Victory: Episode 4 of Paths to Victory podcast series
This podcast is part of the series, Paths to Victory. Join us to explore some of the many paths our veterans took through World War II on the road to Victory in the Pacific. In this final episode, we talk about how the war ends with the defeat of Japan. Australians at home celebrate the peace – but not all feel joy. Many are mourning the loss of loved ones. We explore the experience of coming home after service or being a prisoner of war. We end with stories of life after VP Day, as people looked to the future.
Archival audio: Japan has today surrendered. The last of our enemies is laid low. Peace has once again come to the world. Let us thank God for this great deliverance and His mercies. Long live the King. The years of blood and tears had ended in resounding victory. Australia joined her Allies in an outburst of rejoicing, the like of which her cities had never seen before. The pent-up emotion of 6 years poured out as a flood. Freedom was really theirs.
Rebecca Fleming: At the beginning of the clip you just heard, British Prime Minister Clement Atlee announced the surrender of Japan and the end of the war. This news was received in Australia with jubilation and an outpouring of emotion. People spilled into the streets to celebrate the return of peace. But once these initial celebrations were over, Australians faced the difficult task of returning to everyday life after so much had changed. I’m Dr Rebecca Fleming, a historian with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Hearing first-hand accounts of the men and women who served in the Second World War, for me, brings history to life. As we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, I invite you to join me in listening to these stories. In the final episode of this series, we will hear stories of peace, reactions to news of the war’s end, how those serving overseas got home and how people adjusted to life after the war.
Gordon Jamieson: At that time I was in the camp back in Singapore. I can recall a fellow yelling out, 'Shhh! Shhh!' He's coming in from somewhere telling us not to yell out, not to yell out – but 'The war is over!'
John Gilmour: The Japanese word for war was 'Sensa' and 'Owari' means finished. They say, 'Sensa Owari' … 'Oh, hope it’s true'.
Bob Iskov: There was no great rejoicing – it was just, as far as I remember, just a sigh of relief, 'thank god it’s over'. And some places, I believe the artillery fired a few shots and the troops went a bit haywire.
Avis Hall: My brother came home while I was in Melbourne. I was able to go to Port Melbourne and meet the boat.
Joyce Connolly: We stayed in Singapore and went to Changi and got the prisoners out and flew them back. On my first lot, I flew back to Darwin.
Tom Sheridan: I was in Brisbane, luckily, that day. My sister and I, with other company, we went to the old Bellevue Hotel. There we partied on until about 2 or 3am.
Jack Hawkes: I arrived home on VP day and met my wife and daughter, who I hadn't seen, who was now 4 years old.
Rebecca Fleming: Today we know the Second World War ended in August 1945, but for many Australians, the end appeared near only in the war’s final weeks. Before then the prospect of Japan’s surrender, though certain, still seemed distant. People had already endured years of anxiety and uncertainty, and they feared the war might go on into 1946. Allison Worrall remembered.
Allison Worrall: It seemed to be just such an endless period. We were never going to live a normal life again. How are we ever going to finish this off?
Rebecca Fleming: The news in August 1945 that atomic bombs had been dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki came as a surprise to Australians, including the Australian Government. The plan had been top secret, and as a junior partner in the alliance, Australia had not been privy to the information. Very few understood what an atomic bomb was, but it was reported as an event of enormous importance. Allison Worrell reflected.
Allison Worrell: I remember hearing about the bomb dropping and – 'What can it possibly be? It’s big enough to stop the war, it must be an extraordinary thing.' We thought it might just actually go off and keep on going all around the world. We were pleased it hadn’t really. We didn’t know anything about it.
Rebecca Fleming: As the news came to hand, David Mattiske and those he was serving with aboard HMAS Shropshire, listened with interest and hope that it might mean the end of a long war:
David Mattiske: And then one morning, about 8 o’clock, half-past 8, the loudspeakers come on. Oh! Announcement: 'We've just received a signal that a – whatever they called it – a special type of bomb had been dropped on a town in Japan.' Oh, that sounds interesting! We don't know what that's all about. And then a few days later, a bomb has been dropped on Nagasaki and these are atomic bombs, with all that sort of destructive power. Oh, that's interesting! We just continue our work, chipping and painting and sweeping, doing whatever we have to do in port. And then finally, we're told 'The Japanese Cabinet – or whatever they were – have sued for peace. They're willing to surrender.' Not really an enormous amount of excitement. There was no sort of yelling around, cheering and running around, carrying on like a pork chop. Perhaps the mood was 'Thank God it's all over. Are we going to celebrate?' They find lots of bottles of beer, extra food, you know, people coming from ashore with supplies to do this and do that. We have a big party.
