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Foreign Affairs, Defence and
The end of the Second World War
Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s announcement
of surrender on 15 August 1945 brought the Second World War to an end and
2020 marks the 75th anniversary of this event (although the official surrender
ceremony did not take place until 2 September 1945). Australians had been at
war since 3 September 1939 so the surrender marked the end of nearly six years
of conflict with all the loss, stress and privations that marked those years. According
to the Australian
VP (Victory in the Pacific) Day, also referred to as VJ
(Victory over Japan) Day, is celebrated on 15 August. This date
commemorates Japan’s acceptance of the Allied demand for unconditional
surrender [made on] 14 August 1945. For Australians, it meant that the Second
World War was finally over.
The following day, 15 August, is usually referred to as VP
Day. In August 1945 Australian governments gazetted a public holiday as VP Day
and most newspapers reported it as such. However, the governments of Britain,
the United States and New Zealand preferred VJ Day. It is not true, as some
have claimed, that the day was originally called VJ and that the name was
surreptitiously changed later.
At 8.44 am on 15 August 1945 the Australian Government
received the news that Japan had surrendered and the Second World War was over.
According to one newspaper at the time, the code word ‘neon’ was sent
from the Australian High Commission in London to Canberra to indicate that the
Japanese had surrendered, after which High Commissioner Stanley Bruce and his
staff went out for a drink.
The Australian Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, announced
the end of the war against Japan via Radio 2CY Canberra at 9.30 am on
the same day:
Fellow citizens, the war is over.
The Japanese Government has accepted the terms of surrender
imposed by the Allied Nations and hostilities will now cease. The reply by the
Japanese Government to the Note sent by Britain, the United States, the USSR
and China, has been received and accepted by the Allied Nations.
At this moment let us offer thanks to God.
Let us remember those whose lives were given that we may
enjoy this glorious moment and may look forward to a peace which they have won
for us. Let us remember those whose thoughts, with proud sorrow, turn towards
gallant, loved ones who will not come back. On behalf of the people and the
Government of Australia I offer humble thanks to the fighting men of the United
Nations whose gallantry, sacrifice and devotion to duty have brought us to victory.
Nothing can fully repay the debt we owe them nor can history record in adequate
terms their deeds from the black days that followed September 1939 and December
1941, until this moment.
We owe, too, a great debt to those men and women who
performed miracles of production, in secondary and primary industries so that
the battle of supply could be won and a massive effort achieved. Materials,
money and resources have been poured out so that the fighting men would not go
short. Australia’s part, comparatively, in terms of fighting forces and
supplies, ranks high and the Australian people may be justly proud of
everything they have done.
I am sure that you would like me to convey to the commanders
of the fighting forces the warmest thanks for their skill, efficiency and great
devotion. Especially do I mention General Douglas MacArthur with whom we have
so much in common and with whom we shared the dangers when Australia was
threatened with invasion.
In your name I offer to the leaders of the United Nations our
congratulations and thanks. We join with the United States in a common regret
that their inspiring leader, the late Mr Roosevelt did not live to see this
day. We thank his successor, President Truman, for the work he has done.
Australians too will feel their happiness tinged with sorrow that another man
who gave his all was not spared to be with us today, that man was John Curtin.
To Mr Churchill, Generalissimo Stalin and Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek go the
unstinted thanks of free people everywhere for what they have done for the
common cause. Especially do we honour Mr Churchill, with whom in the dark days
- to use his own words - we had the honour to stand alone against aggression.
And now our men and women will come home; our fighting men
with battle honours thick upon them from every theatre of war. Australians
stopped the Japanese in their drive south, just as they helped start the first
march towards ultimate victory in North Africa. Australians fought in the
battles of the air everywhere and Australian seamen covered every ocean. They
are coming home to a peace, which has to be won. The United Nations charter for
a world organisation is the hope of the world and Australia has pledged the
same activity in making it successful as she showed in the framing of it.
Here in Australia there is much to be done. The Australian
Government, which stood steadfast during the dread days of the war, will give
all that it has to working and planning to ensure that the peace will be a real
thing. I ask that the State governments and all sections of the community
should co-operate in facing the task and solving the problems that are ahead.
