11th March 1941
‘Give us the tools, and we will
finish the job.’
‘All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win
in the world is for good men to do
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
English statesman and writer born in
READ A SAMPLE:
1924 - 1942
A Munich court packed with noisy followers cheers
the derisory sentence passed on the Nazi leader, Adolph Hitler. He is given five
years in prison for high treason but told he could be paroled in six months. The
sentence is seen as a timid April Fool’s Day slap on the wrist by sympathetic
Mussolini’s fascists win a sweeping victory in the
Italian election. An early assessment of the results shows they won nearly 400
out of 535 seats in the new chamber. Among them were some Liberals who do not
approve of Il Duce’s policies but believe he is the last defence against
Four months after Lenin’s death in January, Joseph
Stalin is seen to be emerging as the Soviet Union’s strongman. He achieves
several tactical successes at the Communist Party congress, including preventing
a debate on Lenin’s posthumous ‘testament’ which is known to be sharply critical
of Stalin’s character.
Winston Churchill is appointed Chancellor of the
Exchequer in the newly elected Tory Government where it is expected he’ll start
wielding the economy axe with his usual gusto.
Paroled after serving eight months, Adolf Hitler says
he plans to publish the book he dictated to colleague, Rudolph Hess, during his
time in prison. When he told his friends he wanted to call the book
Four-and-a-Half Years of Struggle Against Lies. Stupidity and Cowardice they
told him to think of a shorter title.
Published in July 1925 under the title of Mein
Kampf (My Struggle), the book is described as a rambling mixture of
self-pitying autobiography, diatribes against Jews, the glorification of man as
a fighting animal and a call to the German people to join his Nazi Party and
spearhead a national revival.
Anne Preston was born in 1924, the same fateful year
that fascism, communism and democracy started on the collision course that
exploded into the Second Great World War. The younger of Jim and May Preston’s
two daughters, Anne was frequently very ill. Two major illnesses, German measles
and diphtheria, left her vulnerable to infection. Because play with other
children was often limited she grew up especially close to her family,
particularly her father.
When she was ill her father sat by her bed reading
stories. When she was well he bought her books to read – Alice in Wonderland was
a favourite. Sometimes they discussed the books, sometimes they just talked. A
trained singer with a light tenor voice, Jim was a carpenter. During the 1930’s
Depression years when tradesmen couldn’t find work the family was so poor that
Anne and her sister often walked to school with cardboard-soled shoes so thin
that on the way home their bare feet were touching the pavement.
A proud man, the shame of the Depression years never
left Jim. Even as a very young child, Anne empathised with his pain. Her father
was her best friend. May was the disciplinarian who supervised Anne’s studies
even when she was confined to the sick room. Ambitious for her children, May
worked as a housemaid to fund music lessons. Anne learned to play the piano,
Coral the violin.
Apart from fragile health, Anne’s other big problem
was above-average intelligence. Living in a blue-collar suburb where anything
other than average was ridiculed, she hated being clever even more than she
hated being ill. But time was to show that being different from other outer
suburban children, even her sister, was Anne’s destiny.
Soon after her 10th birthday her parents
enrolled her in an elite secondary school. Many of her classmates were new
Australians, some Asian and some European. One was a Jew who’d left Germany with
his parents because they believed that while Hitler ruled no Jew was safe
anywhere in Europe. When the neighbourhood children were thinking of football
and fun, Anne was learning of Hitler’s Europe.
At 12 she was appointed salaried organist at the
local St Margaret’s Church of England. Not only was she far too young for the
job, she was also not a believer. If anyone had asked why she didn’t believe in
God, she’d have thought about it and decided she was probably an agnostic like
her parents. But no one asked and she didn’t think about it.
In December 1936, when England’s King Edward VIII
gave up his throne for the love of a woman, Anne understood that the abdication
was beneficial. As a staunch admirer of Hitler, Edward should never sit on the
English throne. She understood
because her forward-thinking history teacher, who regularly kept them up to date
with the current troubling events, had predicted the possibility. He also
explained that the truce which had ended the war to end all wars in 1918 was so
controversial that it had provoked what many people believed would be a second
The battles between communism and fascism were
escalating. In Spain young idealists from all over the world were flocking to
join the communist rebels fighting against fascism in a brutal civil war.
Spain’s Dictator, General Franco, was being helped by Adolph Hitler, who sent
German bombers to destroy the city of Guernica.
In 1938, when Germany annexed Austria, Britain was
prepared to go to war to defend France and Belgium from unprovoked aggression.
But on 30th September Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain,
signed an agreement with Germany’s Dictator, Adolph Hitler. When he returned to
London with the famous message ‘I believe it is peace for our time’, many MPs
called the agreement a sell-out to Hitler. The next day German troops marched
with no resistance into Czechoslovakia.
A month later, more than 7000 of Germany’s Jewish
shops were looted and hundreds of synagogues were burned down. An unknown number
of Jews died. Newspapers reported that ‘in Berlin well-dressed women clapped and
screeched with laughter at the sight of Jews being beaten senseless by youths
with lead pipes.’
Less than a year later, on 23rd
August 1939, in a move that surprised and shocked the Western Powers, Nazi
Germany and the Communist Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact.
When Hitler threatened Poland, which Britain was
bound by treaty to defend, the outbreak of war in Europe became virtually
1st September. In a blitzkrieg attack,
German forces cross the Polish frontier.
3rd September. At 9.30 pm, Australia and
New Zealand, with Britain, France and India, declare war on Germany.
