Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force
Seventy five years on from the day Eisenhower issued his famous message to the Normandy invasion force, few Australians may realise the diverse experiences of Australia’s Second World War in Europe and the role Australians played in the Normandy campaign. Yet, as well as Normandy, Australians served in all the major campaigns and actions in which British forces took part in Europe: at Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, in the Artic and Atlantic convoys, at Dieppe, and in the invasions of Sicily and Italy, to name but a few. So wide and diverse was their service that for a period of 1942, the Australian No. 455 Squadron was based at Murmansk, Russia. Where Australians have served as a single unit – such as an Australian Imperial Force (AIF) battalion, brigade and division – it has been easier to document group actions and experiences at places such as Tobruk, El Alamein and Kokoda. This is true too for Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadrons and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships. However, where Australians served as individuals, scattered throughout the ranks of the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF), it has made the job much harder for the historian to document the wider Australian story .
Understandably, actions closer to home, particularly in New Guinea, have come to dominate Australian postwar memory. But in fact Australians went to war in 1939 over affairs in Europe. It was, after all, in response to the Nazi invasion of Poland that Australia declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. The belief that Australia entered the Second World War simply because of its ties with Britain and empire is misleading. The international crises facing Europe in the 1930s were of great concern to Australians. In his speech informing the Australian public that Australia – an independent nation – had declared war on Germany, Prime Minister Robert Menzies said, “The peaceful adjustment of difference, the rights of independent peoples to live their own lives, the honouring of international obligations and promises – all these things are at stake.” If German aggression went unchecked, he said, “there could be no just peace for the world”.