On that date, in response to Hitler invading Poland, Britain declared war. Almost exactly 25 years after the commencement of the Great War, Europe plunged once more into the abyss. Given Australia’s sufferings in World War I, with 60,000 dead, another 150,000 wounded and its social cohesion severely damaged, it might be expected that from half a world away, Australians might have chosen to sit the second one out, to leave the Europeans to it.
For Australians contemplating their war history, an obvious question is, therefore, given the experience of World War I, why did we join so readily again in 1939? And how was that commitment maintained for the duration, with few signs of the dissent and division that racked Australia in the Great War?
Perhaps the first factor to note is that the strategic situation for Australia in 1939 had changed little from 1914. Australia was still heavily reliant in Britain for its defence and trade, and still looked to Britain to protect it from perceived Asian aggression.
For Australia to be secure, it needed a strong Britain and contributing to British defence needs was simply “part of the deal”. Flawed though it was, the naval base at Singapore was still regarded as the primary defence from possible Japanese aggression...