3-nine-39 radio and video series

The 3-nine-39 radio and video series tells the untold stories of veterans, widows and family members from the Second World War.

Video series

Darren Chester, Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel

Gladys Waters, wife of Len Waters, Australia’s first Aboriginal Fighter Pilot

Guy Griffiths, veteran, served in the Royal Australian Navy

Hilda Grey, served in the Women’s Land Army

Jim Kerr, ex Prisoner-of War, Burma-Thailand Railway

Ron Barassi, former AFL player, father was killed while serving in Tobruk

Catherine Jose Jackson, meteorologist with Bomber Command, UK

Radio series

Ron Barassi, former AFL player, father was killed while serving in Tobruk


And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd, 1939 sees Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist, out of a population of just 7 million.

27 year old Melbourne footballer, Ronald James Barassi is one of them, but sadly he is killed at Tobruk. That’s the day the war becomes very real for his son, and AFL legend Ron Barassi, who is just five at the time.

Ron Barassi:

Well the thing that I remember the most is the news that my father had been killed. Unfortunately, he was the first VFL footballer killed in the war. My mother was crying, and I guess the fact that she was crying hurt me more than anything else. I think we should feel hurt, when to think people have been killed defending you, and that’s what this war was about. War is a shocking, tearful, awful waste of people’s efforts and lives. When they die, the shock comes to the mothers and fathers, and husbands and wives. I haven’t been this emotional like this for years.

Ray Martin:

Ron Barassi Senior was one in a million, as we remember the Second World War 80 years on.

Hilda Grey, veteran, served in the Women’s Land Army


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians. 

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd 1939, see’s Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist out of a population of just 7 million.

Hilda Grey, now 91, is one of them. Hilda joins the Women’s Land Army when she is just 16. She works on a farm replacing the men who have gone off to war. But it’s on September the 3rd 1939 when Hilda’s war suddenly becomes very real. 

Hilda Grey:

When war was declared, we lived out in the bush where there was only 5 houses and we had a wireless.

Robert Mezies via radio transmission:

 “Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you that in consequence of persistence by Germany and her invasion of Poland. Great Britain has declared war upon her and that as a result, Australia is also at war".

Hilda Grey:

It’s just that all the women burst into tears, because of course they’d been through it before. And that’s how I remember it.

The men straight off said, ‘Well, we have to go”. My father joined up the very next day.

I was only a child then, but I do remember it.

Ray Martin:

Hilda Grey is one in a million as 80 years on we remember the Second World War.

Gladys Waters, wife of Len Waters, Australia’s first Aboriginal Fighter Pilot


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd 1939, see’s Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist out of a population of just 7 million.

In 1944, Len Waters becomes Australia’s first Aboriginal Fighter Pilot. He flies 95 operations in Kitty Hawks against the Japanese around the Islands North of Australia. On one of those operations Len’s plane is hit and he almost doesn’t make it back to base. Len’s widow, Gladys Waters, picks up the history.

Gladys Waters:

They had to go out flying, they were about three hours out from their camp doing a clean-up and this Japanese shell landed up between Lenny and the back of his seat with the fuel tank. He was terrified and he said, that he would have landed on eggshells that day because he was that frightened. But they had to clear the aerodrome of the plane’s cause the shell hadn’t gone off. He was terrified about it. But he got it down and no one was hurt in any way. Two and a half hours it took him to get back to the camp with that shell behind him. Wans’t he lucky. 

Ray Martin:

Len Waters, Australia’s first Aboriginal Fighter Pilot, was one in a million as 80 years on we remember the Second World War.

Michael Bell, Indigenous Liaison Officer, Australian War Memorial


Transcript

And that as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd 1939, see’s Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist out of a population of just 7 million.

Michael Bell, a Ngunnawal Gomeroi man, is the Indigenous Liaison Officer at the Australian War Memorial. He talks about the important contribution of first nation’s people to the war effort.

Michael Bell:

With the threat of the Japanese invasion after the bombing of Darwin, the need to defend the top end of Australia particularly around the coast was great and our men particularly where using their traditional skills to go out and find downed pilots and to show them how to live on the land. That’s the non-indigenous service people that where up there. Show them how to access water, technologies, utilising the bark and the natural resources to build their huts and their protection. Cures for tropical illness and diseases. What not to eat and what to eat. The traditional knowledge that comes from living up the top end were transferred to the radar stations, air bases and the army camps that where utilised for the Second World War.

