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War!

 

At age 15 in 1939, the Second World War ‘broke out’ with very vivid implications even for those of us at home:  food rationing; petrol rationing; and later when the Japanese came into it brownouts and blackouts were also imposed. 

Coffee for one thing was practically unprocurable so people had to make do with substitutes both for that and other things.  For a coffee substitute you could stick together about a dozen pieces of wheat with burnt sugar to form a sort of a blob; if you put three or four blobs in a cup of boiling water it would taste like coffee.  I know; I used to drink it.

Everybody was issued with ration tickets which had to be used very sparingly.  Of course the few who were fortunate to have money could buy all they wanted on the black market with the possible exception of petrol, of which the Military and Essential Services had the monopoly.  But for everybody else there was nowhere near enough. 

But most problems have a solution – in this case a ‘charcoal burner’ – a big ugly monstrosity of a thing about five feet high by one foot wide mounted on the passenger side of a car on the running-board (step), belching fire, smoke, fumes and pollution everywhere.  The gas the charcoal emitted was fed into the fuel system which in some sort of way took the place of petrol but was nowhere near as potent. 

Vehicles in those days did not develop very much horsepower at all, compression ratios were very low, about 7.5:1 compared to about 12:1 today.  Also the octane rating of petrol was only about 70 compared to 91 or 95 today.  To coin a phrase ‘they wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding’.  When the car was going uphill under load in top gear the engine would start pinging (ping ping, ping ping, ping).  The only way you could stop it was to back off on the accelerator then you had to change down a gear, which would use more fuel.  It was compulsory to paint the sides of the mudguards of your vehicle white so they could be more easily seen in the brownouts. 

After Darwin was bombed and the fear of a possible bombing and invasion by the Japanese drew closer people started digging air raid shelters. 

I spent a whole week digging a huge hole in our backyard.  It was very hard digging through clay let me tell you.  It used to stick and cling to my mattock and when it was finished I was very proud of the effort I had made for my family.  I was only about 17.  One night it rained very heavily and filled the whole bloody thing with water; so much for the air-raid shelter.  Luckily as it turned out it wasn’t needed anyway.

When the Japanese bombed Darwin there was complete and utter panic and thousands of people fled south in a mass exodus to a small place called Adelaide River.  They came on horseback, cars, trucks, motorbikes and bicycles.  It was referred to as the ‘Adelaide River Stakes’.  At that time Adelaide River was the culminating point of our rail link. 

Both the casualty rate and the damage caused by the bombing were very heavily censored.  The next day I remember seeing a lone soldier with a Bren-gun mounted on a tripod standing on Manly Beach.

The Australian Government also in a state of panic had formulated a pathetic plan to abandon the whole northern part of Australia to the Japanese and to form a last ditch stand at the ‘Brisbane Line’. All I can say is ‘God bless America’ because if it hadn’t been for them the Japanese would have been all over us like a rash and what do you think would have happened then?

‘That’ I will leave to your own imagination.

 For what happened next go to A Digger's Tale

 

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