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An Interview with Warwick Johanson

By Warwick Johanson, 2009 0:00 minutes

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Warwick Johanson paints the picture of Australia under siege, the mobilisation of resources and the community during World War II. He describes the effect of the war not only on the nation but also on the daily lives of sailors.

Collection In Our Words: Stories from Victorian Veterans


How do communities respond to war?

World War II

During World War II the Australian community was under threat.

  • Outline the chronology of this war. 
  • What were the main threats to Australia? 
  • What were the threats to other parts of the world? 
  • What other types of threats can affect communities? In small groups, make a list of your ideas. Compare this list with other groups.

Comparison to today

Warwick states that 1 million Australians were involved in the services during World War II. At that time, Australia had a population of approximately 7 million people. 

  • What percentage of the population was involved in the services?
  • If the same proportion of the Australian population was directly involved in a conflict today, how many people would this represent?
  • Make a relative comparison to the size of our large cities to illustrate the impact of this number.

Warwick talks of another time in Australia’s history. He claims that Australia had never been in such peril. He also claims that he was brought up to believe that leaders knew what they were doing.

  • Do you believe this is still the case?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a society where people believe their leaders are correct? Divide the class into two large groups to debate this topic.

A sailor’s experience

Warwick talks about life for the sailors on the HMS Australia. 

  • What were the primary objectives for the HMS Australia? 
  • What were the physical conditions like for the sailors? 
  • What were their working hours? 
  • Why did friendships become so important for the sailors during the war?

He explains that for many servicemen, you were “frightened to show you’re frightened”. 

  • What does he mean by this? 
  • Why would servicemen feel this?

Conditions were also difficult for civilians.

  • Outline some of the hardships experienced by those people left at home.

Research – World War I

Warwick worked as a signalman on the HMS Australia.

  • What systems for communication existed at that time?
  • What was the ‘greatest sin’ a signalman could commit?

Warwick refers to several significant events that occurred during the war. 

  • What were these events?
  • Research one of these events. Where and when did it occur? What was its significance? Present your findings to the class.