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World War II the Australian experience

Not long after World War I, Australia found itself at war again, but this time the conflict would come much closer to home.

Although Australians were again fighting German forces in Europe and North Africa, after 1941 they were also fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.

For the first time, Australians were conscripted into active service. Although these soldiers were not supposed to serve overseas, many of them fought in New Guinea, which was an Australian territory at the time.

Women also played a more active role, both at home and overseas.

And Australia feared the possibility of being invaded by Japanese forces – Darwin was bombed several times and Japanese midget submarines attempted an attack on Sydney Harbour.

Singapore - A group of Australian nurses awaiting to entrain

Singapore - A group of Australian nurses awaiting to entrain. Australian War Memorial 005829.

Activity: Events Sieges and Battles

Australians were involved in two fronts throughout World War II. The European front and the threat that was closer to home, the Pacific. The experiences of Australians fighting on these fronts was extremely diverse as Australians fought in vastly different locations against different enemies. Australia faced the possibility of being invaded by Japanese forces with Darwin being bombed several times and midget submarines found in Sydney Harbour. Australians were conscripted into active service for the first time in history and were only allowed to serve in Australia or Australian territories which at the time included Papua New Guinea.

Australians contributed to many significant events, battles and sieges throughout World War II on both the European and Pacific Fronts including: 

  • Battle of Britain 
  • Siege of Tobruk 
  • Battle of Crete 
  • Fall of Singapore
  • Bombing of Darwin 
  • Thai Burma Railway
  • Kokoda
  • Bougainville and New Britain
  • Allied Bombing of Germany

 This research activity explores each of these events, battles and sieges with a focus on the Australian experience. 

Download Events, Sieges and Battles Research Activity file_download

Activity: The Role of Women in WWII

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Australian women had limited employment opportunities. Employment opportunities that were available depended on your social class or your socioeconomic status. Middle-class women were often restricted to occupations such as nursing or teaching as they were deemed appropriate. Working-class women, however, often found employment in sales, factories as well as domestic service and continued to work after they were married for financial reasons.

Many Australian men invoked their ANZAC spirit and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force which created a gap in the Australian workforce. By 1941, more men were required than ever to fight against the two fronts, the one in Europe and the one in the Pacific. While men left their roles and went off to war, women were called up to join the workforce in roles that traditionally were not considered acceptable in society.

With Australians fighting wars on two fronts, the one in Europe and the one in Pacific placing strain on the Defence Force, organisations were formed allowing women to enlist in certain roles pertaining to the defence of Australia. Due to the restrictions on female occupations and employment conditions at the time, women’s organisations were set up within the Army, Navy and Air Force.

This research activity explores the role of women in WWII with a focus on the Australian experience. 

Download The Role of Women in WWII Research Activity file_download

Australian National Curriculum Alignment

This activity series is aligned with the Australian National Curriculum specifically Year 10 History. For further information, download the Teacher's Notes below. 

Download WWII The Australian Experience Teacher's Notes file_download

More for years 7 - 10

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2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment