“Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war. No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to make such an announcement.”
This is how Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced to the Australian public on 3 September 1939 that Australia had once again answered the call of Empire and joined what was to be the Second World War (WWII).
In WWII almost one million Australian men and women served.
Initially they were engaged across Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa but in 1941 things changed. In that year the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbour and advanced into South East Asia, from which point Australia was also at war with Japan.
Australia, for the first (and last) time in its history came under direct enemy attack with Japanese bombing attacks on Northern Australian, including Darwin, and a midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour.
By the end of WWII 39,000 Australian had lost their lives and another 30,000 had been taken prisoner. The names of the 39,000, together with those of the other 63,000 Australians lost in war since 1885, can be seen inscribed on the Roll of Honour, in the arched cloisters of the commemorative courtyard in the upper part of the War Memorial.
The WWII Galleries trace Australia’s involvement in the various theatres of war in which it was directly engaged between 1939 and 1945 as well as covering the impact the War had on the home front. While more people (61,000) lost their lives in WWI, the social impact of WWII was greater given that for the first time in Australia’s history war came into Australia’s back yard in the Pacific and (albeit on a very small scale) into Australia itself.
For a more complete picture the WWII galleries should be viewed in conjunction with ANZAC Hall and the Aircraft Hall which house larger military hardware (mainly aircraft) which, in large part, relates to WWII.
Without in any way meaning to detract from the sacrifices made in WWII and its importance in world history I personally find the World War II galleries the least interesting of the galleries in the War Memorial due solely to my greater interest in earlier and later military history though various aspects of WWII do interest me from a historical perspective.
One aspect which particularly interests me and which I think the War Memorial covers extremely well is Japan’s involvement in the War, up to its surrender following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent war trials. While not terribly well known, Australia was attacked twice by the Japanese during WWII, once in Darwin (air raid) and once in Sydney (mini submarines).
Should WWII be your particular area of interest it is as well covered here as other wars and conflicts are, in this world-class museum/ memorial.
Address: Treloar Crescent, Campbell
Phone: 02 6243 4211