that I don't. Phil, on the other hand, lived just outside Coventry and was there when the terrible blitz of that city took place. His family were fortunate not to lose any relations during those raids. Phil had uncles in the various services, all of whom returned home eventually, although some had suffered bad effects from being in Europe and on the high seas.
Eventually news became very grim about what was happening in England with all the bombing, and things weren't going very well in Europe either. Then, of course in December, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour where so much of the American fleet were anchored. This meant there were two separate theatres of war......Europe and now that in the Pacific. Many American citizens didn't want their couintry to be involved in the war in Europe, although the Americans were assisting already, the bombing of Pearl Harbour put a different light on things.
RATIONING: In time rationing began in Australia: petrol, sugar, tea, butter, and clothing. Dad had bought a little Fiat tourer in 1939 and as he was a commercial traveller he had extra petrol coupons and the Fiat was so economical it was rarely that we were short of petrol. Unlike the people in Britain there was no meat rationing here and we never seemed to be terribly short of sugar, tea or butter as we were careful in their usage. Rationing remained in force for several years after the war ended.
I was always tall for my age and as coupons were needed for school uniforms they brought in a system of measuring the height of children as well as their weight. If they were above average height or average weight they they would be allowed several extra coupons. I was above average height so obtained extra coupons. Heavier girls who were not above average height would also be awarded extra coupons but I don't think there were many overweight girls that I can remember.
As we grew older the girls at school used to talk about the war (I am sure some members of their families were away overseas but, for some reason, that was seldom spoken about) and we would talk of rumours going around that the Japanese had been sending reconnaissance planes to check out our city and all that type of thing. Of course there were a lot of American submarines stationed in Fremantle so I would imagine the Japanese would have been very interested to know exactly what was happening this far down the Western Australian coast. We had underground air-raid shelters in the school grounds and occasionally there would be a mock air-raid and we'd all have to go into the shelters and stay there until the all clear was sounded. I think we thought it bit of fun but then none of us had experienced what it must have been like to be bombed. I am not sure if we actually knew about air raids that eventually took place in the north of our state and other northern areas of Australia. I feel that as a child you perhaps don't take on board unpleasant things if they don't affect you personally.
BOMBING OF AUSTRALIA: I am sure I did know about our country being bombed but it is probably one of those thing a child puts out its mind because it is not conceivable to a child's mind. Mum and Dad remembered what it was like as they worked and lived in London during WW1 although the bombing then was not as ferocious as in WW2. I needed to find out more for my own information so here I am quoting from the Australian War Memorial website mainly to give an insight of how Australia and its people were affected.
"The outbreak of war with Japan provoked panic in some sections of the Australian public and they expected air raids any day. It was not until the attack on Darwin (Northern Territory) in 1942 that a greater threat, the threat of invasion was recognised. A total of 64 air raids on Darwin during 1942-43 resulted in the death of over 250 people.
Two weeks after the attack on Darwin, Broome in Western Australia suffered Australia's second worst air raid on 3 March when 70 people were killed and 24 aircraft including 16 flying boats were destroyed. Simultaneous to the raid on Broome, eight Japanese fighter planes hit Wyndham (in the far north of W.A.) Broome was again hit on 20 March, the same day that Derby (also in W.A.) suffered its only raid. Horn Island (off the far north of Queensland) was hit on 14 March and addition raids against Horn Island met no air resistance but ceased in August, 1942.
Soldiers inspecting damage to defence buildings in Darwin following a bombing raid:
The explosion of an oil storage tank, during the first Japanese air raid on Darwin (HMAS Debraine ... in the foreground...escaped damage):
In late July, 1942 three raids were made against Townsville (Queensland) which was by then the most important air base in Australia. Three Kawanishi flying boats dropped bombs on the harbour on the night of 26-26 July and lone flying boats returned on the nights of 27-28 and 28-29 July. A final raid took place on the Australian east coast on the night of 30 July, when a single bomb was dropped near a house in Cairns (Queensland)."
MORE RATIONING STORIES: Mum and dad bought a corner store in Swanbourne in 1946 and with rationing still in full force my job was to collect all the butter, tea and sugar coupons and stick them on to sheets which were then of course sent to the department in control of rationing. Ice-cream was also in short supply so mum used to make some in one of those old-fashioned ice-cream makers which was very popular with her customers and I think the best customers got first choice which was only fair and especially those that had young children.
Even as late as 1950-51, when I was working in Melbourne, cigarettes were still very short although it was possible to sometimes buy a tin of English cigarettes. I've never worked out why that was. I remember being offered a packet of 10 cigarettes but refused them. The lady said "but they are Australian cigarettes from Western Australia." I said I knew what they were but people back in my home state didn't smoke them as they were regarded as being rather dreadful. I know one of the brands was Luxor and the other may have been State Express but I could be wrong about that one. I do remember the name of the manufacturer but perhaps I'll be diplomatic and not mention the name here. (I fortunately gave up smoking many years ago, mainly for the sake of Phil's health and here we both still are so I must have done the right thing.)
Again, after the war, in about 1948, mum was going to a formal dinner and needed a long frock but with clothing rationing she didn't have enough coupons. A friend suggested she try the curtaining department of the store as curtain fabric was not rationed!! Mum found and bought a beautiful piece of silky fabric in a lovely blue colour with I think a dark pattern of some type on it, and she had our dressmaker make it up into a very lovely evening gown and no coupons involved whatsoever. She looked so lovely that night when she left to attend the dinner. Dad didn't go as I think it involved the Women's Service Guild of whom mum was a member and also Honorary Secretary.
CESSATION OF HOSILITIES: As everyone probably knows the end of the war in Europe (VE Day) was celebrated on 8 May, 1945 but the war in the Pacific continued with fierce fighting on islands in the Pacific and other areas.
For Australians the unconditional surrender by the Japanese on 14th August, 1945, meant that the Second World War was finally over.
The Australian Prime Minister made the announcement of the Japanese surrender on the following day and he declared a public holiday. I have always known this day as either VP (Victory in the Pacific) Day or VJ (Victory against the Japanese) Day but have found there was apparently quite some controversy over whether it should be called VP or VJ Day. Personally, I doubt whether any of us really minded what it was called. All we knew was that peace had arrived after 6 years of horrendous happenings worldwide. By then I was nearly 14 so had much more of an understanding of what war was all about.
I was at school at Perth College when the news came through and we were allowed, I think about 10 girls at a time, to walk up to the newsagency on the corner to buy a copy of the special edition of the Daily News (an evening Perth paper that ceased circulation many years ago). As I remember it two prefects stood at the side gate of the senior school and as girls returned the same number were then allowed to go to the shop. Whether we had to wear our hats I am not sure but it was quite possible as colleges were sticklers for correct dress at all times back then. This probably happened at the gates of the Junior and Intermediate schools as well.
I have not meant to dwell too much on World War 2 but it had quite a large influence on our family and it is a big, if sad, part of our history, and of my history as well.