Ray Martin:

Michael Bell providing a fascinating insight in to Indigenous war participation. As 80 years on we remember the Second World War.

Karl James, Head of Military History Section, Australian War Memorial


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd 1939, see’s Australia enter the Second World War.

Karl James, head of military history at the Australian War Memorial, gives us a sense of how the Second World War changed Australia and Australians.

Karl James:

The Second World War was one of defining moments of Australian history, and I think is probably one of the key moments in the influence and development of Australia. From a population of nearly 7 million Australians, almost a million men and women at uniform during the conflict.

Half a million served overseas and some 40,000 died during the war. This was a huge military contribution. Beyond the battlefield, the Second World War was a time when Australian industry boomed, we see the birth and the development of the Australian wartime industry, science and technology all rapidly increase, during the conflict to, Australia develops a more sophisticated relationship with Britain as well as looking towards the United States.

It is a great time for the changing role of women and we have post war migration to Australia, so people from all over the world are coming to Australia and making their homes here.

So for many reasons the Second World War was one of the defining moments of Australian history and certainly I’ve argued, one of the key moments of the 20th century.

Ray Martin:

Historian Karl James, as we remember the Second World War 80 years on.

Jim Kerr, ex Prisoner-of War, Burma-Thailand Railway


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd, 1939 sees Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist, out of a population of just 7 million.

Jim Kerr, now 94, is one of the million. Jim was just 15, but puts his aged up and enlists to serve. He is one of 22,000 Australians taken prisoner-of war by the Japanese to work in labour camps. He is sent to hospital for treatment of malaria and that’s when Jim Kerr’s war becomes even more real. 

Jim Kerr:

I was 15 when I enlisted and I was gunner in the 4th tank regiment.

I was next to the ulcer ward. And the treatment in the ulcer ward was, that the orderly would come around in the morning and his treatment was a sharpened spoon.

So with a sharpened spoon, he would, scrape away all the bad flesh down to the good flesh, and you could hear these blokes screaming as this orderly was going on his rounds.

So, you imagine you're next in line waiting for this fellow with a sharpened spoon to come down until finally there was no other action but they'd cut the leg off.

I wouldn't know how many, but a lot of men lost legs because of ulcers. And there was no treatment.

The Japanese never supplied any treatment for that sort of thing, so the doctors had to improvise with what they could.

Ray Martin:

Jim Kerr is one in a million as 80 years on we remember the Second World War.

Guy Griffiths, veteran, served in the Royal Australian Navy


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd 1939, see’s Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist out of a population of just 7 million.

Guy Griffiths, now 96, is one of them. Guy is already in the Navy when the war starts and pretty soon he is in the thick of it. But when his ship Repulse is sunk by Japanese torpedoes off the Malayan coast in 1941, Guy’s war suddenly becomes very real.

Guy Griffiths:

Well she was hit with I think five torpedoes, which had opened up the old lady and she was taking a lot of water and she had listed to 30 degrees to port.

And I was still able to climb up the deck below the upper deck and get out of that scuttle, porthole, whichever you like to call it, and slide down the ship’s side. That was life.

We lost 500 chaps of a marvellous ship's company out of the 1,300. You can never forget. Okay, Griffiths, you were lucky. Think of the fellows who weren't and their families. Tragic.

Ray Martin:

Guy Griffiths is one in a million as we remember the Second World War 80 years on.

Bill Purdy, veteran, served with Bomber Command


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd, 1939 sees Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist, out of a population of just 7 million.

Bill Purdy, now 96, is one of them. Bill joins bomber command and fly’s 37 bomber raids against the enemy. Somehow avoiding the very high risk of being shot down and killed.

It’s on one of those missions that Bill Purdy’s war becomes very real.

Bill Purdy:

The on time that we were hit, on three separate occasions by flack. And at the same time, we were attacked by a night fighter, which put this row of holes just in front of the rear turret. And when we worked out what had happened to us, the poor old aircraft was like a colander. It was filled with holes, here there and everywhere.

