Activities in Goolwa and Across the World in December 1941

Goolwa goes to war again 1939-1945 - DECEMBER 1941   -   THIS MONTH, 80 YEARS AGO

Malta in the Mediterranean continues to be hit by the Luftwaffe as it suffers its 1000th bombing raid, while Prime Minister Tojo of Japan rejects US responses to “certain questions”.

U.K. widens conscription laws to include all men aged between 18 and 50 years. It also spells out the regulations regarding women not in reserved occupations, required for service in fire brigades, ambulance, and women’s auxiliary units.

In the Russian theatre, German forces suffer as temperature falls to minus 37c causing them to drop the attacks on Moscow. Russian forces are now launching counter attacks on enemy lines in heavy blizzard conditions.

A shock comes to the naval and air bases of the US, as Japanese air and sea-based forces attack Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in Hawaii on Sunday morning December 7 (Monday 8th in Australia, and Asia time zones). The next day President Roosevelt addresses Congress in Washington.

 “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

     Indeed, one hour after the Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American Island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war of armed attack.”

     “Japan, has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area …. I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire”.

Within an hour of the President’s speech, Congress passed a formal declaration of war against Japan.

In the afternoon of December 8, Prime Minister John Curtin formally declares that Australia is at war against Japan.

By the ninth, the Japanese had attacked Wake Island, Hong Kong, Guam, Philippines, and Malaya and were approaching other territories. The cruiser HMS Repulse and battleship HMS Prince of Wales has been sunk by Japanese aircraft off the Malayan coast in the South China sea.

The United States declares war on Germany and Italy on December 11, in response of the Axis parties Germany and Italy’s similar declaration on the US.

General McArthur declares Manila an open city on 23rd and withdraws to Bataan Peninsula.  Hong Kong falls to the Japanese on December 25.



On December 12, the 2/40th Battalion, 23rd Brigade, 8th Division AIF arrived on Timor Island from Darwin, where it had been on garrison duties earlier in the year. This unit was raised in Tasmania and is known as Sparrow Force. They were followed by 2/21st Battalion on December 17, which was posted to Ambon Island. This unit was recruited in Melbourne and rural Victoria and prior to Ambon was also posted to Darwin earlier in the year on garrison duty.

On Ambon it has grouped with 2/11th Field Co., 2/12th Field Ambulance, and other elements, known as Gull Force, who together with a Dutch detachment now must prepare for a direct frontal attack from any Japanese landing force

During this month, Japanese residents and nationals on Thursday Island and have been rounded up and added to the Japanese internment quarters on the island. This section of the island has been sealed off and surrounded by barbed wire.

All Australian citizens have been evacuated from Rabaul and have arrived safely in Townsville, while the Australian 49th Battalion, a militia unit from Queensland, has been sent to Port Moresby.

Three days before Christmas, the USS Pensacola and support convoy docked at Brett’s Wharf, Brisbane. The convoy has brought the first US Army troops to Australia and these units have been disembarked and quartered within the new tented encampment established on the grounds of Eagle Farm1 racecourse, a short distance from the wharves.

An incredible array of material and service personnel includes members of the 147th Artillery Regiment, 131st and 148th Artillery Battalions, motor transport units, US Army Services of Supply (USAASOS) personnel plus pilots, ground crews and aircraft for P-40E fighter and A-24 dive-bomber squadrons. On the 28th of this month, elements of the convoy’s combat units departed for Darwin and Java with the remaining troops retained for future posting in the new US Army Camp at Eagle Farm.



The local VDC Home guard unit has received notice that they have been placed under one command at Victor Harbor combined with Yankalilla, Kangaroo Island and Victor Harbor districts. Shortage of labour is now making it impossible for unit members to meet the working day week training program as it stands. Some changes will be made by pruning of non-core duties to allow such vital items as specialised training in modern methods of guerrilla warfare, among others to have priority.

Each town unit will still have their own amended non-field schedule, now requiring parade only every second Sunday, every Wednesday evening and conducting NCO training classes on Saturday nights when required.

Field exercises and bivouacs will be grouped as a combined districts training activity of Victor Harbor Head Quarters. A bivouac over a recent weekend was the first to conducted under the new arrangements to which the Goolwa unit has taken part. The combined districts camp was based at the Toc H centre at Victor Harbor and proved ideal for test work in the surrounding scrub and river country. Predictably, there was a strong attendance from the Goolwa unit.

Under the command of O.C. (Mr W.J. White) and 2nd I.C. (Mr George Harold) manoeuvres began at 2pm Saturday and ran through night and day to Sunday at 2pm. The VDC groups were divided into two platoons, attack and defence. Platoon leaders for the attack were issued with written orders as to objectives to be located and obtained without compass aid. Platoon of defenders had to locate and determine the enemy’s objective and then set-up their defence of it. Within that activity were Signals and First Aid Post groups playing their roles.

Of the AMC (First Aid group) number, selected members will be examined in their work as they continue it in future VDC parades, and when qualifying will receive a proficiency certificate. Thus, a real benefit to the local community will come from these first aid trained personnel at large, being competent to render first aid in any emergency. They were trained during the bivouac by Dr Graham Shipway, who has given so much of his spare time to their first aid training.

Mr W.H. Biddle had charge of the Signal Corps, an important part of the Home Guard, who at once set out to pass on to the group the theory and practice of signalling and of contingency measures when gaps in communications needed to be remedied.

