In amongst all the current stories emanating from the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, my thoughts go back to the war that followed; a war that involved Australians more or less on home soil. The Second World War, that ended 70 years ago this coming August, had been a battle that had progressed from Europe to the Pacific as the Japanese made their way down the Malayan Peninsula. Thousands of Australians were taken as prisoners of the Japanese when they took over Singapore. It was therefore understandable that Australians, in general, feared the Japanese.
In early 1945, while the war was still raging, my older sister Fay started school.
In her first days at school, Fay and the other little school children never felt really safe. There was always the fear of ‘the Japs’. The Japs put fear into small Australian children. It was the Japs that many of their fathers were fighting.
On the school oval, beside a line of large cypress trees, there was a row of trenches, dug for the protection of the small students, who had been instructed to assemble in the holes, should something happen. Just what might happen was never clearly explained to the children, but their little minds imagined scenes of bombing planes and attacking soldiers.
At first Fay and her little companions expected Australian soldiers to be resident in the trenches, but they never saw any. Those who were courageous enough to venture near the excavations, returned with reports of seeing nothing but spiders living there. Spiders were nearly as frightening as soldiers or Japs, and so terror reigned quietly for a variety of reasons, in the minds of not only the little five-year-olds, but all the other girls at the school.
There was another terror of Japs for Fay. Our grandfather who lived in East Malvern was considered too old to be enlisted into the army and was made a member of the Home Guard. He would regularly have to attend parade and training at the East Malvern sports ground.
The adults would explain that Granddad was just “going off to fight the Japs.”
Fay knew the place where Grandad was going and so imagined the oval swarming with Japs, again associated with huge cypress trees, which were growing as windbreaks around the ground.
At every visit to her grandparents’ home, little Fay held her breath with fear on passing by the sports ground. That there were no Japs there was never explained to her.
I won’t be around to commemorate the centenary of the Second World War, but I would like the stories of how it affected even the smallest Australians to be remembered.
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