On 7 December 1941, the Japanese attacked the United States’ Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, destroying dozens of ships and planes, and killing thousands of American servicemen. Japan and the United States were at war.
Australians were already fighting in Europe and the Middle East, but Prime Minister John Curtin quickly expanded Australia’s Second World War commitments, declaring that we, too, were at war with Japan because of its “unprovoked attack on British and United States territory”.
As senior curator of Film and Sound at the Memorial, I was greatly privileged in February this year to go with the ADF to the Australia’s area of Middle Eastern Operations. Not only did I meet with and interview an amazing range of ADF members based in or around Al Minhad, Kandahar, Tarin Kot and Kabul, but I found myself in the rare position of being a female civilian, totally immersed in the ADF’s world. I trained with ADF. I wore body armour. I travelled by armoured convoy and by Hercules aircraft.
Well, we got wind in the morning that the Armistice was either signed or about to be signed... And the word finally came through and of course there was great excitement... I was only sorry I hadn't arrived there Armistice night because the chaps that got off the train, the girls just formed a ring around them..
The Memorial holds a fantastic collection of First World War trench art made by Sapper Stanley Pearl, who served in the First World War and later worked at the Australian War Memorial.
A young man, fit and blond, waits nervously in a trench, clenching his bayonet-fixed rifle across his chest. A whistle sounds and he throws himself over the top of the trench into no man’s land, which is already littered with the bodies of his fellow soldiers. Machine-guns chatter, more of his companions are cut down, and the young man drops his bayonet and runs as hard as he can toward the enemy trenches. Chin up, arms outstretched, his chest is riddled with bullets.
The end of September marks the 71 year anniversary of the battle of Dakar. Also known as “Operation Menace”, this operation was endeavoured to be peaceful, with the aim of placing General Charles de Gaulle in leadership at Dakar. It was a significant attempt to set up a Free French government in Dakar (West Africa) by British, French and Australian forces. The recently digitised Royal Australian Navy Reports of Proceedings highlight HMAS Australia’s three day skirmish with the Vichy French.
Where there is war, there is love. Almost 13,000 Australian soldiers who fought in the First World War married during their years of service, mostly to English women they met while on leave or during training stints in country.
Visitors to the Memorial’s exhibition Rats of Tobruk 1941 will have noticed the unofficial Rats of Tobruk medal presented, according to its engraving, by Lord Haw Haw. Around twenty of these medals were made at Tobruk, which illustrates one of the earliest examples of the town’s defenders reclaiming the title ‘Rat’, bestowed on them by the propaganda radio program ‘Germany Calling’. Visitors may also notice the brasso caked around the small copper rat on this medal, the result of many years of cleaning.