Australians Under Fire

Australians Under Fire

WWII — 1942

by Eunice Shanahan

A set of the stamps issued by Australia Post, on a cover showing the special Townsville Postmark. The stamps showed the campaign ribbons and a relevant battle scene. The maximum cards are rather dull, in my opinion, the stamps are much brighter.

50th Anniversary, February 1992

Set of five postage stamps, 45c, 2x 75? $1.05, $1.20,

Set of five maximum cards with commemorative postmarks

The Battle of El Alamein,

The battle of El Alamein was the last major action in North Africa for the AIF. The Australians had been there since January, 1941, fighting the Italians and the Germans. Because of their defensive strategy at the port of Tobruk, of fighting from underground shelters, the Germans called them the 'Rats of Tobruk".

After the Allied forces, led by General Montgomery had defeated the elite Africa Korps of Germany, at El Alamein, the members of the AIF were returned home to take part in the war against the Japanese.

The Battle of the Coral Sea

This was fought from the 4th to the 8th May, 1942. The american and Australian Allied naval forces were united to prevent the Japanese Navy from taking Port Moresby.

Despite losses on both sides, there was no clear victor, (although both sides claimed victory), but the Japanese were not able to take Port Moresby, and this made their plans of invading Australia from a base in New Guinea much more difficult. The Australian Naval Squadron included the ships HMAS AUSTRALIA and HMAS HOBART.

This sea battle was unique because the opposing ships were not in firing range of each other, and the bombing was actually carried out by air — the planes being based on aircraft carriers and also on land.

The Battle of Milne Bay

This took place from June 1942. It was the first land victory for the Australian/American Allied forces. The Australian forces included the 9th, 10th, 12th and 61st Infantry Battalions, and the 75th and 76th Squadrons of the R.A.A.F

As New Guinea was an Australian Territory members of the Militia — 'The Chocos' (known as the chocolate soldiers because they did not have to serve overseas) were also used in the defence.

For four months there were pitched battles on the ground and in the air, as the Japanese tried to take the coastal strip and reach Port Moresby. However despite landing large numbers by barge in late August, they were unable to overcome the defence by the Allies, and in early September 1942 they were defeated and withdrew from Milne Bay.

Letter from Soldier serving with 61st A.I.B. Milne Bay


Dear Mum

it is just over 10 days since I last wrote but as I have had no news or paper I could not write sooner. At present I am in the hospital and have been here so far about 2 weeks. I am now on the mend but still very weak especially in the legs, but hope to be able to say I am out again the next time I write.

I left Aussie at the end of July and arrived here one day in August, a few days after my birthday. No doubt the place here is good on the eyes but the weather is no good — rain every day. I had an unevental trip over and was not seasick though very close to it on several occasions, quite a few of the lads gave their meals to the fishes on the way over. I spent most of the time cooking, and I think that helped a lot.

We passed through the Pacific where the Big Naval Battle was but how close I do not know, the waves were of the deepest blue and with the white horses, it reminded me of the advertisement of Reckitts Blue, whenever I see that in future it will always remind me of that trip across the Pacific.

We arrived here in the morning and in the afternoon we were greeted with our first sight of a Dog Fight. It was very thrilling to watch our planes get on the tails of the Zeros and give him the works and send him down to Mother Earth.

Our camp was near a coconut grove but only for a day or two when we shifted, it is a wonderful sight to see the palms all in direct line. When we first saw them and all the beautiful flowers in bloom, lining each side of the drive, and with a beautiful blue sky and warm sunny day, I said, this place will do me. But I have since changed my mind as it has rained every day since.

I've had some good times since being here, also some crook times, no doubt you have read how we did the Japs up at our first attempt. Our company being the first to meet them. Then our Batt. the A.I.F. did good work here too but I must say that the 61st did a wonderful job. I lost everything I had, I heard later that the Japs got all our stuff and burnt it. I'm wondering if they burnt my bottle of 4X I had in my kit. I suppose they smoked all my weed, 12 ozs — gee that hurts. Still I am well and safe, thank God.

The Battle for the Kokoda Trail

The Japanese still wanted to take Port Moresby, so they tried by going over the mountain track across the Owen Stanley Range from Gona on the North coast, through the village of Kokoda, then down to Port Moresby.

The conditions in these rugged mountain rainforests were completely alien to the Australian troops, who had to survive and fight in the heat, tropical rainstorms, and leech-infested mud and swamps.

They were struck down with tropical fevers and sickness — their uniforms rotted, but nothing stopped them fighting and on 2nd November 1942, after four months of skirmishes along the Kokoda trail the Australian soldiers and the Papuan Infantry recaptured Kokoda. However, the Japanese did not withdraw from Papua until January 1943.

The card shows a wounded Australian being carried and cared for by the Papuans, who were known affectionately as the "Fuzzy-wuzzy Angels", songs were even written to commemorate the aid they gave to the Australian troops.

Excerpt from a letter dated 4/10/42 — during the fighting on the Kokoda Trail

Dear Mum,

A few lines to let you know that I am still OK and doing well. We are still in the old camp, the weather here at present is beautiful, if it would only keep this way, and there are no more enemy landings, I could enjoy it, well for a little while anyway.

All traces of my illness have now left me and I hope I never get another attack of it as it sure is crook if you get a good dose of it, and I sure had a good dose of it on and off.
I was sick for about 10 days before I went into hospital, where I spent about 20 days, and believe me I did not have too good a time there. Now that I am well and strong again, I can tell you I was pretty bad, but there is nothing for you to worry about as with the usual amount of precaution it can be avoided. We wear long sleeved shirts buttoned to the neck, long trousers and use mosquito nets at night time, and we also take tablets.

