On the home front

During the First and Second World Wars, hundreds of thousands of Australia’s men were deployed overseas. Many of those who remained at home contributed enormously to the war effort, particularly during the Second World War when everyone was compelled to make sacrifices and many volunteered their time and labour.

31 January 2020

First World War

A few months into the war, the Australian economy started to flounder. Imports and investment dried up, prices rose, and unemployment doubled.

Voluntary work

Those who were unable to contribute full-time to the war effort offered their services to voluntary organisations including the Australian Red Cross, the Young Women’s and Men’s Christian Associations (YWCA and YMCA) and the Country Women’s Association, local soldier’s comforts funds and a variety of other local or national organisations.

Paid work

Voluntary work ran parallel to an equally vast paid workforce. Factory workers turned out rifles, uniforms, ammunition and small warships, while military hospitals were built to treat wounded and ill soldiers.

Women joined the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) and also took jobs in banks and offices.

The men who stayed behind joined the Citizen Force and rifle clubs in large numbers.

Second World War

In the early years of the Second World War many Australians continued their day-to-day lives while coping with rising prices and unemployment. After Japan entered the war, the home front and the fighting front could be one and the same. The entire country ushered in an era of austerity and mass mobilisation during which Australians everywhere focused on how they could contribute to defeating the enemy.

Nurses continued to play an increasingly significant role and served in hospitals and military medical establishments around the country and overseas.

Manpower (Labour)

Thousands of women took the place of men who had joined the armed forces, working in munitions and aircraft factories, textile trades, and food processing. Rural production also increased to feed Australians at home and overseas as well as the American troops who were starting to arrive in large numbers. Women took over running family farms while others, often from urban areas, joined organisations such as the Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA).

Women in the armed forces

Significantly, women joined the armed services in roles other than nursing in large numbers. The Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF), Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS), Australian Army Medical Women’s Service (AAMWS) and Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) were formed in 1941–1942, allowing men to be freed up for overseas deployments.

Post-Second World War

The contribution of men and women on the home front was vital to Australia’s war effort. However, when the war ended, women were expected to return to their pre-war roles, often in the domestic sphere. While many maintained their involvement in voluntary and charitable organisations, most industries resumed employing men in the post-war era.

Women’s services

During the First World War:

  • There were no dedicated women’s services during the First World War

During the Second World War:

  • More than 2,000 women served in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS)
  • More than 21,000 women enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS)
  • More than 27,000 women served in the Women’s Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF)

More information

For more information contact DVA Media

Email: media.team [at] dva.gov.au

Phone: +61 (0) 2 6289 6203

Website: www.dva.gov.au