Another Australian Prime Minister tales his place - October 1941

Goolwa goes to war again 1939-1945   -    OCTOBER 1941   -  This month, 80 Years ago.


The federal coalition government of the United Australia Party (UAP) and the Country Party, let by Arthur Fadden, who became prime minister and treasurer late in August, was defeated in federal parliament when its budget was rejected in the House on October 3. The two independents who held the balance of power keeping the coalition in government, has shifted their support to the Labor opposition.

Prime Minister Fadden, faced with the loss of supply, called on the Governor-General Lord Gowrie to submit his government’s resignation that night. However, the governor-General showed reluctance to call another national election due to the fact it was only a year ago since the last federal election was held.  He called in the two independents, Coles and Wilson, to receive affirmation of their position and solemn assurances of their support for the federal leader of the opposition Labor Party.                            

The Governor-General then called Labor’s John Curtin to Government House to offer him, providing he was in the position to do so, to form a government immediately. With Curtin’s acceptance, he has been sworn in as the 14th Australian prime minister on October 7.  The title has now been held by three prime ministers from August 29 to October 7, a space of just 40 days.


Conflicts occurring elsewhere

There seems little else but grim news coming out of the battlelines of the northern hemisphere as Axis forces press on with their offences across the theatres of conflict.  In Russia, the Nazi’s have launched an all-out attack on Moscow, defended by the Soviet’s top General Zhukov, while German armies have surrounded a Red Army force of over 600,000 men at Vyassma, east of Smolensk.  Hope lies with the closing in of winter, Russia’s “greatest general”, which defeated Napoleon in the French invasion of Russia in 1812.

The Soviet Union government prepares to move its seat eastward to the city of Samara on the Volga and the citizens of Moscow begin to build tank traps and to continue preparations of the city’s fortifications to come under siege.  Marshall Stalin stays in Moscow, inspiring the people in their defence preparations as the city is placed under martial law.

President Roosevelt moves to render assistance to the Soviet Union by approving a US$1 billion dollar Lend Lease aid assistance to help in strengthening the Russian forces to mount their defences and eventual attack capability.

In Japan, the Government of Prince Konoye has collapsed, and the Empire is now under the influence of the militarist General Hideki Tojo, who becomes the 40th Prime Minister of Japan, leaving little opportunity for a peaceful outcome to the growing problems in the Pacific. Negotiations between Washington and Japan are now failing to attract the new government’s interest and it seems unlikely that further dialogue will succeed.

Prime Minister John Curtin’s concern with the political rise to power of General Tojo in Japan led him to seek advice and discussions with Australia’s defence and intelligence services in the matter. On this advice he decided to bring home all AIF forces serving in the Middle East.  On hearing of Curtain’s proposed action, Churchill refused to allow the move. When Curtin would not budge in changing the order on October 15, it is reported that Churchill was livid and flew into a rage, “we are at war with almost every country, including Australia!” he told Lord Beaverbrook.

While the United States’ concern was with Japanese expansion in China and Indochina, likewise it was so in the north Atlantic when suddenly, the destroyer USS Reuben James is sunk by a German U-boat.  Over a hundred US sailors were killed in the attack, making the destroyer the first neutral American warship to be sunk as a result.     


Stepping up Australia’s national defence

This month sees the strengthening of defences of the great size of this continent by encouraging Australian citizens to step up into the ranks by either voluntary or full-time service work. One of these opportunities is for women to enlist in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) which comes into being from the beginning of this month.  This will be a vital service which will the release of men from certain military duties for active service with fighting units overseas.

Airfield extensions have been completed on Horn Island, off the tip of Cape York where a second airstrip has been laid down with gravel to facilitate staging of aircraft to and from Papua and New Guinea. The US Army sees north Queensland as a vital and stable base in support with airlifted supplies to their garrison in the Philippines. It has selected Garbutt airfield at Townsville as the site for this operation.        


Army Minister’s blunt warning

Minister for the Army, Mr Percy Spender, in a recent broadcast warned Australians that in the Middle East, danger is growing from day to day that a large-scale battle for the fate of Libya is certain to begin before the end of this year. The minister called for more men to enlist in the AIF. In the broadcast Mr Spender put the question bluntly.

