Australia's War Effort


By SIR HERBERT GEPP, Managing Director of Australian Paper Manufacturers, Ltd.

At Monthly Meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, March 5, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 335-338.

MR. President and gentlemen, I thank you for this opportunity to tell you something about my own country and to make such contributions as I can as a visitor to the United States. America has been very kind to Australians and to none more than to my family and myself. This is my sixth visit to your country—1898, 1911, 1915-16 for 22 months, 1919, 1938 and now. Supplementing what your President has said in introducing me, I would like to give you my present background.

I flew across the Pacific to San Francisco in September last on what was intended to be a visit of a few weeks to do certain work for my Government. The work has taken longer than was expected, but I hope shortly to be again in Australia to do what I can to help, and more specifically to be with my wife, my four children and five grandchildren during this period of ever-increasing danger. I have one son-in-law who, after three months in Tobruk as an army

surgeon, is now in charge of a hospital in Palestine. His wife, my second daughter, who is also a doctor, is carrying on in Australia, with three children, and working at her profession during his absence overseas. My oldest daughter is the chief publicity officer for the Australian Headquarters of the Red Cross. Two other children in Australia are both in war work. My youngest daughter, who has her commercial flying license and is 21 years of age, has just arrived in England, by convoy, and will shortly be helping to fly planes from factories to aerodromes and from aerodromes to repair shops. Her husband, who is a senior officer in the R. A. F., has been in Canada for several years and is now in England.

I would like briefly to tell you something about Australia and the Australians.

Australia has some 3,000,000 square miles of country. So has the United States. But you are better off than we are.

You have much more good lands and a much larger area of good rainfall. For instance, of your 3,000,000 square miles approximately 2,400,000 square miles are more or less suitable for agricultural or pastoral pursuits; whilst of our 3,000,000 square miles only 750,000 square miles are in the same category. Again, you have some 800,000 square miles on which the rainfall annually is 40 in. or more. We have only one-tenth of that area of good rainfall country—80,000 square miles.

As an Australian nation we owe our original to your forebears of the Revolutionary War. We are the descendants by historic causation and you by biological process. When your people won the Revolutionary War against the bureaucracy then controlling England, it was no longer possible for England to send to Georgia and to other states those whom they did not wish to keep in England. Your Revolutionary War ended in 1781. The first fleet, under Captain Phillip, arrived in Sydney Harbour in Australia, carrying many convicts, in 1786. And so we are historically, at least, related.

When towards the end of the eighteenth century the white man set out to settle Australia, he found a land practically uninhabited except by primitive nomads. The first white men did not know, and therefore did not realize, the job of work indicated by the fact that there must have been a reason for the emptiness of Australia while there were millions occupying the fertile islands to the North of Australia.

The first fifty years after the early settlement of Australia were uneventful. Then came the gold discoveries of the 1850's. Gold was found in large quantities and easily won. These discoveries acted as a magnet to the adventurous spirits of the world, including many of the 49ers of California.

As the alluvial deposits were exhausted, mining developed and rich deposits of gold, silver, lead, tin and copper were worked.

Steadily, there came from overseas a flow of agricultural and pastoral settlers who were unhappy or unemployed in Great Britain, and Ireland. Later, to a lesser extent, people came from Europe.

The strange old continent which had offered no attractions during the previous centuries to people seeking new homes yielded its secrets only slowly to the adventurous white men who had come or had been brought to Australia.

By this time the basis of the Australian nation had been determined. There were the so-called convicts, most of whom were not criminals, they were just rebels against European society; there were the adventurous spirits of the gold mining period and there were the subsequent migrants who were looking for a wider and better sphere in which to live and bring up their children. This blend of different types was faced, although they did not know it, with the problem of finding out how to turn to account the resources of this great island continent which had previously resisted the efforts of people from overseas.

There were no immediate resources. There was nothing that corresponded with the Indian corn in the United States. Much of the land suitable for agriculture lay beyond the great barriers of the coastal ranges.

In great areas good cereal crops could not be grown, even with good rainfall, until it was discovered that the soil was peculiarly short in phosphates. New grades of wheat and other cereals had to be developed to suit the sudden inrush of summer heat at harvest time.

The breeding of the Australian Merino sheep is a romance and a triumph of brains and courage—a real instance of adaption to environment—a refusal to accept defeat—a victory for a determined attack against new and unexpected difficulties.

Industries grew slowly until federation of the six colonieswas achieved at the end of the 19th century.

Then the tragedy of the Great War of 1914-18 fell on the world, including Australia. We at that time were scarcely a nation. The Great War made us a nation, at terrible cost.

We sent overseas 300,000 men, the best of our men. 60,000 were killed or died of wounds. Later many more died from war effects. More were permanently affected. We had at that time only five and a half million people.

Actually, we lost more than 100,000 of the cream of our youth who would have been the fathers of many of the best of the next generation.

Your loss was similar in number. You had 120,000,000 people.