My bomber had a little strip taken off the back of his neck. The navigator had a piece that came down through the roof, straight through his boggle charts and buried itself in his desk. And the only piece of armour plate was about two feet just behind the pilot and that had a great dent in it. It was all a matter of luck basically.

Ray Martin:

Bill Purdy is one in a million as we remember the Second World War 80 years on.

Catherine Jose Jackson, meteorologist with Bomber Command, UK


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd 1939, see’s Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist out of a population of just 7 million.

Catherine Josie Jackson, now 100, is trained as a meteorologist with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Her husband is with Bomber Command, and she gets posted to the same base in England that he’s at. But on the night of the 22nd of November 1943, the war suddenly becomes very real for Josie.

Catherine Josie Jackson:

My husband went on a night raid. But I didn’t know where, or anything about it.

But in the morning when I was going on duty to the Met Office I was interrupted by a wireless operator.

I thought, oh dear. So she said, can you come in for a minute to the wireless room.

And unfortunately the first thing I saw was a big blackboard. And on the top line, it said James Brown missing. And that was it.

And she grabbed me and hugged me and said well I’m terribly sorry but your crew didn’t come back last night. We don’t know what’s happened, we haven’t heard anything, we don’t know. All their listed is missing.

Ray Martin:

Catherine Josie Jackson, remembering the Second World War, 80 years on.

Smokey Dawson, veteran, served in the Army


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd 1939, see’s Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist out of a population of just 7 million.

Smokey Dawson:

Smokey Dawson is one of them. His Army duties include being a stretcher bearer and entertaining the troops. But for Smokey, the day he farewelled Dot, his new wife of just a few days, is the day the war became very real for him. It was a very frosty morning, and we both said to each other that we promise that we wouldn’t look back when we said goodbye. And I remember the last kiss and I turned my back on her and walked down the hill. And I heard the train and I never looked back at Dot, I couldn’t bare to look back. As the train started moving out I happened to look out and I saw at the top of the hill, where I left my wife with her apron, waving, and these three pines tress. And I balled like a kid and I’ll never forget it. I felt so stupid dressed up as this soldier with all this gear on me and this fighting equipment, and hear I was balling like a kid. I was terrified. 

Ray Martin:

Smokey Dawson was one in a million as we remember the Second World War 80 years on. .

Brian Winspear, served in Royal Australian Air Force, witness to the Bombing of Darwin


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd 1939, see’s Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist out of a population of just 7 million.

99 year old Brian Winspear is one of them. Brian joins the RAAF and is sent to Darwin in 1941 as part of the bomber squadrons flying Lockheed Hudson’s. But when he arrives back in Darwin from a mission on the morning of 19 February 1942, Brian Winspear war suddenly becomes very real.

Brian Winspear:

I remember all the details of the first bombing of Darwin. It’s been tattooed onto my brain for 70, 80 odd years. I remember clearly what they were doing, how they were doing the dive bombing and what the zeros were doing shooting up our aircrafts and setting fire to the aircraft. The dive bombings and the zeros came in. They were very very close to my trench and I could see their faces in their helmets and I’m sure they were smiling.

Ray Martin:

Brian Winspear is one in a million as we remember the Second World War 80 years on.

Darren Chester, Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel


Transcript

And then as a result, Australia is also at war. 3-nine-39, the day the war became real for Australians.

Ray Martin:

I’m Ray Martin. September the 3rd, 1939 sees Australia enter the Second World War. Around a million people enlist, out of a population of just 7 million.

The war changed Australia, oddly enough, sometimes for the better. As people enlisted and went overseas, traditional jobs and places in society had to be filled as the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester explains.

Darren Chester:

The role of women during the war was quite extraordinary. Nurses went overseas with the Australian Imperial Forces in 1940 and many more followed in subsequent years. Many became prisoners of the Japanese and some lost their lives in action or captivity.

At home, the Women’s Land Army was established to encourage women to work on farms. Women in urban areas took up employment in industries such as munitions production and in other occupations previously denied to them.

On the 3rd of September, I encourage all Australians to pause and remember that 80 years ago, our nation entered a period of profound change, which resulted in profound sadness and loss for many families. 

Ray Martin:

The Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester, reflecting on the vital role of women in the war effort, as we remember the Second World War 80 years on.