The mobilisation of the people of Australia and their possessions means that the country will be turned into one vast war machine. Every person whether civilian or soldier will be a cog in that machine… Women and children according to their individual capabilities, have a place in the wartime economy…‘Mobilisation’, Queensland Times Ipswich, 14 March 1942.
A pair of pilot’s goggles sit quietly on a shelf among thousands of other items in Queensland Museum’s collection store. Collection records for item H10786 tell us the goggles belonged to Oscar Diamond, and were Air Force issue. These unpretentious goggles are a link to one of the most momentous events in the Second World War. Flight Lieutenant ‘Ossie’ Diamond was pilot in No 1 Squadron RAAF, which took part in the first action in the Pacific War. (He probably was not wearing these particular googles at the time.)
At just after 2:00 AM, 8 December 1941 the Squadron flew their Lockheed Hudson bombers into battle from Kota Bharu in Malaysia, in a vain attempt to repel a Japanese landing. The squadron scored a couple of hits on the supply ships and strafed landing craft but the force was too large to be repelled*. Within a few hours Hawaii, Thailand, the Philippines, Guam, Hong Kong were also attacked. The Malay Peninsular and Singapore were overrun by mid-February 1942. All ‘British Forces’ including thousands of Australians soldiers and RAAF personnel like Ossie Diamond were missing, dead or captured.
Japanese forces captured the Philippines, Indonesia, and Timor and by July 1942 were landing in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Each day there was an ever-growing list of Navy ships sunk, and Pacific island Army garrisons wiped out or captured. Darwin bombed, Sydney and Newcastle shelled, Broome, Townsville, Coral Sea…
War comes to Queensland
The War against Germany and Italy was frightening and tragic, but a long way from Australia. Now it was in the ‘Pacific Theatre’, Queensland’s backyard. The local citizenry ‘mobilised’, in preparation for seemingly inevitable attack. People like air raid warden Ellen Mouland whose metal helmet and Volunteer Defence Corps shoulder patch are in the Queensland Museum’s Collection, and on display in the Anzac Legacy Gallery (H26582 and H26584). The air raid siren from Ipswich Railway Workshops is part of the collection at The Workshops Rail Museum (R6122).
Perhaps one of the most sobering items in the Museum Collection is the ‘Civil Defence Instructions’ card intended for all workplaces and the back of every kitchen door at home (H43696.2). It advises,
…During the war period do not bring children into the city if possible. Remember the city is the real danger.
This danger was not lost on the children, who had to dig air raid trenches in school yards and practice their air raid drill. Brick and concrete air raid shelters were built right down Elizabeth Street in the city, and in suburbs and larger towns across Queensland.
Air attack not the only concern
Queensland Museum has steel support posts for the barbed wire ‘entanglements’ which lined local beaches in preparation for an enemy invasion (H9407). Of course the civilians were not alone. Every suburb and every town it seemed had a military base or store or hospital. Airfields were located in Townsville and Archerfield but also safely away from the coast at places like Charleville Leyburn and Chartres Towers. Queensland was the major staging point for war in the South Pacific. Facilities were often shared between Australians and the thousands of Americans who began arriving in March 1942. Among them was US serviceman Grover N Edgerton whose dog tags were dug up in Akonna Street Wynnum in 1994 (N7216). Also unearthed in the 1990s, with considerably more effort, are concrete blocks and a steel door from a wartime command bunker under Roma Street Police Station (H43469.2), found whilst excavating for the bus bypass.
Thousands of service men, and women, were shuffled between military bases on Queensland Railway’s troop trains. The Workshops Rail Museum holds special ‘Defence Force’ tickets issued to service personnel. The Railway Workshops at Ipswich made parts for navy ships, gauges for the munitions factory at Salisbury, and conducted metallurgy tests of captured Japanese aircraft parts in its laboratory. The parts with drill holes are still in the Museum Collection (R5758, R5759).
The generation who ‘did their duty’ in the Second World War, whether fighting at ‘the front’, serving in a hospital, harvesting wheat with the Land Army, digging a trench in the school grounds; those people have nearly gone. So too their first-hand experiences. Queensland Museum has fewer soldier’s war souvenirs, maybe ‘mementos’ is better word, from the troops in the Second World War than their fathers brought home from France or Palestine after The Great War (WWI). And perhaps that is because mementos of this war were unnecessary. Reminders of the War were everywhere in Queensland. Even my generation of baby boomers grew up in the shadow of the Second World War. There were still army ‘igloo’ (quonset) huts used as government stores and workshops until the 1970s, at Cannon Hill, Salisbury and Albion to name just a few places. Air raid shelters were converted into bus shelters, every country tow truck was a blitz buggy, there were still runways in the middle of the bush, the remains of a submarine base at Colmslie, and beachside gun emplacements. So too the shipyard under the Story Bridge, and the Ford plant at Eagle Farm and the General Motors assembly plant at Newstead where aircraft engines and landing craft and all sorts of equipment were put together.
In the 21st century these reminders of the Second World War have nearly all disappeared. Servicemen’s train tickets and air raid instruction cards; heavy steel bunker doors and warden helmets; these ‘home front’ items in Queensland Museum are an increasingly important link as a generation of ‘old soldiers fade away’ and with them their memories. New generations will ask questions of these objects, and interpret them anew.
And what became of Flight Lieutenant Ossie Diamond from New Farm? His parents had to wait until December 1943 to learn that Oscar was no longer listed as ‘missing’, but was a prisoner of war. (Telegraph 13 Dec 1943 P6.) And in an article titled ‘Safe Home At Last’ the Courier Mail on the 15th of September 1945 reported Ossie’s homecoming from a prison of war camp in Manchuria. ‘Lest We Forget’ Ossie and his generation of Queenslanders.
* Graham Hedges from Norman Park, Brisbane, was on a Hudson Bomber shot down in the first action. The crew were the first allied service people to die in the Pacific War. Graham had just turned 20.
By Jeff Powell, Curator, Cobb+Co Museum