Backward Glance – On the home front
  • Wednesday 24 April 2019

2019 marks 80 years since the beginning of World War II (1939-1945), its impact was felt around the world, even in small towns on the Sunshine Coast.

For some families life went on as normal, especially during the early years of the war, but for others, their lives were changed dramatically.

The ripple effects of war are still remembered by many local families today – residents of the Sunshine Coast recall life during the war as a time when people worked hard to support the war effort and their families.

As well as raising and providing for their families, many women were involved in fundraising.

They organised dances and suppers, entertained soldiers and made home-cooked care packages.

They also sewed and assisted with ‘war time activities’ such as making camouflage netting, staffing air-raid shelters and learning first aid.

Nell Cordwell, in Audienne Blyth’s book Australia Remembers: Yandina Women Remember tells the story of working at the Commercial Hotel in Nambour during the day, and in the Allhambra Hall at night, weaving camouflage nets with strong khaki cord and a shuttle.

Soldiers would comment on the great job they were doing.

Another local woman remembers how the greasy twine hurt her mother’s hands and that today’s modern macramé techniques are very similar to those used then.

Residents who were children on the Sunshine Coast during the war remember black outs, air raid wardens with their tin hats and whistles and the horrible noise of the siren.

They remember air raid drills at school, and their specially designed hats (similar to a legionnaire cap today) equipped with a wooden clothes peg, to bite down on to stop their ears from bursting from the explosives noise.

Some schools were closed or re-located or the hours staggered and student numbers reduced.

The arrival of soldiers changed the pace of some sleepy towns, Medical corps enlisted women in their ambulance courses, some women also learned how to pull apart a gun and shoot it and how to launch grenades. 

On one such occasion Lorna Fischer recalls in “Australia Remembers” one grenade being launched right onto the hall roof at Maroochydore startling everyone inside into thinking that they were under attack.

There were soldier camps from Yandina to Caboolture with more than 10,000 Australian soldiers and 2000 American soldiers in the Landsborough Shire area alone.

Caloundra and North of Bribie were restricted areas during the war and were full of defence forces, heavy equipment and army buildings.

From his account in Caloundra during World War II Kevin Farlow remembers how their corner shop became a security post, with two sentries posted at night.

This became a favourite post for many soldiers as Kevin’s mother provided them all with refreshments and a bed in the back of the shop for a rest.

Rationing began in 1940 and lasted until 1950 for items like petrol, sugar, butter, flour, sugar, meat, clothes and tea.

Some farming families didn’t feel the effect of rationing while other families relied on the generosity of the American soldiers who willingly shared their supplies.

When the soldier trains came past Yandina, Jean Phillips recalled in Australia Remembers that the Australian soldiers would throw out food and the Americans would throw out bits of paper with their addresses on them and sometimes money.

Clothing was often made out of parachute silk, hessian bags and calico sheets.

Improvements like new roads, bridges, buildings and electricity were some of the benefits of having defence forces stationed on the Sunshine Coast.

The appearance of army tanks and vehicles driving down the main streets became a common sight.

Soldiers practiced in empty fields and on beaches, firing heavy artillery and practicing disembarking and defence manoeuvres.

North Arm Rifle Range was closed to the public during the war.

As Caloundra was a restricted area during this time there was only about 300 civilians left and they had to wear ID cards at all times.

There was fierce competition for female attention when the soldiers had their 2 days of R&R (Rest and Recreation) per month.

Soldiers from Bribie Island were known to go AWOL, swimming across Pumicestone Passage to Caloundra to attend movies at the Strand or a dance, in the hopes of meeting a girl.

There are many ex-service men and women who live on the Sunshine Coast, we remember them and thank them all for their selfless service.

We also reflect on the profound impact on the families and despite the difficulties and hardships endured, our community pulled together with in a sense of unity.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images

Image details 

Hero image: Caloundra's first Naval Base situated in the grounds of the Caloundra Lighthouse, Canberra Terrace, 1941. Royal Australian Navy Headquarters were later built on Caloundra Headland.

Image 1: Children in an air raid slit trench, Nambour, 1942. Residents of Nambour hand dug metre deep zig zag slit trenches in the local school grounds to provide students with safety from air raids.

Image 2: Soldiers at an Army Camp marching to the beach for a swim, Caloundra, ca 1940. Thousands of A.I.F. soldiers were camped in the Battery Hill, Currimundi.

Image 3: 6th Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps in front of the Maroochydore RSS & AILA Memorial Hall, Maroochydore, ca 1942

Image 4: Soldiers John Selwyn Slack and Allan Ashsford Slack on a day trip to Nambour from the Obi Obi Valley, ca 1941