Victory in the Pacific Day: a quick guide

11 August 2020

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David Watt
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section

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 War Memorial:

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.[1] 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 celebrate.[2] During the following days more organised activities—such as church services, gala concerts and parades of returned military personnel—took place.[3]

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.[4]

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 other equipment.[5]


The Government had cautiously discharged some service personnel in 1942 and did so again in 1943.[6] 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 country.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

Repatriation policy

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.[10] 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.[11]


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 were:

  • 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
  • entitlements were extended to include all women in the armed forces, and
  • servicemen with venereal disease were now entitled to treatment, and if they died their dependents [sic] would be eligible for pensions.[12]


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.[13] 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 1930.[14] 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:

1.   That 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 of applicants.

2.   That servicemen should not be assisted to become settlers unless a competent authority is satisfied as to their suitability, qualifications and experience.

3.   That settlers should be allotted sufficient land to enable them to farm efficiently, and to earn a reasonable labour income.

4.   That lack of capital should not preclude a serviceman, otherwise suitable, from settlement.

5.   That all settlement financially assisted by the Commonwealth should be on a perpetual leasehold basis with option to purchase.

6.   That adequate guidance and technical advice should be available to settlers through agricultural extension services.[15]

These policy recommendations were given legal effect by the War Service Land Settlement Act 1945.


The Commonwealth 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.[16]

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.[17]

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 technical training.[18]

British 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) in Japan:

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 recruited soldiers.[19]

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.[20]

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’.[21] The complete list of these people is on the website of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

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.[22]

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 their experiences.[23]

The 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.

[1].   ‘Code word flashed: victory announcement, Daily Telegraph, 16 August 1945, p. 5.

[2].   ‘City’s noisy, hilarious greeting to victory’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 August 1945, p. 7.

[3].   ‘Victory: Brisbane rejoices for victory’, The Courier Mail, 16 August 1945, p. 1.

[4].   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.

[5].   Ibid

[6].   K James, ‘Soldiers to citizens’, Wartime, 45, January 2009, p. 14.

[7].   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.

[8].   James, op. cit.

[9].   Ibid.

[10].   C Lloyd and J Rees, The last shilling: a history of repatriation in Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994, p. 264.

[11].   S Garton, The cost of war: Australians return, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1996, p. 84.

[12].   Lloyd and Rees, pp. 274–275.

[13].   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.

[14].   T Dalton, ‘Which way housing policy? Housing markets and policy agendas’, Just policy: a journal of Australian social policy, 25, March 2002, p. 7.

[15].   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.

[16].   Butlin and Schedvin, op. cit., pp. 724–726.

[17].   Butlin and Schedvin, op. cit., p. 724.

[18].   Ibid., pp. 728–731.

[19].   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.

[20].   British Commonwealth Occupation Force 1945–52, Australian War Memorial, [undated].

[21].   D Chester (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs), 75 stories in 75 days—the Second World War 75 years on, media release, 1 June 2020.

[22].   D Chester (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs), Letter to the editor—medallion and certificate recognise Second World War veterans, media release, 6 July 2020.

[23].   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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