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Eighty years since start of Second World War (Vetaffairs Spring 2019)

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On 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that Australia was at war.

The Second World War brought a foreign threat to Australia for the first time, with the Japanese bombing northern parts of the continent and attacking Sydney Harbour with midget submarines.

Almost a million Australian men and women served in the War. They fought against Germany and Italy in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as against Japan in south-east Asia and the Pacific.

Australia’s efforts at places like Tobruk, the Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay, Borneo and in the skies over Europe have become iconic parts of our military history.

More than 30,000 Australian servicemen were taken prisoner in the Second World War and 39,000 died. While most of those who became German prisoners ultimately returned home, more than one-third of prisoners of the Japanese died in captivity.

Though Australia's major effort from 1942 onwards was directed at defeating Japan, thousands of Australians continued to serve with the RAAF and RAF in Europe and the Middle East. Some 3,500 Australians were killed in Bomber Command's offensive against occupied Europe, making it the costliest campaign of the war.

The role of women during the War was extraordinary. Nurses went overseas with the Australian Imperial Force in 1940. At home, the Women's Land Army was established to encourage women to work on farms. Women in urban areas took up employment in industries, such as munitions production.

On 3 September, many Australians paused to remember that 80 years ago our nation entered a period of profound sadness and loss for many families.

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