To mark the commemoration of the end of the Second World War, Wodonga Historical Society has prepared an online exhibition about the transition from war to peace on the home front. Associate Professor Bruce Pennay from Charles Sturt University explains how they selected ‘places of significance’ and ‘lesser known stories’ to meet the requirements of a grant the society received from the Victorian Veterans Council.
We started with the idea that the end of the war was a transitional moment. The movement from war to peace prompted reflection on the home front experiences of both the war and the peace that followed it. We looked for places and stories related to both.
How was ‘a people’s war going to lead to a people’s peace’?
Fighting the war on the home front
Places related to fighting the war on the home front were relatively easy to trace given the location of Wodonga, which with its cross-border sister town of Albury, was at the strategically important break of railway gauge.
Military authorities gave a lot of attention to facilitating the transhipment of people and goods needed to conduct the war. Albury’s railway platform was lengthened and its yard expanded. Coal bunkers were erected in Wodonga to cater for the transport of coal from NSW to Victoria, given the hazardous nature of coastal shipping’. It made good military sense to base men and their equipment at the break of railway gauge so that they could be quickly dispatched north or south.
Members of the 4th Employment Company, the ‘Friendly Aliens’ at a transhipment platform, Albury Railway Station. (Australian Railway Historical Society).
Bonegilla Army Camp was hastily built in 1940 to accommodate recruits from the immediate surrounds while they underwent initial training. (State Library of Victoria: H200/90/8822)
A huge ordnance complex was established at Bandiana. It included goods and weapon depots, engineering workshops and massive vehicle and gun parks. (Australian War Memorial 131377)
The 106th Australian General Hospital, a 600-bed military hospital was established at Bonegilla to service defence personnel in the immediate area and to care for the wounded and disabled repatriated from the front. (Colclough family album)
The presence of about 11,000 service personnel in the district was good for the local economy. Arnolds delivered a truck of fruit and vegetables to the army camps three times per week. Flemington Reynolds supplied more than 7000 kilograms of meat per day – local farmers knew that meant 200 sheep of 20 bullocks.