     “I want to put this question to every man eligible for the AIF – ‘Is Australia building up her strength for the coming clash in common with the Axis?’  I will not wait for the answer, but to say most deliberately and emphatically that Australia is not taking its rightful share of the Allied burden while one eligible man who is not engaged in vital wartime industry, whether it be in munition making or primary production, shirks his duty.

     In the plainest of plain speaking, I say to every eligible man that the war has reached a state where each individual counts.  In the coming months men now in training in AIF camps will be sent overseas.

     It is not enough to have a substitute ready to take the place of each soldier as he embarks.  There shall be two, three, four, or even more recruits passing into camp now so they can get that intensive training every AIF man must get if he is to become fit to take his place beside the heroes of Bardia and Tobruk”.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

It was clear the new Curtin government was putting itself on a total war footing with the grim understanding that the national defence clock was reading two minutes to midnight and ticking. When and what will happen in the next two minutes, two days or two months, will keep the lights and telex machines functioning continuously in Canberra’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Departments - till the answer comes.


The Army comes to Goolwa in a recruit drive

 An Army recruiting team under Lt. L.J. West, set themselves up in Cadell Street earlier this month with two machine gun carriers for demonstration purposes aiming to give the young men of the town an inducement to sign up in the AIF. Posters, together with a range of equipment were displayed in the band rotunda in the Soldiers Memorial Gardens where the recruiting team was set up ready to talk to interested men.  A secondary purpose was also to provide to local people with a morale boost to assure them that the nation is moving ahead in strengthening its defence capabilities.

Just across Cadell Street in plain view, the machine gun carriers went through demonstrations as they were driven over old wooden power poles laid across their path. The demonstrations were popular as even school students were brought by their teachers to watch the tracked vehicles going through their paces.  The vehicles carry a crew of three, powered by a Ford V8 side-valve engine and are armed with a Bren machine gun of 303 calibre, are also capable of being fitted with an anti-tank weapon.  The carriers were of special interest to the local militia unit of the 18th Machine Gun Regiment, who only a couple of years ago were upgraded from horses to mechanical transport.


Home Guard field training           

Goolwa VDC Home Guard unit has been handling a spikey subject of late in their field training activities. Latest introduction to the training regime is in site protection and district defence techniques. The local unit is getting some experience in erecting barbed wire entanglements.  On Sunday 27th the troop constructed a substantial section of this type of protection around a site in the seafront sandhills off Beach Road, on Ayliffe’s farm. At a future field training exercise, the unit will demolish the entanglements with high explosives.


Goolwa enlistment, posting and shifts

There was one enlistment in the armed forces for this month of October, as George (G.J) Grundy of Goolwa enlisted in the AIF.  George, aged 35, was the son of George Grundy the elder who died in April last year, was an old river skipper and retired as Blanchetown’s lock master. Young George had signed up on the 14th of this month at Crystal Brook.

On October 24th, a gathering of parents and friends came together in the afternoon at the Goolwa primary school to farewell the former head teacher at the school, Captain Harry Cochrane accompanied by his wife Brenda, now has received advice of his long-awaited army posting.  Following an afternoon tea with the adults, the school was called to assembly for the captain to say goodbye to his former students.

William Henry Albert Cochrane, known as Harry, was born at Ambleside in 1900.  He chose a teaching career and was appointed to the Goolwa School in 1937.  He has been a member of the Goolwa RSL, serving as secretary of the branch from 1938 to 1939.

Well-known and popular Goolwa resident Harry (H.H.) Newell is departing from Goolwa and moving to Pt Elliot. Over the years he was active in the town’s community activities and provided his musical talents which he contributed freely to concerts and dances. At the recent farewell service in the Holy Evangelists Anglican church, Harry was presented with a prayer book by Mrs Estick on behalf of all fellow members of the congregation.  During the service Canon Burton spoke of Harry’s good work in the community and particularly of the way in which he gave to the church at Goolwa.

The support of Holy Evangelist’s Church here by the Newell family, has been spread over three generations with Harry being a party of that body of work. He said that Harry has represented the church for synod for many years, had served as minister’s warden for some years and officiated at the organ on numerous occasions. St Jude’s church at Pt Elliot in this parish, will greatly benefit from his move there.