No doubt you must know where I am now, did you read where a certain Qld Btn did such good work during the Jap landing, well that was our Btn, the 61st. I think it was in the Telegraph 17 Sept issue.

Excerpt of letter dated the next day 5th October 1942

This morning I went down to the wharf and noticed we have some of the motor barges the Japs landed in, and we are now putting them to good use. The night they landed they used these tubs and one of them cut out from the jetty to head us off. It would have succeeded too, only we swung around and went back, no one knows just how lucky we were. They gave us a couple of bursts of fire but did no damage. I was sitting up the front of the boat and noticed them landing. I thought they were subs at first until they started to move out on us.

On Thursday night they held a concert just down from our lines. It was conducted by the AIF and was very good, all the musical items and singing with a little community thrown in to wind up things. They also had a female impersonator and he was real good too. Some of the songs certainly brought back happy memories of home.

I have been issued with nearly all my gear now but thank goodness we don't have to carry around half as much as before. In fact all I have is one singlet, one pair each long and short strides, two pairs sox and one giggle coat, and that is plenty. We had to hand in our green uniforms and that was a relief.

The bombing of Darwin

19th February, 1942.

On this day 50 years ago, a large force of Japanese bombers successfully attacked Darwin. This was the first time Australians were involved in war on their home ground. The raids continued over the next 18 months.

The troops fighting in New Guinea were kept informed by their newspaper GUINEA GOLD. The edition dated "In the Field, July 2, 1943 reported the latest raids on Darwin.

Darwin report

The report reads :-

Darwin had its second raid in three days on Wednesday, when a Japanese force of 48 planes — 27 bombers and 21 fighters — caused some damage to ground installations and slight casualties. Much of the bombing was done at random. Spitfires shot down or damaged exactly a third of the enemy force — 13 bombers and three fighters. Six Spitfires were lost, but two of the pilots are reported to be safe.

Six enemy bombers and two fighters were definitely destroyed, and seven bombers and one fighter were damaged, some so badly that it is most unlikely that they could have reached their base.

The Spitfires again intercepted the raiders over the sea, and fierce battles were fought at great heights, when the escorting Zeros streaked to the assistance of the bombers.

Showing great daring, the Spitfire pilots brushed aside the opposition from the Zeros and concentrated on the bombers, which again flew in tight formation. Several were badly hit before they reached the target area.

The engagement continued until the attackers were well out to sea on the way to their home base.

Wednesday's raid was Darwin's 57th and was the third attack on the base since June 22. In these three raids, 44 Japanese machines were shot down or damaged, for the loss of eight Spitfires.

No serious damage was caused in any of the raids, because effective interception caused random bombing.

19.2.1992 50th Anniversary of the Timor Campaign.

pre-stamped envelope

In 1942 Australian commando troops of the 2/2 Independent Company maintained effective opposition to the Japanese on the island of Timor, north of Darwin.

Allied forces elsewhere in Asia had been forced to surrender or driven to retreat, but the 300 men of the Independent Company with assistance from the Timorese people, waged successful guerilla warfare against the numerically superior Japanese.

They succeeded in keeping some 6000 enemy troops engaged in Timor that could have been used to more damaging effect in New Guinea.

Information taken from the reverse side of the pre-stamped envelope illustrated.

Stationery used by the troops

The troops used whatever letter writing materials were available — not necessarily a 'matched set'. This letter was written on YMCA paper but posted in a Salvation Army envelope. The services provided by these volunteer organisations were greatly appreciated by the serving troops.

click here for larger image.

The writer marked the envelope ON ACTIVE SERVICE.

The postmark is AIF Field P.O. No.24 (which was New Guinea ) 15 MR 43. The Censor was G. Nixon-Smith, and the censor Mark AMF 1080.

All three sheets of this letter have the logo of the ACF printed upside down. All the other sheets in the correspondence show the logo the right way up.

Letter postmarked AIRFORCE PO 236 2 DE 1943 (Finschhafen New Guinea)

R.A.A.F. CENSOR MARK 798, Censor John Daniel.

click here for larger image.

The return address on the envelope is GROUP N 973 C/O AFPO 71 TOWNSVILLE.

The letter inside

Dear Auntie and all at home,

Just a few lines to let you know that I received your Red Cross Xmas card today and was pleased to receive same. I see by the papers that you are having some rain down there, well when it rains over here, it falls down.

These islands are not fit for any white man with the heat and the rain and the mosquitos at night. The natives on this island ...over here want 2/- for about six bananas, and 2/- for a paw-paw but they don't get it, as on the other island we could get plenty of fruit for a few cigarettes.

This island is all coral and there is not too many native gardens, I hope to get home in February as my time on the islands is up, and it will be good to get off these fever ridden islands. I have been lucky so far, as I have missed the fever. It is very warm tonight, and it will be raining very soon now, and it will cool the air.

There is 'pictures' three times a week and Mass every Sunday night at an American camp close by. We get a packet of cigarettes a day,(three cartons a month) also shaving cream, tooth paste, lollies, gum for nothing, and the A.C.F. says that the money they get comes over here, and Auntie don't believe it, as I don't think it leave Australia, as all that we have got from the ACF is a pair of sox and some tobacco, and it was rotten.

This is all the news, hoping that this letter finds all at home in the best of health as it leaves me,

The troops were not allowed to say where they were, and often the censors cut out or crossed out any reference to the location. So he was lucky to get away with "this island is all coral and there are not too many native gardens".

References: "Australians Under Fire — 1942" Australia Post Philatelic Group — (Written by Mimi Colligan)
Atlas of Warfare — Cartographer: Richard Natkiel
Postmarks of the Australian Forces from all Fronts 1939-1953 — Stephenson Stobbs
The Armed Forces of World War II — Andrew Mollo
The Australian Encyclopaedia — Australian Geographic Society

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