Let us join together in the march of our nation to future greatness.
You are aware of what has been arranged for the celebration of
this great victory and deliverance, and in the name of the Commonwealth
Government, I invite you to join in the thanksgiving services arranged for,
truly, this is a time to give thanks to God, and to those men against whose
sacrifice for us there is no comparison.
Good day to you fellow citizens.
Australian communities celebrated the news in a variety of
ways. Concern about potentially raucous celebrations led to some pubs
being closed, but as one newspaper put
it, ‘there were wild
processions and tremendous rejoicings’. The Sydney Morning Herald
estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 people crowded into the Domain to
During the following days more organised activities—such as church
services, gala concerts and parades of returned military personnel—took
The end of the war came just a few weeks after the death on
5 July 1945 of the Prime Minister John Curtin. Curtin had suffered from ill
health for some time and the great burdens of office during wartime had taken a
toll. Perth’s Daily News reported the Prime
Minister’s death in the following words:
CANBERRA, Thurs—John Curtin, Prime Minister of
Australia, died peacefully in his sleep this morning. He was 60. Death of the
plain Australian who had led Australia through her darkest years to the dawn of
victory was announced by Acting Prime Minister Forde. “The life of the
Prime Minister came to an end peacefully and without pain in his sleep at 4
a.m. today,” Mr Forde said. Apart from the nurse who was on duty at the
Lodge, Mrs. Curtin was the last person to see Mr. Curtin alive. Shortly before
midnight she had a cup of tea with him. With a smile, he then said to her: “Go
on, Mrs Curtin: it’s best that you go off to bed now.” Mrs Curtin
went to bed in an adjoining room but did not sleep. She was with the Prime
Minister when the last moments came but he died without waking.
The cost of the war had been great, with 39,655 Australians having
died as a result of wartime service. Additionally, 30,000 Australians had been
taken prisoner, over 8,000 of whom died. If the cost in terms of lives lost had
been greater during the First World War, the cost to the economy was vastly
greater by 1945. The official historian Gavin Long states that the cost of the
Second World War was £2,494,380,000 between 1939 and 1946 and that at its
peak in 1942–43 this represented 40 per cent of national income.
The Government had been aware for some time that post-war
reconstruction would impose serious demands on Australia. The Department of
Post-War Reconstruction had been formed by the end of 1942 and the Government
published its Full
Employment in Australia White Paper in 1945. The Commonwealth Disposals
Committee was set up in order to sell surplus government property including
124,000 vehicles and millions of pounds worth of surplus tools, aircraft and
The Government had cautiously discharged some service
personnel in 1942 and did so again in 1943.
Even allowing for these reductions, in August 1945 there were some 244,100
Australian service personnel outside Australia, with a further 310,600 in the
Demobilising these people was a very substantial task that required a balance
between the work that still needed to be done, the availability of shipping, and
the capacity of the economy to absorb people at the necessary speed. The
Government had a plan ready by March 1945—Demobilisation of the
Australian Defence Forces—but even at a planned rate of 3,000 people
per day, general demobilisation went on into 1947.
Historian Karl James explains the system:
Priority for discharge was to be based on a points system.
The higher the number of points, the higher the priority for demobilisation
— or “demob” as it was called. Men received two points for
each completed year based on their age at enlistment, plus two points for each
month of service, and men with dependants gained an extra point for each month
of service. Where the soldier served, whether at home or abroad, his rank and
the number of his dependants did not matter. Women received three points for
each completed year of age at enlistment, plus one point for each month of
service. Women with dependants would be discharged first, followed by those
women who were married before the end of hostilities. Women who married after
the end of the war could apply to be released on compassionate grounds.
The large numbers of people returning from the war posed significant
challenges and the memory of the First World War repatriation policy was fresh
in the minds of many in the Government and bureaucracy.
The number of people possibly eligible for repatriation benefits was
significantly higher than in the First World War, and this had the potential to
place significant strain on an unmodified repatriation system. As a
retrospective example of the magnitude of the repatriation task, by 1958 there
were 600,000 pension beneficiaries.
