ANZAC Day Speech - Flinders Home Guard
Delivered by Warren Groves
ANZAC Day, 25 April, is a day of national remembrance.
In preparing this speech for today, I wanted to remember a slightly different aspect of Australians at War. I will be talking about the Flinders Home Guard, also known as the Volunteer Defence Force. This talk is partially motivated by the recent and excellent exhibition at the Furneaux Museum on the Home Guard. The Home Guard also resonates with me because it is yet another example of Islanders doing what they do so well and that is banding together, helping and supporting each other to deal with a critical issue - in this case the fear of invasion by the Japanese military forces.
In researching the Home Guard, I noted the number of times well known island surnames came up, family members of which can still be found on the Island today.
As a result of Japan entering WW2 in late 1941, there was a genuine fear amongst the Furneaux islands and King Island of Japanese submarines entering Bass Strait and direct invasion. Invasion was particularly feared on the East Coast of Flinders Island. Along with many other towns around Australia, a number of private or government sponsored movements emerged to assist the war effort.
The Flinders Island Home Guard Volunteer Defence Corp - was an Australian part-time volunteer military force of WW2 modelled on the British Home Guard. The Volunteer Defence Corp (VDC) was established in July 1940 by the Returned Sailors', Soldiers', and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia (now known as the RSL) and was initially composed of largely ex-servicemen who had served in WW1. The government took over control in May 1941 and gave the organisation the role of training for guerrilla warfare, collecting local intelligence and providing static defence of each unit’s home area.
The army defined the objective of the VDC as to augment the local defences of the State by providing static defence of localities and the protection of vulnerable points and by providing timely information regarding enemy movements. In short, its purpose was to 'Deny, Delay, and Protect'.
Some of the types of missions for which the VDC prepared included constructing roadblocks, demolition of bridges and piers, protection of airbases, industrial sites, and vulnerable points, coast watching, and village and guerrilla warfare. The VDC was to engage in guerrilla warfare to the best of its ability should the Japanese invade the country.
An article in the Examiner dated Friday 1st August 1941 describes that during a meeting of the local branch of the RSL, which was held at Whitemark, it was decided to recommend that Mr V WILLIS be in charge of the Home Guard, with Mr L BAILEY as Second in Command.
On 4th October 1941, Council’s Minute Books state that ‘Mr V Willis Snr. waited on Council, stating he was Commander of the Local Home Guard, and requesting permission to train the Home Guard at, or near the vicinity of the Pat's River Aerodrome’. The record shows that this request was ‘Resolved, with no objection to Mr Willis' request.'
'After the Barracks were set up, and training organised, Mr Willis retired and command was passed to Mr F Henwood, with the rank of Lieutenant.'
Membership of the VDC was open to men aged between 18 and 60. There were approximately 11 permanent and 34 casual or part-time members of the Flinders VDC. Most VDC members had a close relative serving.
According to Stan Bowman’s Island News article of 15th April 1994, ‘On enlistment each recruit underwent an Army medical and was issued with a green uniform, identification disc and a WW1 vintage Enfield 303 Rifle together with a bandolier of bullets. They met regularly each Wednesday evening for training and also on Saturday for field training which included rifle practice on the local rifle range. Transport was provided by one of the local storekeeper’s trucks. The Corps was issued with only one Vickers machine gun and operating instruction was provided by Mr D. T. BOWMAN (a Machine Gun Operator at the Somme between 1916-1918)’.
Understandably, ammunition was in very short supply which limited their ability to practice with both the machine gun and 303 rifles.
From this initial Corps, a permanent VDC Guard was formed at the Flinders Island Airport. It was given the responsibility of guarding the airport and radio installations. The airport had been mined and barricades erected which had to be moved whenever any civil or military aircraft approached. It is the stuff of local legend that at the time, when the Flinders Island airstrips were being mined by engineers, the airstrip at King Island which had previously been mined, was accidentally blown up, reportedly by a lightning strike or similar. At the VDC Camp there were also some RAAF Guard members stationed to assist with protecting the airport and service all requirements of military aircraft.
History has shown that there was no invasion of the Australian States bordering Bass Strait during the Pacific War.
The VDC Corps were disbanded and all members across Australia were discharged following the end of the Pacific War in September 1945. And so ended another in a long line of crises where Islanders united to protect and defend their families, their mates and their unique Island lifestyle.