Early War years 1939 – 1940
Initially the war did not affect us noticeably. Men and women joined the services and were sent overseas to Britain, Europe, and North Africa and later to Malaya. Children had fathers absent overseas. Australian pilots played an important role in the Battle for Britain and industry and agriculture were gearing up.
My Uncle Roy and Mum’s cousin Pearl Mittelhauser joined the services, Roy as a private, Pearl as a nursing sister and each would visit us when in Brisbane. Roy was the real bushman and had bought a cane farm at South Brisbane before the war so his elder brother Les would run this farm.
My mother was active in the local church guild, subcommittee, and Ambulance Committee. She did remarkable knitting, crochet work and fancy work and never let her hands be idle. She was also an excellent cook and manager. When war started there was a rush for camouflage nets and Mum along with many others volunteered for this work one or two days a week. She would take my brother along to the hall they were being made in and Ian would amuse himself while the nets were handmade, like fishing nets from green twine using a short board and needle shuttle. Cubs and Scouts also got involved in this work.
While the depression years resulted in a shortage of work, there was now a shortage of manpower and Dad got a job at the munitions factory at Salisbury. He would leave early morning by train and get home in the dark. He would ride the fixed wheel bike to the station with his peg leg clear of the wheel and I would collect the bike and leave it back there of an evening for him to ride home. Dad was keen on the races and would go to race meeting whenever possible. I think he lost more than he won but we could always tell when he had a good day by the chocolate he brought home and the pocket money for movies. I think Ralph and I sweated on Dad having a good day.
The war in Europe was going badly. Germany overran the continent and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces at Dunkirk was a miracle – small craft crossing the English Channel and ferrying troops from the shores to waiting ships of any size amidst strafing, bombing and artillery fire from the shore.
Progressively there was petrol rationing, clothes rationing and food rationing where each individual had an allocation of coupons for the various commodities. Foods such as meat, butter, eggs, sugar, tea were severely rationed and there was a thriving black market for ration coupons. British ships were being sunk in the hundreds by German submarines as they tried to keep supplies up to the island nation. Their supplies were essential to the war effort and survival for Britain and it was only when Britain devised the escort convoy system and aerial surveillance for U-boats which then hunted convoys in packs that the losses decreased and supplies got through. Hitler made the mistake of listening to Goering his air force chief who wanted more, fast short range fighter planes versus Admiral Doenitz who wanted more submarines.
With Britain’s long range bombers and planes, the Atlantic Ocean could be patrolled except for a mid Atlantic portion where as the German planes did not have the range to prevent patrolling and soon the enormous losses were reduced and Germany suffered losses of U-boats greater than they could be replaced. The Americans were still not in the war but supplied goods and equipment to Britain at a cost. They also offloaded their obsolete ships etc to a desperate Britain in exchange for bases in the Caribbean and gold. The American President, Roosevelt was not against giving aid but had to play a game to remain in office – that’s politics.
The war was still confined to Europe and North Africa except at sea with roving U-boats. With Italy as an ally of Germany many Italians and Germans then living in Australia were interned i.e. basically imprisoned for national security. It was considered that you could not be loyal to two countries and many migrant families were separated. A foreign sounding name was not an asset during these tense times. The Japanese had taken Manchuria earlier and were quietly surveying south-east Asia and Australia and playing trade games with America.