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Friday, 27 March 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- About a fortnight ago, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) urged the heads of religious denominations in Australia to organize a day of prayer. About the time that his request appeared in the daily press, an advertisement, paid for by public funds, was published in all the metropolitan newspapers telling the people what they ought to do because of the worsening war situation. I have a copy of that advertisement here, cut from the Melbourne AT mt*, of the 11th March. It shows bombs falling on the towns of Darwin, Wyndham and Broome, and was evidently designed to make the people of Australia think more deeply of the danger that confronted them. With that general purpose I have no quarrel, but there was an hysterical note about the wording of the advertisement that was likely to do more harm than good. Also, there is one passage in the advertisement to which I take strenuous objection. Part of the letterpress is as follows : -

Now death rains down from Australian skies: Japanese bombs blast destruction on Australian soil . . . and into the ears of Australian women and children dins the ghastly rattle of machine guns.

What is your answer? Are you going to hide your head under metaphorical bed clothes and mutter prayers . . . or are you going to stand on your two feet and fight these battle-drunk invaders?

There seems to be a gross inconsistency between the wording of that advertisement and the Prime Minister's request to the leaders of religious denominations to organize a day of prayer in order to invoke divine assistance. I do not think that there is anything unmanly in people praying for victory, and it ill becomes the officials of any department to insert advertisements of this sort in the daily press at the public expense.

Mr Archie Cameron - What department was responsible?

Mr CALWELL - The advertisement was prepared by the Department of Information. This particular advertisement was followed by others to which 1 take no exception, although their general tone seems to me to betoken a poor knowledge of psychology. They are more likely to depress or offend people than stir them to greater effort, which, I take it, is their purpose.

The other matter concerns the despatch of youths of eighteen years of age with no military training to action stations in this country. Yesterday, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) made a statement on this subject, a statement obviously prepared for him by his military advisers. In it various arguments were advanced to justify an action against which the public conscience rebels. I have here particulars of a number of young men who were taken into camp and then, after a few weeks, sent away without any training to action stations. If we have reached the stage where we must depend on the efforts of untrained boys to save us from defeat, it is a grave reflection on those who, in the past, were charged with the defence of the country, and it would seem almost impossible, in the circumstances, to avert disaster. However, I do not agree that there is any need to treat these youths as is being done at present. The first case is that of VX205807, 106th Anti-Tank Regiment, Gunner James McConnell. He was IS years of age on the 7th January, 1942. He was called up for service, and entered Balcombe camp on the 27th February. He left Balcombe on the 13th or 14th March. He was sent to Seymour as one of a reinforcement allotted to an anti-tank company with previous training, and expects to be sent north immediately. He has had no final leave. The officer who welcomed the reinforcements to the anti-tank company told them that they had been allotted to a suicide unit, and that they had better learn about anti-tank guns within the next fortnight. The second case is that of VX205873, D company, 46th Battalion, Private Don Tierney, who was 18 years of age on the 23rd December, 1&41. He was called up for service, entered Balcombe camp on the 27th February, and left on the 14th March. He was sent to Bonegilla in the infantry, and received final leave on the 16th March, preparatory to being sent, north. On the 19th March, he was sent to Queensland.

The next case refers to VX155823 Private P. J. J. Lawrence. He entered camp at Mount Martha on the 13tb January. A few days later he became ill and was admitted to the camp hospital, where he remained until the 27th January. Then he was moved to the

Repatriation General Hospital, and was an inmate of that institution until the 15th February. From the Repatriation General Hospital he was transferred to the Broadmeadows Camp, where he remained until the 16th March. After spending two days in the Broadmeadows Convalescent Hospital he was ordered to report at the 10th Training Battalion. On the 24th March he was allotted to the 22nd Battalion, and was given 24 hours' pre-embarkation leave. His actual training did not exceed seven days. He never fired a rifle, or handled a gas-mask, until the day before he was sent to a battle station. In fact, he had never worn a steel helmet. This man, who is about 25 years of age, is a State school teacher. Of course, he is a few years older than the two men to whom I referred earlier, but his case is on allfours with their own. It supports my complaint that untrained men are being sent to action stations.

The next case was reported to me by a correspondent in New South Wales, who was inspired to write after he had read the statement of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). He is not known to me, but I shall quote from his letter. He refers to NX227986 John Rupert Bourke, a compulsory trainee, aged nineteen years. He was called up in Sydney on the 5th November, 1941. By Christmas Day he had not been issued with even a change of clothing. In fact, he possessed only one pair of khaki shorts, and a khaki shirt. His sisters bought for him a pair of shorts and a shirt which they gave to him on Boxing Day. On the 26th December he informed his family that he expected to move from the Sydney Show Ground to Bondi Beach. That was the last word that his sisters had from him until they received from him an air-mail letter which bore the Port Moresby post-mark of the 12th January, 1942. The correspondent informs me that the boy at thetime of his father's death was six years of age, whilst the mother died when he was eleven years of age. He has never had permanent work; he has had only two or three paltry dead-end jobs. He has no vote, yet he is sent untrained to face the Japanese invasion, to " hold the gate " in the name of liberty, justice and religion. My correspondent then quoted the following passage from the Scriptures: -

These people worship Me with their mouths but their hearts are far from Me.

