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Australia, developing a sense of identity in WWII

Updated on March 1, 2014

Australia and WWII

Australia is one of the youngest countries to be populated by white man on earth. In its short history, there have been many great accomplishments achieved by it and its people. Australia has only in the last 90 years really developed a sense of national and global identity. This national pride and identity was established during the wartime periods of World War one (WWI) and World War Two (WWII).

This essay will prove that Australia truly developed a sense of national and global identity during WWI, and further re-iterated this sense of national pride during WWII.

The three main points as to why the above statement is true are, that Australian soldiers and officers alike earned a reputation for being extremely resourceful quick thinkers at the battle of Gallipoli; Australia was able to defend itself successfully from the Japanese threat at Papua New Guinea; and finally the sheer military size Australia was able to muster when a call for men was issued.

An example of an Australian Drip rifle.
An example of an Australian Drip rifle.

Aussie Diggers Ingenuity

The first point in this essay is that Australian forces earned a reputation for being resourceful and quick thinking, primarily at Gallipoli. The Gallipoli campaign commenced in April 1915 in Turkey. The allied forces suffered casualties exceeding 265,000, with over 45,000 of those being deaths. (Swifte, 1985) The ANZACS, or Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, defined what it meant to be a serving Australian. A campaign that is considered militarily a failure has defined the Australians identity. This campaign showed the ingenuity, discipline and endurance that Aussies possessed. One of the many inventions developed at Gallipoli was the periscope rifle in May 1915 by L.Cpl. Beech. (Unknown, 1997) It enabled the Aussies to use their rifles while they were safe in the confines of their trenches. The rifle was accurate to a range of up to 300 metres, even though the Turkish trenches were sometimes as close as 5 metres away. Another ingenious invention by Australian soldiers was the Drip Rifle. This was invented by Lance Corporal W.C. Scurry of the 7th Battalion. He received support from private A.H. Lawrence. This rifle worked on a weight mechanism. Two tins were placed with one on the top of the other. The one on top was filled with water. The tin on the bottom was attached to the trigger by a string. A hole was punched in the top tin right before the soldier left, dripping into the bottom tin. When the bottom tin filled, the weight of the tin would pull the trigger firing the rifle and tricking the Turkish forces into believing Australian troops were still in the trenches. (AWM, 2008) This brilliant display of Australian ingenuity enabled allied forces to withdraw with zero loss of life, and twelve casualties. This demonstration of resourcefulness stuck with Aussie soldiers, making them known for quick thinking soldier who were able to Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.

Australian diggers during the Kokoda track campaign. Australians were extremely outnumbered during this campaign.
Australian diggers during the Kokoda track campaign. Australians were extremely outnumbered during this campaign.

Papua New Guinea campaign, The Kokoda Track

The second way Australia was able to develop its sense of identity was during the Papua New Guinea campaign in WWII. The Papua New Guinea campaign during WWII was a test for Australians. The Japanese were knocking on their doorstep, the Australians either needed to step up to the plate and drive them away of be invaded by the Japanese. The Japanese were planning to use the Kokoda Trail to reach Port Moresby. This Trail passed through the Owen Stanley Range, and boasted some of the most horrendous terrain to march through. The battalions that were stationed at Moresby were unprepared for a Japanese attack. The Battalions consisted mainly of conscripted militia troops who had little if any experience in war. (Skwirk, 2011) From the 3rd of January 1942 - 23rd of January 1943 the Australian Militia fought hard in Papua New Guinea. (affairs, 2013) These conscripted troops didn’t want to fight in war, but being true Australians, they fought above their expected potential, a characteristic that has stuck with Australians. The Battle of Milne Bay was fought by Australian Militia in Papua New Guinea, a small battle, but a battle that poorly equipped and undertrained Aussie soldiers won. This battle added the much needed morale boost the Aussies needed, as it was considered the first real land defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre of war. (Unknown, Milne Bay, 2004) Papua New Guinea was a proving ground for Australian forces, as they were fighting a force who was far superior to them. The Australian soldiers showed resilience, and did not give up, they instead proved that Australians can take on any challenge thrown their way through resilience.

The final reason the two Great Wars developed Australia’s sense of global identity is the way in which Australians responded when a call to arms was issued. In total, 416, 809 Australians enlisted for service in the First World War. This number represents 38.7% of the total male population of the time. (digger, 2010) This is a massive amount of men whom are willing to sacrifice their time, family and lives for something greater than them. Every day Australians answered a call to arms, sometimes lying about their age to be accepted into the military so they could show their patriotism to their country. (Unknown, Boy Soldiers, 2009) This desire to help for the greater cause is a tradition that has followed through Australian values, where common men and women will all pitch in an effort to help the greater cause. This point is another reason why Australia’s participation in the World Wars helped form a sense of national identity in Australia.

In conclusion, Australia is a very young nation that has seen many tragedies and triumphs in such a short period of time. WWI and WWII were two tragic period of time for Australia, but also times when it was shown what it means to be a true Australian. Australians demonstrated a sense of ingenuity that was like no other during the Gallipoli Campaign that gave Australian diggers a reputation for being resourceful and quick thinkers. Secondly, Under Trained and poorly equipped Australian militia rose to the occasion and fought above expected potential and defeated a far superior Japanese opponent in horrendous fighting conditions. Finally, Australians answered a call to arms, to stand or what they believed was right, and prove to the world that they could form a fighting force that was to be reckoned with. These are core values that follow Australia to this day, be it in Afghanistan, an office building or school; Australians wear this identity every day with pride.


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    • Mick Beet profile image

      Mick Bert 

      5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for the interesting hub

    • Gary Malmberg profile image

      Gary Malmberg 

      6 years ago from Concon, Chile

      Interesting review. I noted earlier tonight that the Kokoda Trail was mentioned in the book I'm reviewing now of the Essendon dope scandal. Two figures in the book walked the track together. Now I understand the significance of it. Two thumbs yup.


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