Goolwa and world in June 1940

Goolwa goes to war again 1939-1945 - by Frank Tuckwell

June 1940

In this first week in June, what was thought to be an impossible mission to evacuate the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force off the beaches at Dunkirk became a huge success. A fleet of naval and civilian watercraft was able during the last few days of last month and the first four days of this month, to miraculously deliver so many British troops back on home shores, including French soldiers.

Winston Churchill, who just eighteen days ago had warned the House of Commons in his speech, was that all he could offer was “blood, toil, tears and sweat” could not have dreamed of the miracle of Dunkirk coming about during that short space of time. The rescue attempt named ‘Operation Dynamo’ that was thought may bring back up to 45,000 troops from Dunkirk but has in fact rescued 338,000 British and French troops, thanks to the heroic efforts of the little fleet of fishing boats, life boats and private launches as they shuttled back and forth to the warships lying off-shore. In Prime Minister Churchill’s response to the miracle, he observed that “we must be careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations”.

Apart from warning the House not to regard the successful operation as a victory, Churchill was making this report to the House of Commons on June 4th as he had stated he would on May 18, to reinforce his government’s stand, and to set the wartime direction for the nation.

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old”.

As it has been expected, on June 11 Italy has declared war on France and England. With German forces pushing into France and Italy attacking at the rear through the Alps, France decides to sue for peace. On June 23rd France surrenders to the Germans and Hitler begins his victory tour of Paris.

Although both Britain and France promised the Italian Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, interests in territories in North Africa in the late 1930’s for not joining up on the German side, now with France safely out of the way, he has thrown his hat in the ring with Hitler. On June 18, Churchill gives another significant speech to the House of Commons:

“What General Weygan called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin”. “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into the broad and sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink in the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour’.

On June 18, the SS MAURITANIA carrying AIF troops of the 8th Brigade, including those 2/10th Battalion men from Goolwa, docked in Scotland. The ship had been on route to Egypt, but with a German invasion imminent on the English coast, it has been diverted to the U.K. to strengthen its defences. The troops disembarked near the town of Gourock and moved to a camp based at Lopcombe Corner, near Salisbury in England, where the men received a remarkable reception from the townspeople. In a few days they will travel overland to arrive in Colchester early next month. There they will be stationed in support of the English forces ready to meet any challenge. The sudden invasion of German forces overrunning Holland and Belgium, together with the deep thrust of Panzer armoured groups into northern France, stirred the spirit of young Goolwa men to enlist. From Hindmarsh Island, Eric (G.E.) Lang enlisted in the army on June 6th, following his brother Keith who had joined the army earlier this year.

Arthur (A.J.) Westley, Jeff (J.M.) Harris and Gordon Lawrence enlisted together in the AIF on 8th June. They were followed next day by Bert (A.L.) Lundstrom who chose the navy, becoming the first man from Goolwa to join the R.A.N. in WW2. The last local man to join up for the month was Jim (J.W.T.) Rothe, who enlisted in the AIF on June 29th.

The head teacher of the Goolwa Public School, Harry (W.H.A.) Cochrane has been notified that he would be required to attend military officers training school in September, for which the Education Department had granted him twelve weeks leave. Harry felt that the community could be rallied together into a big patriotic gathering to raise funds, encourage enlistment in the armed services or voluntary membership in several war effort organisations in the town. To accomplish this gathering, Harry waited on the District Council at its June meeting and addressed the Councillors with his idea for a ‘Win the War’ rally, an idea that was now spreading in communities across the nation.

Although the minutes only record the resolutions made by Council that day, Harry made an impression on the elected members who enthusiastically supported his idea. A motion was put and carried, “That the Chairman call a public meeting (win the war rally) to stimulate the war effort in the District, the meeting to be held June 19th ,1940”.

The shift from peace to war footing was now noticeable at most levels of town activities, but none pushed more vigorously than those now being directed by Council as it responded to federal government advice. In the June Council meeting Councillor George Smith was appointed to take charge of Air Raid Precaution services for the district. Because of the rising number of local young men joining up in the armed services, several send-off and farewell functions for the enlistees tends to be ad hoc, so it is proposed to emulate the practice of the last war and have one formal group to handle them. A resolution was passed that Council should be represented on a community committee to be formed and to be named the Goolwa Soldiers Farewell committee. The chairman of the District Council, Cr Watty Newell, Cr Dave Ritchie and the District Clerk, Reg Bristow-Smith, were appointed to represent Council.

Not all things reflect the same urgency for war preparation when it came to the game of golf, however. The Goolwa Golf Club did face an eviction notice by Council when the piece of public land over which they had played their game was required to be fenced off for use as a common. This piece of land was bordered by a road which was generally known as Lindsay Parade in north Goolwa. The common has ancient origins which provided the public a space onto which people may turn their registered animals for a time. This action was taken by Council in answer to complaints by residents of cattle straying around the town causing a nuisance and damage to gardens and parks.

Cr Newell offered the club use of a piece of natural bushland off the main road on the outskirts of Goolwa on the way to Port Elliot. Currently working parties are busy establishing the course through the bushland. Recently the club held its elections resulting in Wilf Harris, the local postmaster, becoming club president, and F. Erry, recently arrived primary school teacher from Port Neill, as secretary. They would be pleased to receive subscriptions from existing members and any new persons who may be interested, the fees being ten shillings for men and seven shillings and six pence for women.

With the completion of the barrages and their sites cleared and cleaned up, a permanent administration staff has been selected for Goolwa. Samuel Parka Limb (Parka) who has been an experienced member of River Murray Lock works for almost 20 years, has been appointed superintendent of the lower Murray barrages, and Francis George (Frank) Fidge has been appointed assistant-superintendent of these barrages. They will now select the permanent maintenance and operations staff to work across the chain of barrages from Goolwa to Pelican Point.

Despite concerns of war and the dramatic drop in the town’s population now that barrage construction has been completed, there is a lively and active sense of purpose permeating throughout the Goolwa community as they look forward to the challenges of the future.


*One Dunkirk evacuee who migrated to Australia with his family in the 1950’s, settled locally while working for the District Council of Pt Elliot and Goolwa. He was the late Wesley John (Jock) Graham, a Scott-Canadian, born in Regina, Canada, former member of the 2nd Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) B.E.F. He was among the badly-wounded taken from Dunkirk beach. Invalided from the forces, he worked through the war years as a riveter on the Hawker Siddeley production line building fighter aircraft. While living in Sumner Street, two of his daughters, Susan and Jane, attended the Goolwa Primary School. Another, Patricia (Patty) became Mrs Tuckwell, wife of Frank. As well as their six daughters, Jock and Josephine (Josey) have a son Tony, a retired Australian army serviceman who now lives at Tweed Heads NSW, and a grandson, Captain David Graham, a serving officer who has completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and lives in Queensland.