Australia and New Zealand

Home Fronts & Occupied Territories in World War II

Home Front

When war broke out in September 1939 the Australian Government was much better prepared for it than in 1914. As in 1914 most Australians seemed to support the decision to be involved in the war.

With the entry of Japan into the war there was a real fear and the threat of an invasion to Australia. During 1942, civilians were evacuated south in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory and Australians were put under greater government controls than at any time since the convict era. There have never been such controls since that time.

This sense of fear and uncertainty of victory had diminished by 1943, but the war still remained to be won right up until 1945. This perception of the seriousness of the war meant that most people shared the same sense of priorities about the war, which in turn created a united approach.

The Italians were the largest non-British group in Australia. When Italy entered the war in June 1940, a number of these were interned, and many suffered assaults and harassment. The strongest reaction was in Queensland, which had the largest population of Italians, and where people were also more vulnerable to an invasion.
However, as labour became scarce, and as Italian military involvement collapsed during the war, many internees were freed to work on civilian labour schemes. Many Italian prisoners of war also were released to work on farms.

An Australian propaganda poster from 1942 referring to the threat of Japanese invasion. This was a widespread fear in Australia and New Zealand around this time.
The government greatly expanded its powers in order to better direct the war effort, and Australia's industrial and human resources were focused on supporting the Australian and American armed forces. This mindset was prevalent throughout Australian society, and nearly half a million people, mostly women, volunteered for the Red Cross and other beneficiary organizations during WWII.
Manufacturing grew rapidly, with the assembly of high performance guns and aircraft a specialty. By 1943, 37% of the Australian GDP was directed at the war effort. Total war expenditure came to £2,949 million between 1939 and 1945.
Ordinary Australians donating aluminium kitchen utensils for use in aircraft manufacture. The realities of life changed greatly for many people. There were shortages, rationing, constant fund-raising appeals. With one million men and women in the services, most families were disrupted. Because of this they felt an obligation to support the efforts in any way they could.
The Curtin Labor Government took over in October 1941, and energized the war effort, with rationing of scarce fuel, clothing and some food.The Commonwealth Government took control of all income taxation in 1942, which gave it extensive new powers and greatly reduced the states' financial autonomy.
In New Zealand, the nation spent £574 million on the wear, of which 43% came from taxes, 41% from loans and 16% from American Lend Lease. It was an era of prosperity as the national income soared from £158 million in 1937 to £292 million in 1944. Rationing and price controls kept inflation to only 14% during 1939–45. Later in the war, reverse Lend-Lease agreements obliged Allied nations to supply U.S. troops with supplies and services. Under such an agreement New Zealand, for example, shipped food to U.S. troops in the Pacific. As this communication illustrates, such shipments often involved the problem of balancing military and civilian needs.
Australian women were encouraged to contribute to the war effort by joining one of the female branches of the armed forces (such as the Australian Women's Army Service) or participating in the labor force. The number of women working in factories rose from 171,000 to 286,000 in Australia. While New Zealand also encouraged female participation in the labor force, there was no radical change in gender roles but the war intensified occupational trends under way since the 1920s.
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When Japan entered the war in December 1941, the danger was at hand, and all women and children were evacuated from Darwin and northern Australia.

Occupied Territories

Because of the nature of Australia and New Zealand's war efforts, which were far more involved away from the home, there were very few occupations taking place in Australia nor New Zealand. After the bombing of Darwin many allies rushed to defend Australia. In response to the heightened threat, the Australian government also expanded the army and air force and called for an overhaul of economic, domestic, and industrial policies to give the government special authority to mount a total war effort at home.

In March 1942, after the defeat of the Netherlands East Indies, Japan's southward advance began to lose strength, easing fears of an imminent invasion of Australia. The threat of invasion receded further as the Allies won a series of decisive battles: in the Coral Sea, at Midway, on Imita Ridge and the Kokoda Trail, and at Milne Bay and Buna.
Because it would be difficult to illustrate occupied territories as a whole, seeing that there were not many, the essay will instead be focused on specifically the Christmas Island, Australia occupation by the Japanese.

Christmas Island, Australia was of strategic importance to Japan for the mining of phosphate and as a possible seaplane base. It had been exporting phosphate to mainland Australia and Japan since 1900.
Despite its size, was considered strategically important because its geographical position made it, a key point for observation of sea traffic between India and Australia. And with plans already prepared by the Imperial Japanese Navy for operations in the Indian Ocean, its occupation attained even greater significance
On January 21, 1942, a Norwegian ship being loaded with phosphate for Australia was hit by torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine and sank in shallow water along the northern coast. Flying Fish Cove, the location of the attack, is shown in this photo.
When the Japanese were talking control, they threatened those who would not cooperate, which resulted in the internment of the foreign miners until the end of World War II as seen in the photo. The general ordered that arms be issued to all who did not have them.
Christmas Island lost wireless communication with Singapore on February 11 1942, as the Japanese forces closed in. Four days later Singapore surrendered, as seen in the image, and 80,000 British, Indian and Australian troops went into captivity. This was a shocking blow to the morale of the Christmas Islanders, who, like everyone else in the British Empire, had believed Singapore to be an impregnable fortress. As Japanese troops advanced, the people on Christmas Island came to realise that they had no hope of successfully defending their home.
The Christmas Island Volunteer Defence unit, made up of Europeans, Chinese and Malays, was disbanded and on February 18 1942 the phosphate company engineer and senior staff left the island for Fremantle, Western Australia. The island manager and eight of his staff chose to remain. In the latter part of February, equipment and machinery likely to be of value to the enemy was demolished. The railway locomotives were dismantled and vital parts were hidden in the jungle.
March 31, before the Japanese returned to occupy Christmas Island. Their landing was unopposed by the local residents, but the Japanese flagship Naka was damaged by torpedoes from a US submarine. Commander Ando rounded up all the locals who could be found. They were now part of the South-East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, he said, under the protection of the emperor and his armies. The stamp in the photo is a Japanese stamp showing the South-East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Early in December 1943 almost two-thirds of the population were deported to Java (Indonesia). All the Indian soldiers left, all the police and watchmen, about 750 Chinese and all the European prisoners. After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the remaining Japanese soldiers left for Java (Indonesia).
The labour force was made up of about 1000 Chinese and Malays under British supervisors and a small Sikh police force under a young district officer named Tom Cromwell. There were only 100 women and almost 200 children in a total population of 1400.
All the men, women and children who arrived under Labor were released from detention after the war.