Rebecca Fleming: Guy Griffiths was also aboard HMAS Shropshire.
Guy Griffiths: Well I must say it was the most incredible feeling of relief. Incredible feeling. Really? We’re not going to have to shoot anymore? Really? You know – tomorrow is an ordinary day. You know – what’s it going to be like?
Rebecca Fleming: In Australia, crowds gathered in the streets in a collective outpouring of relief and excitement. Phyl Ahearn went into Sydney to watch the celebrations with her husband:
Phyl Ahearn: I can still see the crowds in Sydney. The noise of the crowds in Sydney and the bunting flying, coming down from the high buildings, you know, all throwing paper out, and that was a wonderful sight.
Rebecca Fleming: Pat Guest was also excited when she heard the news, but soon realised that the moment was not joyous for everyone.
Pat Guest: I drove over to the post office, and the post office was in a little shop and there was all this fruit in the window and everybody was excited and they were all – 'The war’s over! The war’s finished!' And there was a woman staring at the fruit and I went over to her and I said, 'Did you hear that?' I said, 'The war’s over – it’s finished.' And she just turned around and she said, 'My two sons were killed in Tobruk. It will never be over for me.” And I thought, “Oh dear.' I felt terrible then. But then when I got back to camp – oh god, the whole camp was up! But we danced and sang right through the night until daylight. It was great.
Rebecca Fleming: Tom Sheridan, who had served with 10 Squadron in the Battle of the Atlantic, was back in Australia in time for VP Day and joined celebrations in Brisbane.
Tom Sheridan: I was in Brisbane, luckily, that day. My sister and I, with other company, we went to the old Bellevue Hotel. There we partied until about 2 or 3am. I can remember a competition where you would buy stamps, lick them, put them on a coin, and try and put them on the ceiling. Depending on which side they hit, they'd stick, or they'd fall back again. That's how we passed some of the evening away, with a load of grog. Impossible to get a taxi. We walked home, about 7km. We got home in daylight. End of the war.
Rebecca Fleming: Jack Hawkes, who had been a prisoner of war in the European theatre, had already been liberated by the end of the war in the Pacific. His journey home took him via England, then on to Australia.
Jack Hawkes: We came back in Lancaster bombers. I worked my position in the plane that I could see, over the navigator's shoulder, the White Cliffs of Dover – that was my aim. We landed at Oxford and we were taken down to Eastbourne pretty quickly. And we had 6 weeks or so in London and in England, and did London and went up as far as Scotland and then caught the [HMT] Mauritania home. I arrived home on VP day and I met my wife and daughter, who I hadn't seen, who was now four years old.
Rebecca Fleming: For prisoners of the Japanese, still held captive overseas, news that Japan had surrendered meant the prospect of freedom, and of going home, was finally real. John Gilmour was in Japan.
John Gilmour: They marched us to work this morning, and when we got there they left us standing and you could see they were all congregating around the main office. I think it was called Sampa Ku, a shipbuilding people – stevedoring company. Then we saw women starting to cry, even some men crying. 'That’s strange.' Then a while after that, they came and said, 'No work today. We’re going back to camp.' They never said anything about the war being finished, just 'No work today. We’re going back to camp.' We started to march back to camp; by that time there were these other working parties from along the wharf – they were marching back. And they called out 'What d’ya know?' Of course some of the Japs had broken the news to some of the boys. The Japanese word for war was 'Sensa' and 'Owari' means finished. They say, 'Sensa Owari'… 'Oh, hope it’s true.' We all knew that if there had’ve been a landing in Japan, we wouldn’t have got out, they would have wiped us all out. Because the –we’d been drilled to be ready at a minute’s notice to be taken out onto the road – that was going to be the end. And we got back to camp, this one, this Japanese, he was never known to hit the guys and he was sort of a bit, you know, try to get you out of trouble. He said, 'Sensa Owari', war finished. And he and a couple of other Japanese guards they went away and they come back with cases of oranges and apples and dished them out. So we knew then the war was over.
Rebecca Fleming: Gordon Jamieson, also a prisoner of the Japanese, was in Changi.
