"Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."
- Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940-45 and 1951-55
A false peace
As the dark shadow of World War I loomed over Europe in 1914, English novelist, sociologist and political thinker H.G. Wells published a series of essays in a short booked titled, The War That Will End War.
In his book, Wells advocated a full disarmament of the German Empire as the only solution to prevent further war in Europe.
United States President Woodrow Wilson made the quote famous as “The War to End All Wars”, an idealistic description of the conflict which history would project in a sardonic light as the antithesis of World War I.
More than 10 million civilians died in the conflict, including more than six million men, women and children who died due to famine and disease.
More than 8.5 million soldiers died in battle, more than 21 million were wounded, six million went missing (presumed dead) and another two million died from disease either as prisoners of war or due to the shocking conditions in the trenches.
More than 330,000 Australians served overseas in World War I, nearly 60,000 died, 152,000 were wounded and more than 4000 were taken prisoner, of whom 395 died
For little more than 20 years the conflict was largely perceived to be “The War to End All Wars”.
Then came World War II.
The outcome of World War I created a disaffected Germany which would lead to the greatest international conflict the world has ever known, creating a death toll which outstripped World War I by more than 45 million people.
Twenty years after the end of World War I, buoyed by an economically and politically unstable Germany, Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist (Nazi) Party rose to power.
When Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 3, 1939, nobody could have imagined, least of all the families in Adelaide and in farming communities scattered across South Australia, the kind of impact it would have on their lives.
World War II would lead to the deaths of an estimated 45 to 60 million men, women and children, including six million Jews murdered in concentration camps by the Nazi regime as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution”.
It would also lead to the deaths of a generation of young Australian men, some in the far-off, unknown, steaming, green confines of the jungles of New Guinea.
With the wildfire of war ignited, World War II would blaze through Europe into Northern Africa, South-East Asia and the South Pacific for six years, killing more people and destroying more cities than any previous war since the beginning of human civilisation.
The Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan and their goal of establishing a new world dominance were pitched against the keepers of the old colonial order, the Allies consisting of Britain, France, the United States and the former Soviet Union.
It was a massive conflict of economic power, political will and ideology into which Australia was drawn as a key member of the British Empire.
The Defence Act of 1903, adopted by parliament two years after Federation, forbade the use of established Australian military forces in foreign wars.
This was circumvented in World War I by recruiting volunteers as part of the 1st Australian Imperial Force (AIF), with the same approach used in World War II to recruit volunteers in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to fight overseas.
Around 43 per cent of South Australia’s eligible men aged 18 – 45 volunteered to fight, 54,660 husbands, fathers, sons and brothers out of a population of 600,000 people, many living in rural towns and farming communities.
The Australian war effort would see the Federal Government pour money into South Australia, which up to that time had grown on the back of mining and a predominantly rural-based economy.
The state was keen for industrial development and World War II provided much-needed momentum for expansion.
Premier Tom Playford lobbied Federal Minister of Munitions, Norman Makin, for war contracts, with South Australia looked upon as an ideal site for defence industries.
Initial defence planning assumed that any serious military attack would be launched on either the west or the east coast of Australia, making Perth and Sydney the prime targets.
Adelaide in the far south was seen as Australia’s principal secure port, critical for strategic communications and supplies.
South Australia also had an under-employed, regionally distributed population and the foundation framework of heavy industry in the form of motor vehicle manufacture and the South Australian Railway Workshops at Islington, which could be utilised for the manufacture of munitions and equipment.
South Australia’s war effort ramped up when the war spread to the Pacific with Japan’s dramatic entry into the conflict with its attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941.
Munitions factories were built at Cheltenham, Hendon and Penfield (Salisbury) in 1940-1941 and the Islington Railway Workshops were converted to produce munitions and components for Beaufort bombers.
Satellite factories were built at Peterborough and Port Pirie in the Mid-North and Murray Bridge and Tailem Bend on the River Murray, ammunition dumps at Smithfield and Murray Bridge were established and the shipyards at Whyalla on Spencer Gulf were geared for the war effort.
Textile, boot making and clothing factories employed men, women and children in the making of uniforms and kit and national security regulations enforced under the Defence Act (1939) gave the state’s Director of Manpower, Leslie Hunkin, the authority to direct people to work in critical manufacturing areas.
More than 993,000 Australians served in the armed forces during World War II.
Of those in active service, more than 27,000 were killed in action or died, more than 23,000 were wounded and 30,560 were taken prisoner. Of those, 8296 died in captivity, the majority in Japanese prisoner of war camps.
When the war ended in 1945, there were a few people in South Australia who lamented the end of readily available jobs, overtime and earning capacity.
There were many others who would grieve the loss of loved ones for the rest of their lives.
Sources: AWM, NAA, SAHISTORYHUB, FIRSTWORLDWAR