Blog

A Carefree War

September 06, 2015

Ann Howard – A Carefree War, The Hidden History of Australian WWII Child Evacuees

Published by Pittwater’s Big Sky Publishing, with a Foreword by Les Murray, one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures, and written by Hawkesbury Historian Ann Howard, this is a great new book which will be of interest to many people and illustrates to us all once again there are many ‘hidden histories’ within Australia that need to be listened to and recorded.

Ann Howard, who was evacuated with her mother from London to Cornwall in the UK during World War II, is setting the records straight. A combination of extensive research and the first-hand stories of the evacuees captures the mood of the time and the social and political environment that they lived in.

This month we run some information on a great new work that belongs in every Australian home and an extract from this book.

A Carefree War, The Hidden History of Australian WWII Child Evacuees

In every coastal city in Australia this last fortnight, one question has run like a refrain through the news and rumours of war. It is: What are we going to do about the children?‘ – The Australian Women’s Weekly, December 27, 1941

During World War II Australia was under threat of invasion. Could Australia be invaded by the Japanese? Even with the heavy censorship by the government many certainly thought so and the nation was gripped by fear that the danger would soon be on their doorstep.

The Japanese appeared to be looming closer; there were submarines in Sydney Harbour, Japanese planes flying overhead and harassment on our coastline. Australians were fearful for their safety. Anxious parents made decisions to protect their children, with or without government sanction. Small children were sent away, often unaccompanied, by concerned parents to friends, relatives, or even strangers living in ‘safer’ parts of the country.

Some had little comprehension of what was happening and thought they were going on holiday to the country.

The history of these child evacuees in Australia remains largely hidden and their experiences untold. Author Ann Howard, who was evacuated with her mother from the UK during World War II, has set the records straight. A combination of extensive research and the first-hand stories of the evacuees captures the mood of the time and the social and political environment that they lived in.

Unlike the sometimes sad and horrible experiences of their UK counterparts, for many Australian child evacuees there enforced ‘holiday’ was a surprisingly happy time.

A Carefree War tells the story of the largest upheaval in Australia since white settlement using oral memoirs and box camera photos, all placed within the frameworks of history. The voices of over one hundred contributors join together to paint a vivid picture of wartime Australia; the fear, the chaos and civilians floundering under the impact of a war that would change their way of life forever.

I originally thought that I would only be writing about the NSW coastline, but as time went by, the accounts stretched across Australia from Burnie, Tasmania to Bourke, and the far west of NSW.

What made you want to write this book?

As a lover of Australian history, this book idea landed in my lap and demanded to be written. It is part of so much hidden history in this country. With the militarisation of war history and glorification of violence, the suffering of civilians is rarely acknowledged unless it is shock horror. Many child evacuees had a blast, their parents however where incredibly scared for their safety.

How does history become ‘forgotten’?

The militarisation of war history is so pervasive, that a place has not been given to the frightened and threatened civilians of the time. People involved were so glad when the war was over, and had a new set of challenges with their returning traumatised menfolk, that everything was forgotten except building a new future. They had bravely hidden their feelings and smiled at their children.

What will readers find between the pages?

Vivid stories from these child evacuees come from looking back over seventy years, to when the war stopped being ‘over there’. Civilians in WWII were so terrified of the Imperial Japanese Army invading that they sent or took their children away from the coast and target points to inland sanctuary with grandmas, uncles or friends. They went in their thousands, for up to three years. This is barely known and many Australians do not believe it happened, but these stories from the lips of voluntary evacuees are undeniably true accounts.

Interesting or little known facts?

One interesting fact that emerged was that no-one knew IF the Japanese were going to invade, WHEN they were going to invade or WHERE they were going to invade, (including the Japanese!). So there were many towns and locations all around Australia where everyone was convinced that theirs was THE place, and they were armed to the hilt and ready to defend.

How did you collate all this information?

The idea came from a chance visit from an old bushie friend, a river man, who mentioned that during the war he was a ‘rabbit boy’. My antennae went up and I questioned him closely.

As a young boy he had been sent to a struggle farm in Oberon with his two little brothers, one in nappies, because his parents feared an invasion. I thought, ‘if he was sent away, how many more children were?’ I advertised for evacuee stories in the Sydney Press and I was inundated with emails and phone calls.

What do you hope that readers take away from reading this book?

A sense that history is fragile and that the truth can be lost if we don’t listen and record as we go. Here is a whole generation of war babies who can relate to the numerous stories and will want to pass it on to second and third generations. Historians will prize this capturing of firsthand accounts. Schools will be able to set their own evacuee stories using the historical framework of this book.

Extract from Chapter 20

We were the lucky ones, kids born in 1929/30, too young to go to war but old enough to enjoy all the excitement.

Vivid stories from these child evacuees come from looking back over seventy years, to when the war stopped being ‘over there’. These voices from the past will soon be words from the past, but their firsthand accounts will keep their memories alive from between these pages. They were there when Australians watched the great carnage of WWII from a distance and then realised that the fingers of war were stretching out towards their homes. First there was the fear of bombing and shelling.

Then it happened. Then there was the fear of parachutists and army boots striking the tarmac of their high streets. They had no idea where or when this would happen (neither did the Japanese!).

They fled from the coast, or steeled themselves to stay, sending their little ones away. Some people involved were famous names, like Queenie Ashton and Kerry Packer. Mostly they were mums and sometimes dads putting as much distance as possible between their children and the point of entry, wherever that was going to be, from the feared Imperial Japanese Army.

This history was slipping away and now they have had a chance to tell their stories within the pages of this book. Many Australians will be totally unaware that voluntary evacuation happened. The militarization of war history is so pervasive, that a place has not been given to the frightened and threatened civilians of the time. People involved were so glad when the war was over, and had a new set of challenges with their returning traumatised menfolk, that everything was forgotten except building a new future. They had bravely hidden their feelings and smiled at their children.

David Tranter told me.

We were the lucky ones, kids born in 1929/30, too young to go to war but old enough to enjoy all the excitement.

They were the lucky ones, indeed, to enjoy A Carefree War.

  • No products in cart.