Gordon Jamieson: Yes, at that time I was in the camp back in Singapore. We were mostly all in Singapore at that time. I can recall a fellow yelling out, 'Shhh! Shhh!' He's coming in from somewhere telling us not to yell out, not to yell out – but 'The war is over!' Oh yes, it was told by a fellow who was out on a work party and he was coming into the camp, and I happened to be in the camp that day and they yelled out quite loudly, 'The war is over!' Then when the aircraft started to move in on us – that's our aircraft and everything, and dropping messages and everything – we knew it was over. And when the officials came in, our own officials came in, surprising the number of Japanese that came in to watch it. Quite a surprise to see it. We were in Changi jail at that time.
Rebecca Fleming: Serving with the RAAF Nursing service, Joyce Connolly cared for liberated prisoners of war on evacuation flights from Singapore.
Joyce Connolly: Oh, well then we had our trips to – we went up to Singapore and we got some of the prisoners from Changi prison. Oh, it went on for a few weeks. A few trips – we stayed in Singapore and went to Changi and got the prisoners out and flew them back. On my first lot, I flew back to Darwin. You see, it depended – they tried to organise them to which state, whether it be Brisbane or Darwin for those northern ones, or Melbourne or where. Mine was Darwin down to Melbourne, Darwin down to Sydney and Darwin to Brisbane with a load. They were appalling conditions – as a matter of fact, some of them that we brought down, they didn't know the war was over. The Japs told them that they were going to be taken back but they hadn't won the war. That they'd won it, and all this sort of thing – and oh, they were just, you know, starved and cigarette burns on them and mental conditions very slow. And they'd been eating little scraps of food for so long they'd open up a tin in the plane, even though we had – what do you call it – milo and stuff like that for them, food on the plane, they’d open up this little tin and get some crumbs out, you know, rather than take the food. Some of them you know, they were quite mentally fatigued, I suppose you would say.
Rebecca Fleming: Ivy Hall was serving with the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service ambulance team which met the POWs who arrived in Brisbane by ship. She still remembers the heightened emotion of their return.
Ivy Hall: The boats for the POWs, which was very, very distressing, they came in at odd hours too. As we got the patients into the ambulances, we all went to Greenslopes Hospital and from there they were fanned out. Some stayed overnight, some had to go to various other hospitals. Everybody was crying. And they were saying to us, 'Don’t cry, we’re home.' But, everybody – we were all crying. It was very distressing. Some of them just threw their crutches down the ramp and walked down, and they were so excited. But they fell over afterwards. But that’s nothing, they were so excited to be home. They were very quiet once they got into the ambulances. I was one of those that was driving, we all had to drive then. It was very distressing. Never saw them afterwards of course, because they got moved from A to B to C.
Rebecca Fleming: Many troops who had been serving in the Pacific had to wait months after the end of the war for transport home and demobilisation. Demobilisation was based on a points system, which included in its calculation the number of years and months a person had served, among other factors. In August 1945 there were some 224,000 Australians serving across the Pacific. The process of bringing them home was a long one, slowed by competing demands for shipping. With the war over, men were anxious to get home. Bob Iskov was serving with the 2/23rd Battalion on Tarakan, off Borneo. He noticed the men under his command becoming a little restless after a while.
Bob Iskov: There was no great rejoicing – it was just, as far as I remember, just a sigh of relief, 'Thank god it’s over.' And some places, I believe the artillery fired a few shots and the troops went a bit haywire. It was very difficult, from then on – the next 3 months most of us were kept there, awaiting shipping to get us back home. It was difficult to keep the margin between discipline and just how far you could let the troops go. Some of them tended to want to let their – you know, not shave. I was orderly officer one day, and I went into a tent and there was open tins of jam, mouldy jam, under beds and things like that. So I adopted a habit of putting them – taking the boys on parade, taking them for short route marches and so on. But there were a lot of lessons started for the troops, like there was lectures in all sorts of things, right up to university level.
Rebecca Fleming: Another of the roles allocated to men awaiting transport home was guarding Japanese prisoners.
Ed Jones: When the war ended, we were in New Britain, and the Japanese were there. There were – I don't know – 80,000, 100,000 Japs – I don’t know how many, but there were stacks of Japanese there. Of course, when they surrendered there wasn't much we could do with them. They were just left there until their time to go home. But some were sent in as working parties, and I used to go out with them every day, cutting – they'd be cutting bamboo poles for buildings and so on. We'd have lunch together and whatnot and come home. We were quite friendly, but they were just like me – they were waiting to go home too.
Rebecca Fleming: By December, the frustrations of troops who wanted to go home led to a protest march on Morotai which involved thousands. A senior officer explained that more ships would not be available until at least the 20th of December. The Argus newspaper reported that this news was 'not well received' by the protesters. Transport home and demobilisation continued, and by March 1946, most Australian service men and women who had been in the islands at the end of the war were finally home. As troops returned home in the weeks and months after the war ended, families were at last reunited with loved ones. Avis Hall was serving in Melbourne when her brother, who was in the RAAF, arrived back in Australia by ship. Avis went to meet him.
