Australia in the 1940s


War's end


On 15 February 1942, Singapore surrendered to the Japanese. Thousands of British troops, including 15,000 Australians, became prisoners of war. On 8 March 1942 Allied forces on Java surrendered to the Japanese, along with 2,700 Australians. While these losses were devastating to the war effort, in the same year, Australian civilian militia and soldiers stopped the Japanese advance on the Kokoda Track in New Guinea.

Between 1943 and 1945, Australian soldiers fought in the western Pacific and southern Asia in support of the main United States advances into Japanese-held territory.

On 4 May 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered, thus ending the war in Europe. On 15 August 1945 Japan surrendered, signalling the end of the war in the Pacific.

Overall, approximately 550,000 Australian men and women (one in 12 of a population of approximately 7 million Australians) served overseas during the war, and 39,000 died including 8,000 who were prisoners of the Japanese.

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A snapshot of 1948

  • January
    • Employees working under the Federal Award System begin working a 40-hour week.

  • May
    • The Housing Commission in Melbourne holds its first ballot to allocate new homes for families of returned servicemen.

  • June
    • The federal government ends the rationing of meat and clothing.

  • August
    • The federal government's legislation to nationalise private banks is declared invalid by the High Court.

  • October
    • The first Australian Holden motor car comes off the assembly line and becomes a symbol of Australian prosperity.

  • December
    • Dr Herbert Vere Evatt (1894–1965), former minister for external affairs and attorney-general, is elected president of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

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