For anyone under 21, just wanting to join the fight against the Axis powers in World War II wasn’t enough – someone had to vouch for you.
The National Archive of Australia released a trove of references written for hopeful enlistees about 70 years ago, before their interviews to join the RAAF.
They tell a story of young men and women from big cities, small towns, and all kinds of industries keen to down tools and join the war effort.
Adelaide-based Guinea Airways Limited seemed unwilling to talk up Mr Ellens’ abilities in this reference (pictured, courtesy National Archives of Australia)
Beaurepaires manager felt it important to point out that Gordon Cuthbertson had the ‘guts’ to fight in defence of his country in their reference to the RAAF (pictured, courtesy National Archives of Australia)
The applicants came from workplaces including a Beaurepairs tyre shop in Ballarat, a cinema beside Lake Macquarie, Taubmans paint head office in Brisbane, inner Sydney Don’s Car Repair garage, and Carlton and United Breweries in Melbourne.
Their references provide insights into normal life before going to war would undoubtedly change them.
Between 1939 and 1944, 215,000 Australians served in the RAAF.
The national pride in the war effort was evident, as was their lack of awareness about what was really in front of them and the apparent ordinariness of the airmen and women who the passing of time has romanticised.
Some of them were so ordinary they were apparently not up to the task.
Having been asked to write a reference for Warrant Officer Ellens, Guinea Airways’ Chief Pilot J Chapman, of Adelaide, didn’t hold back.
‘The position, as I see it, is that Warren Officer Ellens has absolutely no idea of navigation and cannot be trusted to be left alone in the cockpit of the machine, even for a short period,’ Mr Chapman said.
The owner of Nanango Garage wanted it known in this reference that Archibald Muir wasn’t afraid of working overtime and that he would be welcome back if he didn’t make the RAAF (pictured, courtesy National Archives of Australia)
Roy Durbin was recommended as ‘a straightforward lad, and of very good character’ in Eddy’s Warehousemen’s reference supplied to the RAAF in 1942 (pictured, courtesy National Archives of Australia)
‘As far as I am concerned, he merely fills the seat of the second pilot… I have given up any hope of being able to do anything with him.’
Kylie Johnson, of the National Archives, said it was possible that Mr Chapman was being cruel to be kind – and actually attempting to save the young man’s life.
‘We can only guess what people really thought behind the words they wrote,’ she said.
Mostly it seems employers were proud of their employees’ and their willingness to enlist.
‘I have known him and his family for 15 years and I can honestly say that he is a lad who will have the “guts” to do his share in defence of his country,’ Beaurepaires Ballarat’s manager of Gordon Cuthbertson wrote.
Carlton and United Breweries were not the only employers to note that their employee was ‘anxious’ to join the RAAF. The company said BM Callanan, a fitter and turner, ‘was intelligent and bears excellent character’ (pictured, courtesy National Archives of Australia)
Melvic Theatre at Belmont recommended OJ Ward as ‘a man of excellent character and has always strived to be a good citizen’ in this reference to the RAAF (pictured, courtesy National Archives of Australia)
Taubmans’ F. Foster, wrote of Mr AFW Ensor: ‘He has the ability to control men and organise work, and I feel his efforts can be utilised to advantage of work of a more national character.’
New Systems telephones manager RM Davies wrote: ‘We have pleasure in granting him his wish and congratulate him on the loyalty he has displayed by his action,’ of junior refrigeration mechanic Raymond Howell’s application.’
It is evident from the references many didn’t fully understand the nature of war – several wishing their employees ‘every success’ in their endeavour and many keen to offer a job back to them when their service was completed.
Over 27,000 Australians – including nearly 6500 airmen and women – died, and more than 23,000 were wounded in World War II.
Some bosses took the reference as a chance to complain that the war was bad for business.
In a letter guaranteeing a job for Harold Noakes after he served, the manager at Adairs Brothers Drapers, wrote that Mr R Adair suffered a ‘complete mental and physical breakdown in consequence of shortage of competent staff’.
FH Latham and Son report having to turn down orders from Europe due to labour shortages.
Carlton and United Breweries asked permission to replace their enlistee with someone who was too old for military service.
Source: Daily Mail UK