Avis Hall: My brother came home while I was in Melbourne. I was able to go to Port Melbourne and meet the boat. Ocean Monarch it was, that he came home on. And then he was – they were all Air Force men, all had the uniform on. Hundreds of them all peering over. They put the gang[plank] down and I thought, 'How am I going to find him?' I was in the, you know, khaki uniform. Anyway, I was watching everybody come down. They put another one [gangplank] down. Oh, that was worse. So I’d look here, then I’d run over to that one and look up there, and then I’d run back again because I didn’t, you know, I didn’t want to miss him. Because he didn’t know that I was coming. He had no idea. He might have known I was in Melbourne, because we used to write a lot. But anyway a boy came down that knew me and sang out, 'Bill’s up above.' So I knew he wasn’t going to be long coming and I just waited till he came. Well I had the day with him. He had all day. And we just drove around in trams and looked at different things, and had lunch and dinner. Then he had to go and I went back to camp. But it was wonderful to be there to see him.
Rebecca Fleming: Gordon Jamieson had been a prisoner of the Japanese. He remembered his arrival in Brisbane.
Gordon Jamieson: We came around the north and down into Brisbane and we were there for quite a while, waiting for something to happen, and then all of a sudden this surge of people came through and they locked them out. They weren’t allowed to get on the wharf. We saw them all come through and then they knocked another fence down, further down from the main entrance, and in the lead was my Dad, George. So I started yelling out to him, and there were quite a lot of blokes who never saw anybody they knew, 'Hey George! George Jamieson!', you know, they all joined me. Yeah, that was very, very nice and when we got down I got into a car – they had cars ready with my parents, with my mother in it – out to Grovely or wherever it was. That’s how that day ended. She was in the front seat and I was in the back seat, with another two blokes, holding on to my hand all the way. It was really a memory that you don’t lose, was that day with mum.
Rebecca Fleming: Some who returned from service came home to families that had changed. Colin Hamley was also a prisoner of the Japanese. Not long after he was liberated, he received heartbreaking news from home.
Colin Hamley: Then we started to get news from home. And that was when I found out that my mother had died during the war. So it was a pretty sad homecoming.
Rebecca Fleming: The transition home, after years of service in other parts of Australia or overseas, could be challenging. For some, the skills they had developed during the war offered opportunities for a new career. Andy Anderson returned home an experienced pilot. He went back to his old employer, MacRobertson Miller Airlines, where he had previously worked as an apprentice aircraft engineer.
Andy Anderson: I was previously employed by MacRobertson Miller, so of course I went back to them in Perth when I first got home, But it was funny because I felt sure the company didn't want to employ me as a pilot because the last time they saw me I was a young apprentice sweeping out the hangar – and they just couldn't – well, the chief pilot couldn't face up to that. So after delaying me and delaying me, I finally joined Australian National Airways.
Rebecca Fleming: But for others, military life had offered little preparation for a civilian career. For Norman Ginn, who had enlisted young, it was hard to start again and find a vocation.
Norman Ginn: Well, when we came home, of course, they gave us a pretty big welcome in Melbourne. But then after that, you just shook the hand of an officer and he waved you goodbye and you had to find your own way from then on. We were left a little bit in limbo because some of us had never been trained for anything. It was the years when you would have been learning a trade. So I was left – didn’t really have anything much for the future.
Rebecca Fleming: Norman ultimately created a future in agriculture. He attended Dookie College in Victoria and later owned and ran an orchard in Robinvale. RAAF Nursing Service Sister Joyce Connolly was already a trained nurse before the war. Her career was not interrupted because of the war – it was enhanced by it, in that she learned new skills and gained new experiences. But even for Joyce, there was a sense of dislocation and a transition to be made back to civilian nursing life.
Joyce Connolly: I came back. I went to do country nursing then. It was hard to settle. And I went to a place – Gilgandra, a little country hospital out in the west. And it was hopeless and – you know, I don't know, there was not much there and the staff was short, and there was nothing much going on. So I left there and I came back to Sydney and then I applied to go to Cannonbury, it’s a branch of Crown Street Women’s Hospital at Darling Point. And I went on the staff there and I became a sub-Matron down there for – I was there for – about 7 years, then I got married. Well, I think it was an unsettling time, you know, and a very – although it was a very sad time and a lot of it was very busy, and lots of things happening, and tragedies and excitement and all this sort of thing and moving around a lot. I think to stay in the one place just seemed too much.