The correspondent adds -

This boy is the son of my wife's late sister; his mother's brother, Lieutenant Rupert Cradick, of the Second Battalion, was killed at Lone Pine, 6th August, 1915; I am a returned soldier of the world war, having enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August, 1914, and I was attested for the Second Australian Imperial Force, 5th June, 1940.

There are other comments upon questions which were asked and answered in the House, and I ask leave to have them incorporated in Hansard. [Leave granted.] They read - [Assurance of Army Minister Forde, as reported in Sydney Morning Herald, the 22nd January, 1942.]

Use of Militiamen in Tropics.

An assurance was given by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) to-day that no untrained militiamen were being or would be sent to Darwin or territories outside Australia proper. Numbers of militiamen were being called up and sent to Adelaide for training and for use "wherever their services were required ", he added. As Darwin was supplied with troops from Adelaide, it was likely that a percentage of men sent to Adelaide would eventually go to Darwin if they were required.

Specific instructions had been issued that no youths, after only a few weeks in camp, should be sent to tropical stations. [Sydney Morning Herald, the 12th February, 1942.]

Minimum age for the Australian Imperial Force is nineteen and youths of this age must produce their parents' or guardians' consent.

But a compulsory trainee of nineteen 'is spirited away, untrained, to Port Moresby, without the knowledge or consent of his guardian, or the knowledge of any of his relatives that he was to leave Sydney. [Sydney Morning Herald, the 11th March, 1942.]

On the 11th March, 1942, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) replied to my representations through Mr. C. A. Morgan, M.H.K. -

It is regretted that Private J. R. Bourke's return to his home State cannot be favorably considered at this juncture. The Commonwealth Government, on the recommendation of its military advisers some time ago, fixed eighteen years of age as the age at which every available male shall begin to discharge 'his obligations to preserve the integrity of the Commonwealth. It is inevitable, therefore, that young men of this age will be infiltrated through units called upon for such purpose, and experience has proved that they are able to stand the rigours of tropical service as well as, and in many cases better than, those of more mature years.

On the 18th March, 1942, when forwarding to me this reply of the Minister for the Army, Mr. Forde, Mr. C. A. Morgan, M.H.R., stated -

In view of the Minister's letter, I think any further request for Private Bourke's return would be futile. [SydneyMorning Herald, the 20th March. 1942.]

By direction of the Military Board,no youths of eighteen are to he posted to action stations. Where they are already posted, they will be withdrawn and assigned to other duties. Protests that some youths in the youngest age group have been called up and sent quickly to action posts have reached members of the Government. They brought the matter before the War Cabinet. Military authorities are understood to have agreed that the use of very young soldiers at action stations should be avoided as far as possible. The policy in future, therefore, will be to post youths of eighteen and nineteen for less arduous duty, and to ensure that those up to twenty years shallbe thoroughly instructed and trained before being sent to action stations.

The cases cited are but a few of thousands throughout the Commonwealth. The Minister for the Army declared yesterday that the morale of units would be shaken if boys of eighteen years of age were withdrawn from them. I fail to understand how that could be so, in view of the fact that the youths had so little training before they were sent to their battle stations. In fact in some instances they had been with their units for only two days, or at the most a week before going to action stations. How can the morale of the Army be affected if untrained boys are not sent to action stations with the trained members of their unit? The reverse, I suggest, is likely to bo the truth. The morale of a unit is likely to be gravely affected if untrained youths have to take their place alongside trained men. It is not fair to commanding officers to be asked to hold the " front gate " of a country, if they have to depend on untrained boys to defend important positions. The idea of sending youngsters after only a few weeks' training to serve in an anti-tank unit passes my comprehension. How any young fellow, withscarcely any knowledge of an anti tank gun, can be expected to have the steadiness let alone the knowledge of a trained man, is baffling to me.

I ask the Minister in charge of the House (Mr. Beasley) to emphasize to Cabinet the necessity for reviewing the recent order of the Military Board permitting these youths to be sent to battle stations. I understand that if a youth was a member of the Militia Forces at the 18th March, he could be sent away with his unit. But if he were called into camp after that date, he must be left at his home station until he is adequately trained to be of some service to the Army. The Minister further informed the House yesterday that according to a decision of War Cabinet youths under the age of twenty would be withdrawn from places like Port Moresby and Darwin. I hope that the cases to which I have referred will be investigated. Untrained men who have been sent to those theatres of war, should, in the interests of the safety of the unit to which they are attached, be brought back for proper training. The order of the Military Board which empowers commanders of units to take untrained youths front the more populous States to serve at action stations should be reviewed.

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