By Tony Moon Korumburra RSL
SATURDAY, August 15 marked the 75th Anniversary of the end of WWII.
WWII will go down in history as the most-costly conflict, both in terms of life lost and economic impact.
Estimates vary, however it is generally accepted that there were between 70-85 million fatalities across 30 combative countries. These countries threw their entire industrial capacity and economy behind the ‘war effort’.
For the township and district of Korumburra, listed on the memorials rolls and cenotaphs are the names of 94 men and women who lost their live during this conflict and again estimates vary, however the number of local volunteers who served was well in excess of 700.
During WWII our men and women served on almost every continent. They served in the Army, Navy, Airforce and in Merchant Navy. Normally, during the dedication services we pause to remember and appreciate their service and sacrifice. WWII was fought on such a global scale that nothing like it was experienced before or since. It’s no understatement to say that WWII changed the very fabric of our nation and brought Australia into a more modern and progressive society.
On the home front
WWII was the first truly “Total War”. By this we mean that 100 per cent of the nation’s effort (economically, infrastructure and manpower) was dedicated towards achieving one goal, that being total and final victory. Australia was no different and South Gippsland was expected to do their bit.
It was our Prime Minister John Curtin that said: “Every human being in this country, whether he or she like it is now at the service of this government for the Defence of Australia.” This directive had an enormous impact on our daily lives. For the first time rationing was introduced (food, clothing, fuel). Bomb shelters appeared in people’s back yards and schools had slit trenches dug in the playgrounds. Every family in every town or city was expected to be “economical” with resources and to make to most of what you had.
The war effort was behind all of our endeavours, either directly or indirectly. The allocation of manpower within communities was closely managed and local “manpower officer” coordinating the allocating of civilian labour force. (Mr Ewan Tack fulfilled that role in Korumburra).
How can I serve?
The concept of the home front and total war were new ideas to Australia. However, the conduct of that war meant full commitment by the entire population. Unlike WWI there were many more ways to serve the nation. Many more government organisations were formed aimed solely at the war effort were set up and manned by local people. One of these was Australian Woman’s Land Army (WLA)
The Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) was formed during the Second World War to combat rising labour shortages in the farming sector. From December 1941, when Japan entered the war, the nation’s need to build up its armed forces was placed above the needs of other industries. Agricultural labour was steadily diverted to the armed services and war industry.
To meet the shortfall in rural labour, State and private women’s land organisations were organised, modelled on those established in Great Britain during the First and Second World Wars. A national body was formed on July 27, 1942 under the jurisdiction of the Director General of Manpower. While policy was devised by the Commonwealth Government, the organisation of the AWLA remained State-based.
Civil Construction Corp (CCC)
The Civil Constructional Corps (CCC) was established in April 1942 to supply labour for the creation of infrastructure like airfields, gun emplacements, barracks, roads and other projects undertaken by the Allied Works Council. All men between the ages of 18 and 60 could be conscripted into the CCC unless they were serving in the armed forces or employed in a reserved occupation. They received pay based on civilian award rates, but their work was highly regulated: they could not strike and might be sent anywhere in Australia.
At its peak strength in August 1943, almost 54,000 men were serving in the CCC. They were involved in hundreds of projects worth millions of pounds. Almost one-third of them were conscripted – or “manpowered”, the term current at the time. By the end of the war 77,500 men had served in the CCC. They had served in every state and territory and made an invaluable contribution to the war effort. Two hundred and eighteen members of the CCC died while serving in it.
Volunteer Air Observers Corp (VAOC)
The VAOC was formed in December 1941 to support the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) with its main roles of sighting and observing aircraft over Australia. The VAOC swiftly established thousands of Observation Posts (OP) across the country and provided information to the RAAF’s regional air control posts. As the threat to home front declined the VAOC’s role was expanded to include coast watching, assisting air traffic control, weather reporting and fire spotting.
The VAOC was staffed by civilian volunteers and reached an estimated peak strength in 1944 of about 24 000 personnel and 2656 Observation Posts. After the end of the war, the VAOC was reduced to a cadre in December 1945 and was disbanded on 10 April 1946.
Volunteer Defence Cop (VDC)
The VDC was an Australian part-time volunteer military force of World War II modelled on the British Home Guard. The VDC was established in July 1940 by the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) and was initially composed of ex-servicemen who had served in World War I. The government took over control of the VDC in May 1941, and gave the organisation the role of training for guerrilla warfare, collecting local intelligence and providing static defence of each unit’s home area.
Following the outbreak of the Pacific War, the Government expanded the VDC in February 1942. Membership was open to men aged between 18 and 60, including those working in reserved occupations. As a result, there were, by 1944, nearly 100,000 men in the VDC, organized into 111 battalions consisting of about 1,500 full-time personnel, over 30,000 part-time active members and over 43,000 part-time reserve members of the Volunteer Defence Corps. The VDC is a separate arm of the Army and not to be confused with the pre-war Militia Battalion (29th and 22nd Bn), who, by this time, had been mobilised and were training for overseas deployment. Locally Korumburra was the Battalion HQ for 23 Bn VDC, with, A Coy and HQ located at Korumburra, B Coy at Bass, C Coy at Leongatha and D Coy at Meeniyan.t
Volunteer Aid Detachment (VAD)
The origins of the VAD stretch back to pre-WWI times. Initially the primary role of a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) member was that of nursing orderly in hospitals, carrying out menial but essential tasks – scrubbing floors, sweeping, dusting and cleaning bathrooms and other areas, dealing with bedpans, and washing patients. The role of VADs did not significantly evolve between the wars. VADs in the Second World War were given more medical training, but they were not fully qualified nurses. They worked in convalescent hospitals, on hospital ships and the blood bank as well as on the home front. In 1943, the government created the Australian Women’s Auxiliary Service (AWAS) to control the large numbers of VADs employed by the military.
A United Community
The 75th anniversary marks a key moment in worlds history. It is only right that we pause and reflect on the service and sacrifice made by previous generations of our community. Their loss in many ways did paves the way for our future. But perhaps we should also reflect on what is achievable when a community and a nation unites with 100% commitment all for a common goal. For those dark and terrifying years back in the mid-1940s, we proved that with unity in our cause we could achieve amazing things.
(Special thanks to Australian War Memorial).