South Australians at War
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

Conflicts : World War Two

PRG691_12_72_Private Allan at Yati RiverIn the years following World War One, Britain, France and other European powers had acquiesced to Germany's determination to reacquire territories lost under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. However, in response to Germany's invasion of Poland, Britain and France declared war on Germany on 2 September 1939. As with the First World War, Australia entered the Second World War through its ties with Britain. Italy and Japan, both countries with expansionist policies (Italy in northern Africa and Japan in the Pacific), entered the war on Germany's side - Italy in 1940 and Japan in 1941. As a result, unlike the First World War in which the hostilities were primarily in Europe, with far more countries drawn into the Second World War and the conflicts involving Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen covered much of the globe.

Approximately one million Australian men were in forces in the 1939-45 war; of these, 54,660 were South Australians. This represented 43 per cent of eligible South Australians.

Despite the greater numbers involved in the Second World War, Australian casualties were much lower than in earlier wars. In the war of 1939-45, 27,291 men and women were killed and approximately 40,000 were wounded. One of the largest categories of casualties was the prisoners of war. Between 1942 and 1945, 22,576 Australians were taken prisoner by the Japanese and only 14,256 survived the war. In the European sphere, of the 7,829 captured, 5,576 were alive when hostilities ended.

3,363 South Australians were killed in the Second World War, representing 8.6 percent of total Australian casualties (source: RSL Virtual War Memorial).

See our Military Records Library Guide for more resources about World War Two.