In 1940 the Parliament passed an amendment
to the Australian
Soldiers Repatriation Act (ASRA), which allowed members of the
Second Australian Imperial Force and the Citizens Military Force (the Militia)
to be eligible for the same benefits that had progressively been awarded to
First World War veterans. The most apparent shift in the repatriation policy of
the First World War was the 1943 amendment to ASRA, which clarified a number of
issues that had caused considerable tension between the Government and the
veteran community between the wars. The amendment was based on the
recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Repatriation appointed
by the Curtin Government in 1942 under Labor MP Reg Pollard. The main changes
war pensions were to be raised by twenty percent
war and service pension eligibility was widened to include all
members of the armed forces (including the Citizens Military Force)
the ‘onus of proof’ provisions were re-written to
ensure that veterans would be given the benefit of the doubt over repatriation
entitlements were extended to include all women in the armed
servicemen with venereal disease were now entitled to treatment,
and if they died their dependents [sic] would be eligible for pensions.
In order to deal with an expected shortage of housing when
the war ended, the Curtin Government appointed a Commonwealth Housing
Commission in 1943. The Commission recommended that 80,000 new
dwellings—with a focus on low-income housing—would need to be
constructed within three years of the end of the war, and that construction
should begin immediately to avoid a crisis.
Between 1945 and 1956, 103,000 repatriation homes were constructed, compared to
16,000 homes financed by the War Service Homes Commission between 1921 and
Loans were offered to assist ex-service personnel to buy their own homes.
Soldier settlement was another area of repatriation policy
that was refined after the problems associated with the original soldier
settlement scheme that followed the First World War.
The federal government set up a Rural Reconstruction
Commission in 1943 that laid down the six guiding principles for post-Second
World War soldier settlement, which were presented to the Premiers’
Conference in August 1944:
land settlement of servicemen should be undertaken only where economic
prospects for the production concerned are reasonably sound; the number to be
settled should be determined by settlement opportunities rather than the number
servicemen should not be assisted to become settlers unless a competent
authority is satisfied as to their suitability, qualifications and experience.
settlers should be allotted sufficient land to enable them to farm efficiently,
and to earn a reasonable labour income.
lack of capital should not preclude a serviceman, otherwise suitable, from
all settlement financially assisted by the Commonwealth should be on a
perpetual leasehold basis with option to purchase.
adequate guidance and technical advice should be available to settlers through
agricultural extension services.
These policy recommendations were given legal effect by the War Service Land
Settlement Act 1945.
Reconstruction Training Scheme (CRTS), set up in March 1944 by the Central
Reconstruction Training Committee in the Department of Post-War Reconstruction,
administered assistance to those attending universities and technical schools. The
CRTS provided university students with two or more dependent children an
allowance that was higher than the minimum wage in Australian capital cities.
Full-time students in vocational training were fully supported until they
reached 40 per cent proficiency in their professions, at which point they were
placed into employment for further training at award wages.
Commenting on the outcome of the CRTS, the economic
historians Butlin and Schedvin concluded:
[c]learly the scheme, together with the continuation of
financial aid to students, opened the possibility of university education to a
completely new group of people and in so doing helped to revolutionise the
post-war character of Australian universities.
Out of 106,930 university enrolments between 1946 and 1949,
38 per cent were from the CRTS. By comparison, the vocational training
component of the CRTS underperformed, which may have resulted from the
under-developed nature of technical schools before the war. Still, up to
February 1951 approximately 235,000 people had commenced technical training
under the CRTS, and nearly 90,000 had satisfactorily completed various forms of
Commonwealth Occupation Force
The end of the war saw a vast reduction in the number of
people in uniform, but not the end of Australians serving overseas. Australians
formed a substantial part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF)
First arriving on 13 February 1946 the
Australian component of the BCOF comprised 9,155 military and 2,185 Royal
Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel as well as two Royal Australian Navy (RAN)
ships. By October 1946, there were approximately 2,040 RAAF personnel in Japan
and 350 shore-based RAN members. When the Fleet was in, there were 4,000 -
5,000 sailors in port for 10 days to a fortnight. The
Australian component of BCOF was a mix of Second World War veterans and newly
About 16,000 Australians served in the BCOF, which primarily
enforced the terms of surrender imposed on Japan at the end of
the war. The Australian forces included personnel from the Australian Army,
Royal Australian Air Force, as well as medical personnel. The
Royal Australian Navy also had a presence in the region as part of the British
Pacific Fleet. From the end of 1948 until 1952 the BCOF was composed solely of Australians,
and the BCOF was always commanded by an Australian officer.
