75th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific

Saturday, 15 August 2020

75th Anniversary of Victory in the Pacific

Service of Remembrance – War Nurses Memorial Park

Thank you for the invitation to join you here today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Pacific.

On August 15, 1945, Prime Minister Ben Chifley told Australians in a national broadcast:

“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 Nations, 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.”

This news was met with wide-spread celebrations, with people congregating in the streets, relieved that the war was finally over.

However, like all theatres of war, it came a cost to thousands of Australian servicemen and women who died fighting for our country.

It’s that sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice – we pay tribute to today.

The Second World War was a significant event in Australia’s history.

Not only did conflict come to our shores for the first time, the changes to immigration policy after the war ended, and the post-war recovery efforts, helped shape Australia as we know it today.

Almost one million Australians served in the armed forces – a significant number considering the population was around 7 million at the time.

More than 39,000 Australians died during the Second World War.

Over 17,000 of them lost their lives fighting in the war against Japan.

Some 30,000 Australian service men and women were made prisoners of war.

Almost every Australian community has seen its young men and women go off to war to help defend our country.

Our war memorials and rolls of honour carry their names and we honour their service, whether they served on home soil or in foreign lands.

Without the sacrifice of each and every soldier – since the First World War through to those deployed overseas today – our lives would be vastly different.

Today, almost 12,000 Second World War veterans are still with us, and I’m pleased to see some of our veterans here today with their families.

During the Second World War our servicemen and women fought in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as in south-east Asia and the Pacific, and on the home front.

And while Victory in Europe was declared in May 1945, fighting in the Pacific region continued until August 1945.

The Japanese bombed northern parts of Australia – Darwin and Broome– and attacked Sydney Harbour with midget submarines.

During the last years of the war with Japan, thousands of Australian men and women served in Australia’s largest military campaigns in the islands north of Australia: on the mainland of Papua New Guinea and its islands of Bougainville and New Britain, and in Borneo.

In late 1944, the Australians took over former American bases in northern New Guinea, on Bougainville and on New Britain and the troops were determined to defeat the large numbers of Japanese forces which remained there.

The Japanese refused to concede defeat and they continued to fight the Australians in long and bloody battles.

In 1945, Australian forces launched three military actions against Japanese-held Borneo: at Tarakan, at Labuan-Brunei Bay and at Balikpapan. These were the biggest and final Australian campaigns of World War II.

Throughout the Second World War, Australian women came into their own in the war efforts, and took on critical roles that shaped not just our war efforts but Australian society in the years following the war.

As you will know, they served as nurses overseas – which you will hear more about later – as well as in auxiliary services in Australia and overseas.

But labour shortages forced the government to allow women to take a more active role in war work, leading to the establishment of Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force and the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service.

The Australian Women’s Army Service was established with the aim of releasing men from certain military duties in base units in Australia for assignment with fighting units overseas.

Outside the armed services, the Women’s Land Army was established to encourage women to work in rural industries.

Women in urban areas took up employment in industries that previously had been entirely held by men, such as munitions production, and they played a vital role in keeping the economy going through uncertain times.

The war with Japan came to a sudden end 75 years ago, with many Commonwealth officials expecting it to continue into 1946.

Demobilisation started in October 1945 and by the end of 1946 more than half a million men and women had returned to civilian life.

Concerns about post-war unemployment were unfounded with many discharged servicemen finding jobs and the unemployment figure remained very low for a number of years.

It was in 1948-49 when post-war reconstruction really gained momentum in Australia.

There was an expansion in secondary industries, with the number of factories almost doubling since pre-war years.

The first all-Australian car, the Holden, was launched in November 1948 and is considered a symbol of post-war reconstruction.

A large range of public works were being constructed by state and Commonwealth Governments, including the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme, and this too continued for the next decade.

And in 1948 and 1949, there were significant changes to Australia’s population with the arrival of the ten pound Pom’s and refugees from European countries arriving in large numbers.

What followed was two decades of population growth, with it almost doubling in size by 1970.

Without the service of the veterans we are here to remember today, our country would look very different.

Each and every serviceman and woman who enlisted to serve our nation deserves our thanks, and I’m honoured to be able to give my thanks today to our Second World War veterans.

Thank you. Thank you for your service.

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