And now we are fighting another war. Already, with our 7 million people, our losses have been serious. But the spirit of the people is unshaken. We shall fight on with our mother country, with your great country, with the other dominions and with our allies until we achieve victory, whatever it may cost.

Bringing the figures of September last up to date, I estimate that we now have some 200,000 men in the army, voluntarily enlisted for service overseas or wherever necessary; we have 100,000 men in the air force, many of them already overseas; 20,000 men in the navy, and several hundreds of thousands in the home guard. Altogether, we have well over 500,000 men in uniform, approximately 8 per cent of the total population. In addition, we have practically the whole of the rest of the population now engaged on the industrial front. Even in September, when I left Australia, we had over 200,000 men and women working in the production of weapons of war and provisions of clothing and food stuffs for the fighting services overseas and in Australia.

Today, with the home country in imminent danger, the Australian nation is on a full wartime basis. Non-essential industries are closed or are being closed, and the personnel, plants and equipment are being converted to war purposes. Every available person is doing war work under government direction. Women have taken the place of men wherever possible. Every available man is either in the fighting services or producing food, clothing or munitions for war needs. Profits are restricted to 4 per cent on invested capital. In every direction drastic regulations apply. The safety of the State is the highest law.

I think that I can make my small contribution at the present moment by telling you where, in my opinion, Australia could have done a better and a quicker job since 1939.

I have been occupied all my life in developing new industries or in expanding existing ones.

I have always tried to start off first in the laboratory, second, in a pilot mill, and, third, on a steadily expanding commercial basis. This programme avoids many heart-aches about financing, production and personnel. It provides the essential analysis for rapid expansion. It develops progressively the problems which have to be overcome as operations become larger.

Some years ago, when I was developing the electrolytic zinc industry in Australia, a friend in this country wrote saying that he was glad I had a pilot mill because trying out new ideas in his big mill was like a man trying to throw an elephant about.

We in Australia are younger than you as a nation. We are somewhat older than you in our experience during this war. I suggest that, to an extent, we can be regarded as your pilot mill.

To other countries less immediately threatened than is Australia I would say (based upon an intense and bitter experience)—

First—That the price of future safety is eternal spiritual, mental and physical vigilance—a vigilance that rejects instinctively the passive attitude of mind and body—a vigilance that maintains a crystal-clear picture of the worst conceivable possibility, and prepares urgently and completely to win by holding the initiative.

Second—That unity of purpose in the face of a ruthless enemy predicates an understanding companionship throughout the nation which can only be created by leadership actively operating throughout all sections of the nation.

Third—That our freedoms in a democracy demand in return constructive support to the principal leaders of the nation—ideas and actions should surge irresistibly up from the people as well as permeate down from the top.

On the shoulders of the men in Washington there lies a burden too great to bear unless the weight is eased by the nation rising in its organized might insisting that it can and will help.

Only because it will help to make my point do I mention that I was one of those in Australia who thought, watched, warned and worked for years, privately and publicly, to arouse the nation to its dangers.

In 1938, after a short visit to North America, I wrote, by request, several special articles for the principal papers in Australia, including the Sydney Morning Herald. I said inter alia "Every industrial leader, every union leader, indeed, every man and woman, youth and girl in Australia should know either what he or she can do now or later as may be necessary, or should be satisfied that those in charge of their daily life should know what they must do and prepare to do if, unfortunately, the worst occurs. The leaders of Australia in all sections of life can rest assured that if the nation is fully advised and informed there will be no doubt about the morale of the nation and of the willingness to make the necessary sacrifices in time, energy and money. If the dangerous tendency of democracy to argue, to falter, to dissipate time and energy is not to be fatal, then a rapid and intelligent appreciation of the dangers of the present situation must be accepted by the people of Australia, and then must voluntarily concur in, and support, for the time being, rigid restrictions of individual liberties and activities."

In May 1941, I gave, by request, certain broadcasts over the national radio network in which I urged the nation to think out what should be done with the enemy at our front and back doors. I gave a number of instances of things that should be done, including the transfer of personnel, plant and equipment from non-essential to war production. This is now being done at a very late hour.

Now, let me give you the essence of this problem which, as a democracy, the Australian people faced from September 1939 onwards. It moved steadily forward in the production of munitions of all kinds—rifles, machine guns, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, munitions and explosives for all the services, corvettes and steamers, aeroplanes and aeroplane engines, radio equipment, optical glass, metals of all kinds, including metallic magnesium, and many other weapons of war and supplies for war.

At every stage of the war Australia speeded up its efforts. At every stage it thought it had then reached the limit of its production and all its adjustments of living to meet increased danger.

In spite of all the lightning flashes on the political and war horizons, in spite of the increasing list of casualties, there was the unthinking belief that "it couldn't happen here."

There was an idea that everything was being done that could be done; that for instance there was ample man and woman power available for everything that it was necessary to do. The ever-present problem of unemployment in peace-

time seemed to convey to the average mind the idea that there was plenty of people for all possible jobs.

