26 August 2016

Canberrans on the Home Front

During the London Blitz in World War II, when bombing raids caused the loss of over one million homes and forty thousand lives, a local woman was asked how the civilians of the country were coping. She replied simply, ‘There are no civilians.’

Parliament House staff doing an inspection  of air raid tranches 27 March 1942
Parliament House staff doing an inspection  of air raid tranches 27 March 1942
Image source: Fitzgerald, 1977, p 118
While these days war might feel quiet separate from civilian life, the Second World War affected all of Australian society, Canberra included. The passing of the National Security Act in 1939 allowed the government to make laws over an unprecedented amount of day-to-day life. Blackouts were imposed, car headlights were dimmed and air raid trenches were dug around buildings like Parliament House, the Causeway, the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings and Telopea Park School. The threat and fear of invasion was very real.

Leslie Lott, who came to Canberra to build Parliament House, spent the war working as a Special Commonwealth Peace Officer, providing dedicated security at critical government locations.

Leslie Lott's Peace Officer Card
Leslie Lott's Peace Officer Card
Source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection


Possibly the biggest effect on day-to-day life was heralded by the advent of identity cards, which required every citizen over sixteen to be nationally registered. First printed in March 1942, identity cards had to be carried at all times, and bore the name, signature and address of the individual. This particular identity card belonged to Olive Lott, who lived in Forrest with her husband Leslie.

Olive Lott's Identity Card
Olive Lott's Identity Card
Source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection
There were heavy penalties for losing, destroying or forging an identity card. The Minister for Labour and National Service, Eddie Ward, once said that he ‘could see no difference between sabotage of the county’s war effort and the sabotage of the register by illegal use of identity cards.’  While this piece of plain brown card is remarkably unassuming, it soon became one of the most vital things a person could have.

The reverse side of Olive Lott's Identity Card
The reverse side of Olive Lott's Identity Card
Source: ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection

Just three months after the introduction of the identity card, rationing was introduced across the country. Due to the war, production focused on guns and aeroplanes, rather than food or clothing, and rationing was a way to ensure that limited necessities could be shared around evenly. Identity cards were the key to obtaining the ration books needed to keep yourself and your family clothed, warm and fed. About Between twelve thousand and fourteen thousand ration books were issued across the ACT, from places like Ainslie Public School, Friendly Society Hall in Kingston, Westridge Hall and other centres. The cost of the war was felt by everyone.

Canberrans celebrating the end of World War 11  before the official cessation 10 August 1945
Canberrans celebrating the end of World War 11  before the official cessation 10 August 1945
Image source: Fitzgerald, 1977, p 
120
The war did eventually end, and rationing was abolished by Prime Minister Ben Chifley in November 1945. Olive and Leslie survived the war, having both contributed in their own way to the war effort. Leslie was especially commended for managing to find the nearly unavailable chemicals needed to keep Manuka Pool open, despite wartime conditions.

The full papers of the Lott family are available for reference at HMSS 0140 Lott Family Collection. Olive’s identity card is currently on display in our Reading Room.

Sources:
Fitzgerald A., 1977, ‘Historic Canberra; A Pictorial Record,’ Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, pp 118-120

1942 'RATION CARDS FORGED', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 19 May, p. 2. , viewed 11 Aug 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2572168