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  • Writer's picturePete Jonson

Geoffrey Blainey. Lessons of war forgotten in a changed nation, No 93.

Updated: May 3


‘Gallipoli – and the celebration of it – is like a wild horse. In some decades, the 1970s for instance, the horse gallops away from the nation that owns and usually honours it. And then it quietly returns home, though not permanently.’

‘Our soldiers had fought bravely in the Boer War (1899-1902), but the war was minor in the eyes of the watching world. In contrast, Gallipoli was an episode in the Great War, and at times the fighting against Turkish soldiers on the steep hills might help to decide whether the British Empire and France would win the war.’

‘Britain’s ally, Tsarist Russia, fielding the largest army in the world, was busy fighting Germany and Astro-Hungary but was short of monitions and even Army boots.’

‘Mistakenly, when younger, I thought that Gallipoli was a defeat for Australia was defeat for Australia. But the excavation of our forces during a few nights in December 1915 was so successful that Gallipoli in football in football terms might as a drawn match; moreover, a match played away from home.’

‘At a large aircraft factory near Port Melbourne in 1939 his team launched their first planes, the Wirraways. Not fast enough, in nearly every duel in 1941 and 1942.’

‘But soon appeared the Beauforts and Beaufighters, impressive made in Melbourne and Sydney, and they certainly they certainly competed against most Japanese planes.’

‘On December 8, 1941, the Japanese forces began one of the most brilliant campaigns in the history of warfare. Their aircraft carriers surprised the American naval bases at Pearl Harbour, and at exactly the same hers our – they landed troops in Thailand and British Malaysia.’

‘Within a few days their dive bombers sank the two great British warships near Singapore, and in a sudden attack on the American base in The Philippines they destroyed American air power in the region. In Southeast  Asia in the space of 10 weeks Japan had gained almost total command of sea and air. ‘

‘Singapore fell on February fell 15 1942. Four days later Darwin was bombed, twice in the same day, and on dozens of later days.’

‘The shock felt across Australia was acute.’

‘In May, the battle of the Coral Sea ended in a draw but it saved Torres Strait and Port Moresby from falling into Japanese hands. Here was an early turning point in Australia’s war’.

‘Japanese planes and submarines still ventured far. The entry of three midget submarines into Sydney Harbour in June 1942 in well known. More remarkable was the huge Japanese submarine that surfaced at night near Sydney and send a portable seaplane across the harbour to gather information on all the ships anchored there.’

‘We like to think – it is indelible folklore – that the Labor Party’s John Curtin, several months after becoming prime minister, persuaded the American armed forces to come to our aid. His letter, published in the Melbourne Herald just after Christmas 1941, was a powerful plea for help.’

‘At the end of the war, Australian politicians of all parties knew their country had achieved a narrow escape. They learned from the experience. Sure that their nation in the next war could not defend itself without a much larger population and a much larger and a strong industrial base. They conducted in the quarter century from 1945 and 1970 ambitious forms of nation-building.’

‘We forget that they did not just seek migrants as such. They sought people – new Australians – whose first loyalty would unfailing be to Australia’.

‘Lest we forget’.


In 1973 Geoffrey Blainey completed his

Book The Causes of War. An updated

edition is reported to be much discussed

at the Pentagon this year.

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