World War II 75th anniversary: COVID means commemorations will be muted

BACK IN THE DAY: The Port Macquarie cenotaph in 1945. Photo: Port Macquarie Museum
BACK IN THE DAY: The Port Macquarie cenotaph in 1945. Photo: Port Macquarie Museum

"Speedily after receipt of Japan's surrender, business houses closed for the two days' gazetted holidays.

"Cars and lorries, with flags flying, thronged with happy individuals, toured round the town, letting loose in joyous pleasure and pent-up feelings of almost six years of war."

That's how the Port Macquarie News reported the announcement that "Japan had capitulated on 15th inst.,(ant) and the cease fire in the Pacific was ordered by the allies at 9.15am that day."

The news today will bring comfort in what it actually means. All these men will receive the glad news, and may shortly return to their loved ones.

Port Macquarie News, 1945

As many Australians face social distancing measures during the pandemic, celebrations to mark VP Day, or Victory in the Pacific, Day, on August 15 will be vastly different to those 75 years ago.

Many will probably turn to the internet, or television, or radio, to hear how the day is being marked across Australia.

In Port Macquarie, residents will probably mark the occasion in a completely different fashion than that of their predecessors, says Port Macquarie RSL sub-Branch president Greg Laird, OAM.

"Unfortunately, the worst part of Saturday is that we cannot do anything formal to mark this significance milestone," he said.

"And that is extremely sad for our very few World War II veterans.

"My heart reaches out to all those veterans and every family who lost loved ones.

"However, we should still take the time to reflect on the significance of this day at 11am, wherever we happen to be at the time."

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Sub-Branch secretary Gary Spencer said the allied victory in the Pacific (VP Day) marked the end of World War II.

In a speech to the 2019 event, Mr Spencer said the resulting prospect of peace, of returning soldiers, of reunited families, was the subject of national rejoicing.

"This rejoicing coming after the then Prime Minister Ben Chifley announced on radio: "Fellow citizens, the war is over"," he said.

"This was the 15th August 1945, a date henceforth to be commemorated as Victory in the Pacific Day.

"Few announcements in Australia's history have caused such a jubilant reaction."

Australians have of course been away to wars in the intervening years. Australian Servicemen and women are on active duty overseas today, Mr Spencer said.

However, for later generations the scale of World War II, and especially the war in the Pacific, can sometimes be forgotten.

Sad day: Port Macquarie RSL sub-Branch president Greg Laird OAM says he is extremely sad not to be able to mark the 75th anniversary of VP Day on August 15.

Sad day: Port Macquarie RSL sub-Branch president Greg Laird OAM says he is extremely sad not to be able to mark the 75th anniversary of VP Day on August 15.

"Almost one million citizens out of a population of just 7.4 million served in the armed forces during the war," he said.

"Unlike World War I, this was not a conflict fought on distant soil.

"Once Japan entered the war in 1941, the invasion that Australians had long dreaded became a distinct possibility.

"When Singapore fell and bombs rained on Darwin and other northern centres in 1942, those fears appeared to be confirmed.

"In the end, it was probably Australia's distance that provided the greatest measure of protection, coupled with the return of Australia's forces from the Middle East and the US decision to defend Australia from invasion.

"Like their fathers before them in World War I, our young men willingly signed up to serve their country here and abroad.

"One of these men, Petty Officer Bill Hill served six years in the Australian Navy and was seconded to the Royal Navy for part of this time.

"He witnessed Japans official surrender on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945."

All would pray for the speedy return of servicemen and women to again live a normal life. The speaker congratulated the parent sof the boys who had gone forth to fight for the people of the Empire.

Dr DNE McLaren, deputy mayor, 1945

Mr Spencer it was also important to remember what happening on Australian soil at the time.

"Teddy Allan, an Indigenous Australian, was a member of the Voluntary Defence Corps on De Grey Station.

"He and other Aboriginal station workers received military training and were responsible for moving Aboriginal families in the area to safety in air raid shelters for the duration of the war.

"Unlike Bill and Teddy, many men did not get to see Australia's victory; they in fact gave their lives for it.

"More than 39,000 Australians died during WW2, and more than 30,000 Australian Servicemen were taken prisoner, two thirds of these by the Japanese.

"One in three of these did not return.

"These bald statistics tell little of the Australian families for whom war was much more than a rhetorical abstraction.

"Up until then, no conflict in which Australia had been involved in had stirred Australia's conscious so much. No conflict had brought so much suffering and anguish to so many.

"The current threat of terrorism, in reality hardly bears comparison to the global conflict 74 years ago and that is why we gather here every year on the 15th of August.

"VP Day recognises the official defeat of the first direct enemy to Australia but symbolises a far greater triumph for our nation; a triumph of freedom, of camaraderie, of peace and of the Australian spirit which lives on in the legacy of every Australian who contributed to our Victory in the Pacific.

"We pay tribute to each and every man, woman and child who way back then gave this wonderful country the opportunity to become what it is today.

"It is unthinkable to ponder what might have been without their efforts."

This story 75 years on, the commemorations will be muted first appeared on Port Macquarie News.