Military History

This Week In History | Week 33

By The Cove August 10, 2020

Week 33 | 10 - 16 August


10 August 1914 | Voluntary recruitment for the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) begins

When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, nations in the British Empire followed willingly. 

Under Australian law at the time (the Defence Act 1903), members of the military forces could not serve in a war overseas. This was true even if they were already members of Australia's Regular Army or Army Reserves.The government had to form a new army to serve in the war: the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

Australia's population in mid-1914 was just over 4.9 million, of which 52% were men. Each man of 'military age' (19 to 38 years old) had to decide whether or not they were going to actively volunteer to join the armed forces and go to war. It was an important decision that affected most families in Australia. Recruiting offices opened at army barracks around Australia on 10 August 1914, only 6 days after the war began. Thousands of Australian men joined the AIF in the first few months.

The Australian Imperial Force remained a volunteer force throughout the war. Two conscription referenda, initiated by Prime Minister Billy Hughes, were defeated; once in 1916 and again in 1917.


12 August 1918 | Lieutenant General Sir John Monash knighted in the field by King George V 

Lieutenant General Sir John Monash was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath by King George V on 12 August 1918, at Château de Bertangles. This was the first time in 200 years that a British monarch had knighted a commander on the battlefield.

Sir John Monash was widely credited with devising strategies that turned the tide of World War I against the Germans after years of death-dealing stalemate. He was so revered by Australians that 300,000 people turned out for his funeral in 1931 and 10,000 returned soldiers led his casket mounted on a gun carriage through the streets to Melbourne’s Brighton cemetery.


13 August 1941 | Australian Women's Army Service formed

From the outset of the Second World War, Australian women were aware of the changing role of British women in supporting Britain’s war effort. To help “do their bit” for Australia’s war effort, women in Australia joined groups as diverse as the Australian Red Cross Letters Association, the Australian Comforts Fund, the Women’s Air Training Corps, and the Women’s Emergency Signallers.

The Women’s Australian National Service (WANS) was inaugurated in 1940. Training for members of the WANS included air raid drills, first aid, basic military drills and even shooting, signalling and mechanics. In the period leading up to the formation of the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS), the WANS demonstrated that women were capable of filling roles traditionally filled by men. (AWM)

Sir Percy Spender, Australia’s Minister for the Army, considered women to be an under-utilised resource in Australia’s war effort. Consequently, he approved the formation of the AWAS on 13 August 1941.

The Australian Women's Army Service was established to release men from certain military duties for service with fighting units. Members of the Australian Women's Army Service served in a variety of roles including clerks, typists, cooks and drivers. In 1945 a contingent was sent to Lae.


15 August 1945 | VP (Victory in the Pacific) Day

While Victory in Europe was declared in May 1945, fighting in the Pacific region continued until August 1945.

Following the official surrender ceremony, a number of other surrender ceremonies were held at locations throughout the Pacific, including Cape Wom, at Wewak in northern New Guinea; Rabaul on New Britain; Bougainville; Kuching, Balikpapan, Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), and Sandakan in Borneo; Hong Kong; Timor; and Nauru.

To mark Victory in the Pacific, the Australian Government gazetted a public holiday declaring it Victory in the Pacific Day, or VP Day. Some other nations, such as Britain, the United Stated and New Zealand declared it Victory over Japan, or VJ Day.



The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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