Rebecca Fleming: Other women found the opportunities presented by the war were only temporary. Now it was over, they were expected to return to more traditional roles. This was made quite clear to Hazel Mayes, who was a motorcycle courier.
Hazel Mayes: Yes, I went back to Kodak, and went back to the old job of riding the bike. They still had girls on the bike I didn’t have any great plans. I had vague ideas that I might travel or do something or other – we all got these wild ideas, but then you came back to reality and it didn’t quite work out like that. But I guess I knew that the bike riding couldn’t go on forever. It was fun but it wasn’t particularly mind-bending and so on. But the decision was made for me one day when I was riding back from one of my rounds when a man leant out of a tram and yelled out to me, 'Why don’t you give a man back his job?' So I went back to work and resigned and said that I – I felt that – I could hardly shout back to the man, 'Well, it was my job before I went into the air force!' [Laughs] But there was a bit of ill-feeling. Some of the men were coming back and finding it difficult to get jobs and so on, so I just thought, well the war was over, the fun was over, and back to office work.
Rebecca Fleming: Heather Starr had hoped to pursue a career in journalism, but felt the same pressure to step aside for returned men.
Heather Starr: I'd always been interested in journalism, so I took a course for a year. But I was doing it by correspondence – I couldn't get in, you know, for the whole time, so I was doing it by correspondence. And then I discovered that there were such a lot of the returned men that were trying for that too, that I just had – maybe it was a – the way I'd been brought up, but I thought to myself, 'Well, here am I single – why should I try and take the jobs from the men?', and I left off, and you know, I never did complete that course later on, when, you know, a lot of the other women – you see it was moving that way, but I was thinking of the men and their children and so forth, just – and I never did take it on again. Didn’t stop me from being interested in journalism, but I never did complete the course. I just went back to the Shell Company, who'd kept me that position all those years.
Rebecca Fleming: Heather also felt a loss of autonomy when returning to family life after living independently in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service.
Heather Starr: It was very hard when you'd been used to – if you wanted to – staying out till 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning if you wanted to. But when you lived with your – back with your parents again, well I mean you – that just wasn't done. The real thing I should have done then – but there weren't the homes around – was to have got out into a unit, and I think anyone – all of them should have been the same way, because you can't really fit in with your family after you have lived your life like that, being responsible for yourself.
Rebecca Fleming: As the years passed, people settled into post-war life, but memories of their service lingered long after the war ended. Some of those memories were happy, but others were deeply traumatic and could haunt veterans for decades. Navy veteran Bryan Wearne had nightmares about kamikaze attacks.
Bryan Wearne: And for many, many, many years – I think something like, about, think about 30-odd years, 35 years after the war, I used to have terrible nightmares purely and simply because of those suicide planes. That took about 35 years before they – my wife used to wonder, you know. Yep, and if you were to tell me the most horrifying moment – that was it. And I wouldn't wish that on anybody. And the more you read about it – you read the damage they did in Okinawa – unbelievable, unbelievable. Those poor fellas – they had to get into a piece of wood; it had a motor in it, just had enough fuel just to take them wherever they were going, you know. I hope it never happens again, ever.
Rebecca Fleming: And the survivors never forgot the dead. Decades after the war, RAAF veteran John Shannon reflected on how the loss of so many was felt in communities around Australia, and on the men he had known, some from childhood, who did not return.
John Shannon: In remembering and honouring those who didn’t come home – there are two elements to that. There’s the element of all those names on obelisks in little country towns, the names at the War Memorial. But there’s the other element, and that is we were there with the blokes who didn’t come home. They had dinner with us in the mess that evening and they went off on their last trip. They are real faces, even if some of the names have been forgotten, the faces are still there, you know who you’re talking about. And a lot of them, as I mentioned earlier, were blokes who were in my class at school from age ten to the end of high school – which makes that sort of remembering and honouring so very personal.
Rebecca Fleming: With each passing year, the number of people who can still remember the faces dwindles. To sit with veterans of the Second World War, and listen to their stories, is an increasingly rare privilege. By doing so, we gain rich and varied glimpses into a war that changed the world and the people who lived through it.
The interviews for this series are sourced with thanks from the Australian War Memorial and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Veterans’ Stories project.
To see some videos of veterans’ stories visit anzacportal.dva.gov.au
Thank you to all the veterans who have shared their stories of service.
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