A review was held at the closing of the bivouac on Sunday at which both men and officers commented on the exercise with satisfaction. Eric Mayne spoke on behalf of the Goolwa unit in which he expressed pleasure in being able to attend such a successfully arranged weekend.

Bert ‘Hooky’ Armfield supported Eric’s remarks, said he hoped it would not be too long before another such bivouac would be planned, for he felt sure that Goolwa would be represented with even greater numbers than on this occasion.

The O.C., Mr J.W. White, in response thanked the Goolwa men for their remarks of appreciation. He was sorry that more members could not be enlisted in the Victor Harbor company, as they were short of men to conduct the manoeuvres as they should be conducted. He closed his remarks on behalf of the VDC by thanking the Toc H authorities for allowing them to use such a fine, well-equipped building during the bivouac.



Eric Mayne of the Goolwa recruiting office informs the Goolwa VDC unit of two mobile training units which left Adelaide recently to instruct VDC Home Guard units in SA country areas and are having a successful start in interacting with local VDC units.

Last Thursday, December 18, the units were at Victor Harbor and instructed sixty-eight district Home Guard members in modern methods of warfare. On Friday, a further class of forty-eight members went through the course with the instructors.

The mobile units will be set up in Goolwa on Monday, December 23rd. For further information, enquiries to Eric at the recruiting office in the Australasian Hotel, Cadell Street.



Seven days before Australia went to war with Japan, Sheila Green2, nursing sister formerly of Goolwa, enlisted at Wayville on December 1. Sheila is a daughter of Alice and the late Frank Green, proprietors of the Goolwa Hotel, entered training at Calvary Hospital and gained her nursing certificate in 1937. She has been posted to the 2/6 Australian General Hospital and holds the rank of Lieutenant in the Australian Army Nursing Service.

Most recent Goolwa man to enlist, Hartley (C.H.) Newell, is the 21-year-old son of Cyril and Ivy Newell of Goolwa. Hartley enlisted in the RAAF at Goolwa on the 30th of this month. Sergeant Air Gunner Keith Neighbour, RAAF, has completed his training at Point Cook, and has been posted to No 2 Squadron at Laverton. Late this month he embarked with his squadron to Singapore.



In common with 141 other mayors and district chairmen, the District Council of Pt Elliot’s chairman, Melphord Jacobs, received a telegram from Adelaide’s Lord Mayor Lt., Col. A. S. Hawker, requesting the cooperation of the people of the district in contributing towards the State’s share (25,000 Pounds) to build a new HMAS Sydney to replace the former sunken battle cruiser. The lost ship won battle honours earned in the Mediterranean Sea and in the furious battle off the Western Australian coast in the Indian Ocean last November where it sank, guns blazing and taking the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran down with it. At the December meeting of the Council, resolved a donation be made to the Lord Mayor’s new Sydney fund.

Goolwa residents would remember the visit of the HMAS Sydney to Victor Harbor on March 29 to Friday 31, 1939. During the visit, a group of officers from the ship visited Goolwa and were hosted during the day in a tour of inspection across Murray barrages construction work sites and taking in the Coorong, Lakes and Murray Mouth scenery.



The P.S. Marion berthed at the wharf at Goolwa at the end of the steamers Christmas-New Year cruise from Morgan to Renmark then downstream to Goolwa and finally turning back upstream, to complete the voyage for the passengers at Murray Bridge. This year it was not accompanied by the P.S. Gem as it has in previous years. Due to beginning of wartime demands on time and tightening of spending, a significant drop in bookings is recorded. Added to this, less availability of transport for tours at ports-of-call due to petrol rationing, meant less attractive options for passenger interest. However, the old wood burning steamer is still the cheapest, most comfortable way to move large numbers of people between rail connections without consuming essential liquid fuel reserves, so long may the PS Marion continue to make its annual Christmas-New Year voyages to Goolwa.


THE KING’S 1941 CHRISTMAS MESSAGE             Buckingham Palace, London

“I am glad to think that millions of my people in all parts of the world are listening to me now as I speak to you from my own home3, with the Queen and my children beside me, I send to you all a Christmas greeting.

     The range of the tremendous conflict is ever widening. It now extends to the Pacific. Truly it is a stern and solemn time. But as the war widens, so surely our conviction depends at the greatness of our cause. We who belong to the present generation must bear the brunt of the struggle, and I would say to the coming generation, the boys and girls of today, the men and women of tomorrow – train yourselves in body, mind and spirit to be ready for whatever part you may be called to play, and for the tasks which will await you as citizens of the Empire when the war is over.

     We are coming to the end of another hard-fought year. During these months, our people have been through many trials, and in that true humanity which goes hand in hand with valour, have learnt once again to look for strength to God.

     If the skies before us are still dark and threatening, there are stars to guide us on our way. Never did heroism shine more brightly that it does now, nor fortitude, nor sacrifice, nor sympathy, nor neighbourly kindness and with them - the brightest of all stars – is our faith in God. These stars we will follow with His help until the light shall shine and the darkness shall collapse.

     God bless you, everyone.”





1.     Eagle Farm racecourse, Brisbane, was known as Ascot racecourse in 1942. It would remain the main transit camp for US service personnel until 1945.

2.     Lt. Sheila Green’s service medals were purchased from Ebay by Goolwa Lions Club for the Goolwa National Trust  Museum.  (Ref: Goolwa Community News, issue 381, July 2021.)

3.     In 1940, the UK Government requested the King to move to Canada with his family, but he politely refused, considering it was his duty and wish to remain in Britain with his people whatever the outcome.