Robert Menzies Robert Menzies

Robert Menzies, 1939–41; 1949–66

Sir Robert Gordon Menzies was twice Prime Minister of Australia. His first period in office, from April 1939 to August 1941, spanned the first years of the Second World War.

Menzies did much to set up Australias war effort. The official historian of the Australian home front in the Second World War, Paul Hasluck, wrote that Menzies led Australia in undertaking the routine tasks associated with placing the country on a war footing. He oversaw the call-up of militiamen and the recruitment of the Second Australian Imperial Force (Second AIF). Mindful of the Japanese threat, Menzies was not in favour of immediately sending the Second AIF to Britains aid. However, when the New Zealand Government announced that it was sending an expeditionary force, Menzies followed suit, and in early January the 6th Division sailed for the Middle East.

Up until mid-1940, the war in Europe was proceeding slowly and the Menzies Government was not yet certain what would be required of Australia. Despite having dispatched troops overseas, his immediate concern was with readying the country for what he anticipated would be a long war. Menzies oversaw the building up of Australias material strength and was anxious to complete the countrys organisation for the difficult times ahead.

Menzies narrowly won the general election in September 1940. He remained concerned about Britains attitude to the defence of the Far East, particularly Singapore, and in February 1941 he sailed to England to state his case for support in the Pacific. However, with the Germans ascendant in western Europe and threatening an invasion of Britain, Menzies found that the British had few resources to spare for Australias defence. At odds with Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a range of matters, including the poor equipment given to the Australians who were embarking on the risky campaign to protect Greece against German invasion, Menzies left Britain disillusioned with what he saw as Churchills dictatorial manner. He was, however, greatly impressed with the resilience of the British people.

During his absence Menzies's opponents in the United Australia Party had been manoeuvering against him. Having come to regard his leadership of the party as untenable, Menzies resigned both as party leader and prime minister in August 1941. In opposition, he was a strong supporter of Curtin's prosecution of the war, particularly after the Japanese threat became real at the end of 1941.

Defence Portfolios

  • Minister for Defence Co-ordination, November 1939–October 41

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Official Records
Official records are listed in the National Archives of Australia's RecordSearch database which contains descriptions of records at both the National Archives and the Australian War Memorial.

  • [Official History, 1939–45 War: Records of G Herman Gill:] Re-introduction of Compulsory Military Training. Statement by the Rt Hon R G Menzies, Prime Minister, 20 October 1939
    AWM69, 208

  • [Official History, 1939–45 War: Records of Gavin Long, General Editor:] Diary No 6 (5 August–26 September 1944) – Interviews and references include; Col Diller (US), Capt J Cumpston, Col K A Wills, Brig K W Eather, Maj G Lyons, Maj C S Hall, Bean, Nancy Penman, John Balfour, H Stokes (External Affairs), John Galvin, Col M J Holmes, Menzies, Collings, Maj-Gen R M Downes. Subjects include: records of Allied Geographic Section; ATIS records; Japanese POW escape at Cowra; capture of General Denst (France) in Syria; staff of 25 Brigade at Petrie; 21 Brigade in the Owen Stanleys; 2/31 Battalion in Syria; GHQ records; appointment of medical history editor; New Zealand war history; censorship of the 1914-18 War official history; indexing of "personal records", etc; denunciation of Japanese emperor; Russian influence in the Pacific; Australian in China; tropical medicine, hygiene and sanitation; "History Committee".
    AWM67, 1/6

  • [Department of Information Broadcasting Division:] Talks by the Rt Hon R G Menzies (Apr 1940–Jul1941) [transcripts]
    AWM80, 1/297

Keywords: Menzies, Robert Menzies, R Menzies, R G Menzies
Location: Australian War Memorial
Reference numbers: AWM69, AWM67, AWM80

Companion site to Australia's Prime Ministers maintained by the National Archives of Australia