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The Veterans’ Fear – War all over again – the Territory

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Remembrance Day in 1939 had a special relevance for the men of the Territory who had served in the Great War 20 years previously.

The war which had been so terrible for all countries involved looked like being fought all over again. And once more, it was to be action against the Germans. First Italy, and then Japan, would join in, and in fact World War II was the most heavy in terms of casualties the planet had ever seen.

In Darwin and Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek, there were men who had survived the 1914-18 conflict and rebuilt their lives. Some, like Fred Prentice from Powell’s Creek, near Elliot, south of Katherine, were further afield. In 1939 Prentice was probably in Kalgoorlie, mining, although he later worked at Marble Bar. Prentice had won the prestigious Military Medal, which entitled the recipient to use the letters “MM” after their name.

The Territory’s most famous soldier, Albert Borella VC, had not returned to the land development he had tried in the Daly River area. Post-war he returned to his native Victoria, where on the day that the new war broke out he reported to his nearest Army base. “Aren’t you that VC bloke?” was probably the greeting he got. The 64 VCs Australia had received in WWI had made their recipients famous.

Borella in 1939 was now 57 years of age – he had joined up in Darwin aged 33 – and there was no expectation in the country that men of that age would serve. But his experience and willingness were not to be passed up, and Borella served in WWII in the southern states, in command of camps for those interned in case of possible enemy sympathies. Ironically, Borella’s family background had some Italian heritage, and some of those imprisoned under his watch were also Italian.

Across the Territory at the outbreak of war in early September 1939, the news in the Northern Standard newspaper was at first positive. On 8 September the paper reported that: “The war is proceeding in almost every way according to plan” and that “The Poles are carefully withdrawing…” 

Both statements were to prove massive understatements in the light of later events; the German Army and Air Force smashed the Polish defences and Adolf Hitler’s launch of his plans across Europe was off to a flying start.

In Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs and beyond, all across the Territory, there were veterans of the Great War – which was what the 1914-18 conflict was called.

It would be some time before the new war was to be given a number.

Borella on the Daly in 1913, 4th from left second back row. (Borella Family)
Frederick Prentice, from the Territory, who served in WWI. (Australian Army)
A colourised portrait of Borella, with his VC ribbon. (Borella Family)