We've created this poster to commemorate those who served in the Australian Army, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the Citizen Military Forces (militia) during World War II. For more than 5 years during the war, the Australian troops served in campaigns from North Africa to the Solomon Islands. This poster was released for the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Display our poster to help remember and recognise the contributions of all Australians during the war.
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"Fellow Citizens – the war is over"
Prime Minister Ben Chifley,
15 August 1945
On the morning of 15 August 1945, Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley made a nation-wide address. Japan had accepted the Allies' surrender conditions. The Second World War was over. Victory in the Pacific (VP) Day was declared a national holiday on this day and is commemorated every year. Around the country, people poured into the streets in celebration. For years they had lived with rationing and austerity, they had worked hard and for long hours, been anxious for loved ones on active service and feared a Japanese invasion. They had seen the country change as thousands of women enlisted in the armed forces or joined the civilian workforce to labour on farms and in factories. Tens of thousands of United States servicemen had been based in or passed through Australia, clear evidence that traditional ties to Britain were weakening. The war had left people exhausted. Its end was met with relief and unbridled joy.
The Melbourne press reported revellers waging 'a battle against any show of dignity, or austerity and gloom'. A young boy saw a neighbour in a line of singing revellers, a lady who never missed Mass and always seemed serious but who on VP Day celebrated as she had likely never celebrated before, knowing that her son would soon be coming home. In the New South Wales country town of Dubbo, said a Sydney paper, people behaved in a manner 'that would be deemed incredible in normal life.' On the far side of the country in Perth, some 100,000 people crowded into the city.
There were conga lines, civilians and men and women in uniform dancing together, strangers embracing, streets littered with confetti, flags flying. Police ignored games of two-up and the kind of revelry that would normally invite arrest. An elated population was swept up in celebration. Chifley announced a two-day holiday. He thanked the service men and women of the Allied nations, and he thanked the millions who had worked so hard for the war effort on the home front. The Australian people, said Chifley, 'may be justly proud of everything they have done'. On a day that could never be entirely without sorrow, he also asked Australians to remember the dead and the bereaved. Some 40,000 Australians had lost their lives in the winning of this victory. On 16 August, crowds gathered around the country for thanksgiving services, and to more sombrely remember those who would not be coming home.
VP Day brought an end to years of fighting and the return home of hundreds of thousands of Australians from theatres of war around the world. It meant the passing of a half-century darkened by global conflict and financial depression, and the dawn of an age both prosperous and fraught with peril – as the Cold War begun in the Second World War's shadow dominated the half-century that followed.
Department of Veterans' Affairs 2020
Essay on the Australian army in the Second World War
For more than 5 years during the Second World War, the Australian army served in campaigns from North Africa to the Solomon Islands. On VP Day, whether they were in the volunteer force raised for overseas service, the Australian Imperial Force, or in the militia – a conscript force which operated in the islands to Australia's north – almost every Australian soldier was somewhere in the South-west Pacific Theatre.
Japan's surrender followed days of rumour. Through the early weeks of August 1945, newspapers around Australia reported on the growing likelihood of Japan capitulating. First, the atomic bombs – beyond people's understanding although clearly enormously destructive weapons – and then Russia's declaration of war on Japan, compelled Japan's leaders to accept the Allies' peace terms. The end came on 15 August 1945, VP Day, almost 6 years since the war began half a world away on Germany's frontier with Poland.
The Australian army had played an important role throughout. In campaigns against Germany and her European Allies, Australian soldiers fought in significant and sometimes decisive battles, such as El Alamein in late 1942. In the Pacific, Australians considered the victory against the Japanese in Papua to be one of the most important of the Second World War.
By VP Day, those with the longest service had known nothing but army life since 1939 or 1940. For some veterans, not daring to look beyond a life of soldiering, their horizons long since defined by the war, news of its end was difficult to grasp. It was perhaps harder still for those who had survived Japanese captivity. Some prisoners of war refused to believe it. On Singapore, they had to be convinced that it was true: 'we said “Like Hell”, and we laughed … Finally we got to believe it, but God, we couldn't understand it for a while', remembered a man captured in February 1942.
Many of those still in action against the Japanese greeted VP Day with relief. An officer at Balikpapan on Borneo wrote to his wife of 4 years, in their first letter written in peace time, that he was no longer plagued by that 'subconscious yet ever-present question, “Am I destined to return to my loved ones?”' At Wewak in New Guinea, an artillery sergeant and veteran of North Africa, Greece, Crete and New Guinea was overjoyed: 'JAPS SURRENDER & WAR ENDS', he wrote, 'the greatest news of the century'.
By VP Day, almost 400,000 members of the army had served overseas, and about 350,000 more served in Australia. More than 18,000 lost their lives in battle, in captivity or through accident or illness. For those whose service took them into the forward areas, VP Day was a day to give thanks for one's own survival and to remember fallen friends. It was a day to reflect and ponder the future, although for many a life outside the army – a life without the camaraderie of wartime service – seemed impossible to imagine.