Initially the war changed nothing in the Preston
family life. Although, like everyone else, they lived in dread of the future,
they tried to live each day as though there was no war. Soon after Anne’s 15th
birthday she played the piano at two concerts which again broadened her horizons
and at the same time cemented the general perception of her difference.
The first concert was in the women’s wing of
Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison. The crowded auditorium had high, barred windows
and uniformed guards lining the walls. The prisoners wore grey uniforms with
black and white hand-knitted stockings and heavy black shoes. When Anne and her
mother arrived a young prisoner was playing the piano. Her face was swollen, her
eyes red. The guard said she was 14. When she left the piano, Anne took her
place. Reluctant to begin, she placed one foot on the pedal and saw only the
black and white stockings and heavy black shoes of the prisoner. She played
Beethoven. The audience applauded, politely. Too late, she understood that she
should have played something less classical.
The young prisoner haunted Anne’s nightmares for
years. Along with the questions. What crime had she committed? How could the law
sentence a 14-year-old to the same prison as hardened criminals? What had
happened to her? Could something like that happen to me?
The second concert was when she was the school
pianist. A stark contrast to Pentridge Prison, the venue was the Melbourne Town
Hall. The lights were chandeliers, the piano was a beautiful August Forster
grand, and the audience was parents and children from her school. Many of them
were people who’d fled Nazi Germany when Hitler came to power, so she again
played Beethoven. For two reasons – the first was that she was at her best
playing Beethoven; the second was to make a statement. She wanted to let the
immigrants know that she deeply respected all that Beethoven represented, that
Australians knew all Germans were not like Adolph Hitler.
Maybe the audience appreciated what she was doing,
maybe not. The point was that she was thinking things through at a deeper level
than she would have if there’d been no Second World War, if there’d been no
persecution of Jews, if she’d attended a local suburban school, if her history
teacher didn’t discuss current international affairs.
At the end of the year she passed her Leaving
Certificate exams. Still too young for university even if her parents could have
afforded it, she worked in a Coles Store office. Importantly, she could now
afford to pay for the piano lessons which would eventually qualify her to be a
teacher, maybe even a concert pianist.
Meanwhile she read the newspapers and listened to the
wireless with growing dismay. In April 1940, Denmark was overrun and the German
invasion of Norway began. Nazi sympathiser, Major Vidkun Quisling, went on the
Oslo radio to proclaim himself head of the government, and ordered all
resistance of Germany to cease. In the same month, the Australian Treasurer
blamed the activities of the Communists for undermining Australia’s war effort
by diminishing the supply of materials for home defence and the troops abroad.
In May, the Belgian Armed Forces surrendered to the Germans. The speed of the
shock defeat led to rumours of the significant part played by Fifth Columnist
activity in bringing about the surrender of Holland and Belgium.
In June, after the Germans had threatened them with
total annihilation, a huge fleet of destroyers, ferries, fishing vessels and
river cruisers evacuated the British, French and Belgian troops from Dunkirk. At
the end of the month, the French surrendered to the Germans at the historically
significant location of Compiegne in France. This was in the same place and in
the same railway coach that the Germans had surrendered to the French General
Foch in 1918. Obviously relishing the humiliation which put half of France under
German occupation, Hitler sat in the same chair used by General Foch in 1918.
On 20th August, England’s Prime
Minister, Winston Churchill, paid tribute to the Royal Air Force pilots fighting
the Battle of Britain: ‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by
so many to so few.’ There could be no doubt. England’s Prime Minister was
acknowledging that Britain was about to suffer the same fate as France.
Early in 1941, the situation of the war in North
Africa slumped dramatically. After playing a big hand in sacking the Italians
from the port of Bandia in January, in April the Australian Ninth Division were
left with the massive task of holding Tobruk which was under siege by the
In Australia there seemed to be only bad news. On all
fronts the war was being lost. America was not going to help. Although the
American President would have come to Britain’s aid, the American people were
against becoming involved in European affairs. Yet Churchill remained
United States President, Franklin D Roosevelt, signed the Lend-Lease agreement
with Britain. Lend-Lease allowed Britain to use American military equipment
without paying for it until after the war.
Winston Churchill responded, ‘Give us the tools, and
we will finish the job.’
Optimistic as ever, and a great orator, Churchill was
wrong. Clearly Britain was just another small country not strong enough to
withstand Hitler’s army. But only three months later Hitler made a critical
mistake. Instead of following up his success at Dunkirk by invading Britain,
which almost certainly would have meant German victory, he broke the
non-aggression pact with Stalin and attacked Russia.
All that was happening a long way from Australia. Our
men were fighting and dying overseas because the European war was a just war.
The Nazis and their Allies had to be stopped. The persecution had to end, the
people whose aim was to wipe out all but the Aryan race had to be beaten
whatever the cost.
The cost for Australians was nowhere near as high as
it was for the British and the French. Until 7th December 1941. On
that infamous day, 300 Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. A
massive surprise attack, it brought the United States of America into the Second
World War. American President, Roosevelt, said of the attack: ‘Our enemies have
performed a brilliant feat of deception, perfectly timed and executed with great
On 8th December, Australian Prime
Minister, John Curtin, announced that Australia was also at war with Japan. ‘Men
and women of Australia, the call is to you for your courage, your physical and
mental ability, your inflexible determination that we as a free people will
survive. My appeal to you is in the name of Australia, for Australia is the
stake in this contest.’
On 27th December the
construction of air raid shelters began in Australia. Australians living in
Australia could expect to be bombed.
Jim Preston started digging a slit trench to shelter
his family from aerial attack. He never finished it.