The BCOF also serves as a form of continuity between the end
of the Second World War and the start of the Korean War. The first Australian
units to see service in Korea were based in Japan. Australia ended its role in
the BCOF in 1952 while the Korean War was in progress.
Commemorations in 2020
The COVID-19 situation means that many of
the normal means of commemoration, such as large public gatherings, will not be
able to take place during 2020. Instead, there has been a greater focus on
online activities—in particular, the #OneInAMillion social media
campaign that encourages people to share stories of family
members who served during the war.
On 1 June 2020 the Minister for Veterans’
Affairs announced that on each of the 75 days until Victory in the Pacific Day,
a radio and social media series ‘75 days, 75 stories’ would ‘share
a story about the experiences of those impacted by the Second World War—from
veterans to widows and those on the home front’.
The complete list of these people is on the website of the Department of
The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs
has also announced that surviving veterans of the Second World War (of which
the Minister has said there are about 12,000) will be issued with a
Commemorative Medallion and certificate as a mark of gratitude from the nation.
The Minister has also encouraged
Australians to learn about their own family’s Second World War history
and to talk to family members or neighbours who lived through the war and share
Department of Veterans’ Affairs Anzac Portal contains a section called ‘1945:
Paths to Victory in the Second World War’, which contains further
useful information about the end of the Second World War.
word flashed: victory announcement’, Daily Telegraph,
16 August 1945, p. 5.
noisy, hilarious greeting to victory’, The Sydney Morning Herald,
16 August 1945, p. 7.
Brisbane rejoices for victory’, The Courier Mail, 16
August 1945, p. 1.
G Long, The six years war: a concise history of Australia in the
1939–-45 war, Australian War Memorial and the Australian Government
Publishing Service, Canberra, 1973, p. 475.
K James, ‘Soldiers
to citizens’, Wartime, 45, January 2009, p. 14.
P Hasluck, The Government and the people 1942–1945, Australia
in the war of 1939–1945, series 4, vol. II, Australian War Memorial, Canberra,
1977, p. 613.
James, op. cit.
C Lloyd and J Rees, The last shilling: a history of repatriation in
Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994, p. 264.
S Garton, The cost of war: Australians return, Oxford University
Press, Melbourne, 1996, p. 84.
Lloyd and Rees, pp. 274–275.
SJ Butlin and CB Schedvin, War economy, 1942–1945, Australia
in the war of 1939–1945, series 4, vol. IV, Australian War
Memorial, Canberra, 1977, pp. 716–717.
T Dalton, ‘Which way housing policy? Housing markets and policy
agendas’, Just policy: a journal of Australian social policy, 25,
March 2002, p. 7.
Proceedings of the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, Canberra,
25–26 August 1944, p. 23, cited in Butlin and Schedvin, op. cit., p. 735.
Butlin and Schedvin, op. cit., pp. 724–726.
Butlin and Schedvin, op. cit., p. 724.
Ibid., pp. 728–731.
P Sutherland, Analysis
of the possible entitlement to service pension of members of the British
Commonwealth Occupation Force, Department of Veterans’ Affairs,
21 August 2011.
Commonwealth Occupation Force 1945–52, Australian War Memorial,
D Chester (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs), 75
stories in 75 days—the Second World War 75 years on, media
release, 1 June 2020.
D Chester (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs), Letter
to the editor—medallion and certificate recognise Second World War
veterans, media release, 6 July 2020.
D Chester (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs), Op-ed—75
years since the end of the Second World War: honouring the one million that
served, media release, 10 August 2020.
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