In December 1941, the Japanese attacked the Americans at Pearl Harbour, ushering in a new phase of the war. Suddenly, the fighting was not thousands of miles away in Europe and Africa, but much closer to home, approaching Australian shores rapidly down the South-East Asian peninsula. People in Western Australia began to genuinely fear for their safety and security. Japanese submarines were sighted off the coast, Japanese planes bombed Darwin, and when the supposedly impregnable British fortress at Singapore fell in February 1942, things looked dire.
Volunteer Defence Corps
The Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC), or the Home Guard, were already in operation, having been officially formed in May 1941, though in practice most RSL sub-branches had formed their own Home Guard units in the first months of the war. With the official formation, all men - rather than only veterans of the previous war - between the ages of 18 and 60 in good health were encouraged to sign up.
VDC formation in Cockburn
Spearwood had its own RSL sub-branch that had been active throughout the interwar years, known as the Spearwood-Hamilton Hill sub-branch. This encompassed most returned servicemen in the the Cockburn district.
In July 1940, all eligible men in the area were encouraged to attend the sub-branch’s annual meeting, where enrolments would be taken for the VDC.
The resulting Cockburn district VDC platoon was called “Spearwood”, though members lived in all areas south of Fremantle.
Metropolitan Perth was divided into three Battalions, with the Spearwood unit falling under the Number 2 (Fremantle) Battalion, alongside the districts of Mundijong, Armadale, Kelmscott-Roleystone, Gosnells, Canning, Carlisle, Victoria Park, South Perth, Melville, North-East Fremantle, Fremantle, and Darling Range.
In September 1941, the Fremantle, North-East Fremantle, and Spearwood units amalgamated to form ‘A’ company of the Fremantle Battalion, making administration easier and slightly more centralised. The Spearwood unit would eventually became known as Number 3 Platoon, A Company, Fremantle Battalion.
Assembly and training
The Spearwood unit’s headquarters was the Spearwood RSL Hall, and they assembled weekly at a local landmark, usually “Tylee’s Corner” (named for the Tylee Lime Kilns
) on Rockingham Road to be driven by transport to A Company’s headquarters at East Fremantle Oval, or further afield, for drills, training, and parade.
Drills were carried out most Sundays, and could be anything from training in ‘new weapons’ and rifle range shooting at Owen Anchorage or Swanbourne, to anti-aircraft defence training. Most often the directive was simply ‘half-day’s training’, which for Spearwood men would be all they could manage once travel time was taken into account.
Instructions like ‘steel hats and gas respirators will be carried’ were common refrains, and weekly notifications of Sunday drills and arrangements were published on Saturdays in The West Australian.
These training days ramped up in late 1942, and were held consistently throughout 1943. The turn of the fortunes of the Allies in mid-1944 saw a dropping off of VDC commitments, though they were still an organised force right up until the war was over.
The VDC was officially disbanded in Western Australia in September 1945. Members were invited one last time by announcements in the paper to parade at their local headquarters and turn in their equipment, namely ‘0.303 rifle and sling, oil bottle, pullthrough, bandolier, belt and frog, bayonet and scabbard’.
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