September 3 marks the 80th anniversary of Britain’s 1939 declaration of war on Germany. After months of negotiations and planning between Hitler and the Axis powers, Poland was invaded by Germany with a plan to conquer Eastern Europe (read more).
Britain and France had agreed to support Poland if it was attacked. So when Germany invaded, both countries declared war on Germany.
In this clip, you can listen to the then British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announcing the declaration of war.
On 4 September 1939, then Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, announced in a radio broadcast to the nation that as a consequence of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, Australia too was at war.
1939 Declaration of War – Menzies Virtual Museum
“Great Britain and France, with the cooperation of the British Dominions, have struggled to avoid this tragedy. They have, as I firmly believe, been patient. They have kept the door of negotiation open. They have given no cause for aggression. But in the result, their efforts have failed and we are therefore, as a great family of nations, involved in a struggle which we must at all costs win and which we believe in our hearts we will win.”
At the conclusion of his address, Menzies said:
“Before I end, may I say this to you – in the bitter months that have come, calmness, resoluteness, confidence and hard work will be required as never before. This war will involve not only soldiers and sailors and airmen, but supplies, foodstuffs, money. Our staying power, and particularly the staying power of the mother country, will be best assisted by keeping our production going; by continuing our avocations and our business as freely as we can; by maintaining employment and, with it, our strength. I know that in spite of the emotions we are all feeling, you will show that Australia is ready to see it through. May God in his mercy and compassion grant that the world may soon be delivered from this agony.”
Australia was at war again.
Over 993,000 Australians served in the armed forces during World War 2. Of those on active service, 27,073 were killed in action or died. A further 23,477 were wounded, and 30,560 were taken prisoner of war. Of those taken prisoner, 8296 died in captivity.