Whilst many efforts were made by the government and private organizations to speed up training against eventualities, there was an absence of that intense national realization, without which, it is difficult for everything that should be done to be done.

Nearly two years ago, a number of my technical assistants and I, realizing the urgent desire of many women to do more war effort, decided to see what response we would have to an offer to train, at night, women as munition workers. I put a small paragraph in an evening paper in Melbourne indicating our proposals. We had over 1,000 applications in six days. We started classes of fifty women over a course of ten weeks, one night per week for each class, five different classes each week. We had over 90 per cent attendance and over 90 per cent of the women passed the examinations at the end of the course, which dealt with simple mechanics and machine shop practice. The staff worked rosters on instructing. When the first batch was finished, another batch was started. Most of these women are now working in munition factories and I am informed that they are welcomed on account of their knowledge and intelligence.

An inspiring example of what can be done by industry itself is the operation of the War Time Machine Shop Board of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, assisted by a portion of the mining industry.

By a brilliant piece of organization and with the cooperation of prime contractors building ships, making guns and other war requirements, the machine shops of this industry are using an average of 16 hours daily for subcontracting on war work, guided and helped by the non-profit organization built up from the industry itself. Simultaneously, the industry is thinning out its own skilled labour to help others and training more mechanics to help themselves, other industries and the fighting services, all of which call for more skilled mechanics. In 1942 this effort will do work to the value of $5,000,000.00.

Winston Churchill has said that this is a war of organization, technical apparatus, science, mechanics and morale.

Time does not allow of much that I would like to say, but I select two points: The first dealing with technical apparatus and science, and the second with organization. With regard to technical apparatus and science, I desire to repeat what I said less than a fortnight ago to over 1,000 members of a scientific and technical organization. I repeat it now because I think it is urgently important.

This is a war of new ideas as well as of men and munitions. One new idea developed and applied may win the war. May I suggest that, if it is not already done, all the scientific and technical associations in the United States join in urging the chiefs of staffs of the fighting services and the National Inventors Council, and/or the National Defense Research Council to submit, confidentially, to a selected joint committee a list of problems on which work might be done by special committees of the associations—in consultation with the Washington authorities.

In the March number of Readers' Digest there is an interesting special article entitled "Second Call for Inventions." It misses a vital point. Some of us in Australia and in Britain have been continuously urging a more intensive co-option of the scientific and technical brains of industry and commerce by submitting, confidentially, the essential facts pertaining to special problems. Without this information the inventive genius of the nation is ham-strung to a great extent. I know much is being done in research. From my Australian experience I venture to ask—Are all the available brains being used and in the best way? Building ships to replace losses by enemy action is essential. One new idea might reduce these losses substantially. And many other instances in many directions can be quoted.

With regard to organization, I would draw your attention to an article by Jas. B. Reston on the first page of the New York Times Magazine, March 1, 1942, entitled: "Are We Awake or Are We Suffering from Five Great Illusions."

I recommend you all to read it, because as a visitor, somewhat informed by observation and contact, I believe there is much truth therein.

Again on Monday last I read with interest an article by Dorothy Thompson entitled "The Nation and the State" dated at New York, March 1st. Everyone should study this survey which is pregnant with truths and warnings.

Under a handicap of over five years of lost time, we, of the democracies are organizing to defeat the Axis Powers. It is a tremendous job. Its success depends upon not only the will to help—also upon the nation-wide plan whereby that will can be translated into effective work at once. This can be done only by leadership, inspired and determined, in every city, town and village.

This is the lesson that we have learnt in Australia— slowly—I hope not too slowly.

It is our message to you—the need for speed in using the talents and energies of everyone—everywhere—mobilize the whole nation.

Although I have no specific examples, I have no doubt that through the powers given to the Federal Government by the War Precautions Act, national habits and even laws whichretard necessary action have been suspended—during the emergency.

It is clear that unimagined present sacrifices for future security are being demanded, and made, without demur.

Speaking to the Montreal Rotary Club on Tuesday last in the same strain Dr. Wilbur G. Penfield, a noted neurologist, quoted a motto on a sundial "It is later than you think."

As for the future post-war, it seems to me that the companionship and understanding born of peril, of blood, of sweat and of tears, of mental and physical anguish, should enable us to create a better social system, should enable us to solve the cancer of unemployment, should enable us to raise the standard of health and to utilize the power which science has given us over the forces of nature for improvement rather than for destruction.

If the world is to survive with a civilized community, the objective in the future must be better spiritual, mental and physical health for everyone.

We have to realize that the valley of the shadow through which we are passing has been of our own making. We can only hope that we shall learn a lesson and leave a better world for those who follow us.

Nothing becomes men and nations more than calm courage in the face of unexpected reverses.

With this in mind I feel sure that the United Nations will achieve victory now that the dangers and the size of the job are recognized.

With Wordsworth—let our persuasion and belief ripen into faith and our faith become a passionate intuition—and we shall not fail.