Arthur Bryant, 2/17th Battalion, had been in uniform for more than five years. He was almost 29 years old and had fought in North Africa, New Guinea, and now Borneo. His diary entry for 15 August shows how tired many soldiers were of the war: ‘The end of the war was announced at 8 o’clock this morning. Except for a few cheers & a couple of shots there was no celebration’.
In August 1945 there were almost 224,000 service personnel serving across the Pacific, as well as prisoners of war (POWs) in Japan and in parts of south-east Asia. Another 20,000 service men, mainly members of the Royal Australian Air Force, were also serving in Britain and other locations.
Although the war was over, there was a lot of important work to be done, such as the occupation of Japan, the running of war trials, and the repatriation of former POWs, as well as returning surrendered enemy soldiers to Japan. All of this put a great strain on the limited amount of shipping that was available.
Bringing home ex-POWs was a priority. For other service personnel the process of demobilisation was based on a points system which was linked to their length of service. Marriage was another factor in the case of servicewomen. About 15,000 Australian and New Zealand women were married or engaged to American servicemen and they had to wait for ships to become available to sail to the United States.
By December 1945, tens of thousands of troops had been transported to Australia by Allied aircraft and ships, including Royal Navy aircraft carriers. A number of men were so desperate to get home that they stowed away on ships. Private John Ewen returned home in January 1946 on board the troopship Anatina. He wrote that there were officially 1,100 troops on board, with about 200 stowaways.
Education and sporting programs were run to keep the men busy while they waited to return to Australia. However, a number of troops protested the long wait time. On 10 December 1945, several thousand frustrated men held a protest march at Morotai, demanding that they return to Australia.
A soldier at Bougainville wrote to Prime Minister Ben Chifley and asked, ‘Why must we stay here, on the brink of desperation, on this remote island, our job done?’ When Chifley flew to visit the troops there, his plane was apparently sabotaged by unhappy Australian soldiers wanting to express their frustration.
By mid-1946, 468,700 men and women had been discharged. At dispersal centres in their home states, their weapons, uniforms and equipment were handed in. They received dental treatment, medical examinations and chest X-rays before being discharged. Men also received information about civilian employment, land settlement, re-establishment loans, training and other benefits. They officially ended their wartime service when they received their discharge certificates and ‘Returned from Active Service’ badges. This was an important moment for veterans as they returned to civilian life.
- Look at the two Remembrance Day posters.
- What are the people in the posters doing? How do you think they are feeling?
- Read the captions on the posters. Where did the events pictured take place?
- How many Australians served in uniform during the Second World War?
- Read the background information.
- When news broke that the war was over on 15 August 1945, how did people across Australia react?
- How did the troops still confronting the enemy overseas react?
- How many Australian service personnel were still serving across the Pacific in August 1945?
- By December 1945, Australian troops had returned home by Allied aircraft and ships?
- Using the link below, define the following words:
- Imagine you are an Australian service man who has been serving in the war for a number of years.
Using the background information, write a diary entry describing how you feel about waiting to get home to your loved ones. Describe some of the activities that you and your fellow troop participate in while you are waiting.
- Read the background information. Not all service personnel were happy with the wait to return home. Describe what actions some troops took to express their frustration.
- By mid-1946, 468,700 men and women had been discharged in their home states. Using the information described in the letter extract and link below, describe the discharge process for returned service personnel.
'To begin with, together with the rest of the officers from Kuching, I am on this hospital ship with its nose pointed towards Labuan. The authorities have seen fit to treat us all as hospital cases! – consequently from the stinking bug-infested 3/4 of an acre where we spent the last 23 months, we have now the unbelievable luxuries of cups and saucers, clean (& white) sheets, women’s voices, soap and toilet gear ad lib, news from a loudspeaker, paper and pencils, tiled bathrooms, porcelain water closets and toilet paper… in fact everything we see is so new and fresh and clean, yet seems part of a forgotten age'
[Don’t worry about me: Wartime letters of the 8th Division A.I.F., collected and edited by Robyn Arvier, Launceston, 2004]
- Conduct your own research on the impact of the war on families around Australia. The link below explores one family experience. This might be a great starting point.
James, Karl (2009). "Soldiers to citizens". Wartime. Canberra: Australian War Memorial (45): pp. 14–17. ISSN 1328-2727
Bryce Abraham, "Bringing them all back home: Prisoner of war contact, recovery and reception units, 1944–45".