The Americans in Australia in the War

“The first thing you noticed when you met an American, was their manner. They had very good manners with women. A woman likes to be spoken to properly, and naturally when they were treated so well by the Americans, the reaction was quite profound. Almost everyone went out with some Americans, because they were just everywhere and we had no Australians to dance with.” Joy Boucher, aircraft construction worker, Sydney.

The first Americans arrived in Brisbane on 22 December 1941. By mid 1943 there were were 150,000 in Australia, with the largest concentrations in Queensland (near Brisbane, Rockhampton, and Townsville). But US naval forces were also frequently anchored at Sydney and Perth. General Douglas MacArthur, who was appointed as the Supreme Commander of South-West Pacific Area on 18 April 1942, was based in Melbourne before he moved to Brisbane.

Almost one million American service personnel passed through Australia during World War 2. Cafés began advertising Coca-Cola, coffee, and hamburgers. Hot-dog stands appeared. By the end of 1944, two-thirds of Australia’s imports came from the United States.

The Diggers were a poor bet when it came to showing a girl a good time, because the Yanks did earn a lot more money. American soldiers in the lower ranks earned twice the amount of their Australian counterparts – a US private earned the same as an Australian captain. In the higher ranks the disparity was even more pronounced. These differences in pay scales, their stylish uniforms (with zippered flies!), and their custom of tipping earned the Americans a reputation as “big spenders”.

“There were so many things that are different from now and men had buttoned flies, all army uniforms had buttoned flies, and then along came the Yanks and they had zippers – and you found yourself trying not to look. They really made the front ofmthe trousers very neat, I tell you and they didn’t really come into the civilian population in Australia, zippers, until the war had ended – but oh, very neat.” Patsy Adam-Smith, VAD nurse.

Many Australian women saw the well-paid Americans as desirable and romantic. More than 12,000 Australian women became American war brides, most of whom returned to the US with their new husbands at the end of the war.

Not all ended happily. This is a studio portrait of Dorothy Irene Nuttah-Singh of Sydney with an unknown American sailor to whom she was engaged. Nuttah-Singh fell in love and got engaged to the US sailor after a brief courtship in Sydney during the war. He promised to take her back to the United States to marry when he got leave from duty. After serving in the war zones, he returned to Sydney with his ship, which was then heading home via Guadalcanal to an extended leave. He told her that as soon as he got home he would return for her, but his ship was sunk en route with all lost. She learned of his death by listening to the radio. She remembers all her female friends were crowded around the radio and after several ships were named, his ship was named and that was all. His family knew nothing of her. She was left with an engagement ring and this photograph.


Soldiers’ farewells

Farewells in wartime. How terrible it must have been to hold him close, kiss him, wave goodbye, and know that he may not come back…

Here are the Australian troops leaving Fremantle in 1940, off to the Middle East:

There are a few blogs that publish random photographs that have been discovered in thrift shops or at garage sales. They bring to life a forgotten time and forgotten people. Try to imagine who they were – if there was a future for them as a couple or if they met, spent some time together and then parted…

Propaganda posters in WW2

These are interesting. Here is a Japanese poster warning Aussie soldiers that the Americans were stealing their girls:

Apparently the Germans produced the one below, because it mentions El Alamein. At least a ‘jolly good time’ was less threatening than ‘Australia screams’. But what is that odd creature at the top of the pamphlet? A rat of Tobruk? It looks more like a platypus to me. I know that they’re uniquely Australian creatures, but hardly the universal image of Australia. Hadn’t the Nazis heard of kangaroos? Or emus? Or thought even to look at our coat of arms?

This one is directed at the US troops – who presumably might otherwise mistake a Digger for a Japanese soldier!

This is an Aussie-UK friendship poster. Is it just me, or is that English bulldog a bit scrawney compared with the boxing kangaroo? And the kangaroo and dog seem so happy – look at the dog’s tail wag as he gets in a bite where it really hurts!

This was to remind housewives not to waste food:

Women’s work – how we helped to win the war

The war meant that for the first time in Australia women were being asked to do ‘a man’s job’, either in the services or in industry. More women entered the workforce than had been there before. The women who took on jobs that had previously been available to men only were able to earn all or nearly all the male rate for these ‘men’s jobs’. But if the new women workers went into traditionally female areas, then the wage was typically 54 per cent of the male rate – though by the end of the war was closer to 70 per cent.

Women who entered the services were also paid at a far lower rate than their male counterparts doing exactly the same job, and these jobs disappeared at the end of the war.

The experience of work in the war years had a profoundly liberating effect on many women. Many felt it was the happiest time of their lives. And many sought jobs after the war that would continue this independence and liberation. But society dictated that a woman’s place was best in the home, and most were happy to return to normal domestic life.

This post is for the unsung heroines – doing so-called men’s work and doing it brilliantly!

Australian nurses in world war 2

There’s a photographic exibit at the Australian War Memorial at present about nurses. I thought I’d share some of the images from that and from the general collection, because they are so interesting.

Nurses in war have always fascinated me. I got a book of ‘Heroines’ for my tenth birthday and many of those women seemed to have been war-time nurses. Even then, I was fascinated by what women did in world war 2. I remember loving ‘Cherry Ames, Army Nurse’ which I read at primary school. Cherry was sent to a pacific island and nursed wounded soldiers and helped to evacuate them, while solving mysteries in her spare time. Of course, Cherry Ames was much better at solving mysteries than any mere male, even a doctor!

I was aware that Australian nurses also went overseas and suffered and cared for those who fought. I remember watching the Anzac Day parades with my mother and younger brother every year on the television. There was always an especially big cheer for a rather stout, older woman. When we asked why, Mum said, ‘That’s Vivian Bullwinkle’ as if she was famous. Mum explained that the woman who was marching there had been the only survivor of a massacre of Australian nurses by the Japanese (the Banka Island Massacre, when the Japanese killed 21 of her fellow nurses on Radji Beach, Bangka Island (Indonesia) on 16 February 1942). All her friends had died around her, and she had survived by pretending to be dead until the Japanese left. And so Vivian Bullwinkle entered into my imagination as a heroine and a survivor of unimaginable horror.

Here’s a photo of Vivian in 1940:

Australian nurses were sent first to the Middle East. This is at my very own University of Western Australia, in 1940 and shows nurses and soldiers looking around prior to embarkation for the Middle East.

Mind you, the accommodation on the ship wasn’t too bad for nurses. Apparently it was rather dire for the ordinary enlisted men, but the officers and nurses got the best quarters.
On the ship the quarters weren't that bad!
And then the war with Japan began and we were fighting for Australia itself. The troops were recalled and the nurses came too. They came to field hospitals like this. Note the dirt floors.

In tent wards like this.

Or they nursed the survivors of the air raid on Darwin:

Mind you, there was still time to try to look beautiful:

But too many girls died, or suffered appallingly. This poster depicts the Hospital ship, ‘Centaur’ being attacked by the Japanese off the coast of Queensland. In the water below the ship are a number of nurses and sailors from the ship. The sinking of H S Centaur took place off the Queensland coast on 14 May 1943 and 268 lives were lost, including 11 out of 12 nurses. The poster depicts moments after the ship was torpedoed; it sank in just three minutes.

It’s now 1945. These Australian nurses are recovering from malnutrition after spending three and a half years as prisoners of the Japanese in Sumatra. And yet, they were still able to flirt with a handsome Aussie soldier! Go girls.