The threat of an enemy attack on Tasmanian soil during World War II was thought as unlikely early on, before the perceived threat rose and thousands signed up to the state’s Civil Defence Legion.
The state government set up the legion in 1939 to prepare the civil population to respond in the event of an air raid.
Thoughts of an attack on the Apple Isle had intensified in 1940 after enemy mines were found near the entrance of the Derwent River and again in 1942 when a Japanese submarine-launched plane conducted a reconnaissance mission over Hobart.
Although these events were not released publicly until after the war, a perceived threat was still felt by the community.
Launceston historian Anne Green said the detailed plans and the dedication of the legion highlighted the public’s concerns of an attack.
“Some of the documentation in the archives and … the sheer nature of what they’re doing. You don’t do that, if there’s no concern,” she said.
“There was a legitimate fear of invasion. Now, in hindsight, we can say, the Japanese never intended to invade. This is never going to happen, but you don’t know.
“They did go to extraordinary lengths because they didn’t know what would happen and they didn’t want to be unprepared if the worst did happen.”
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Ten sectors in Launceston were set up and a head office established at 89 Cameron Street. Each section had its own air raid warden, transport officer, medical officer, volunteer staff, evacuation plans, sirens, shelters, supply lists and casualty stations.
The sectors were City, Trevallyn, West Launceston, Kings Meadows, South Launceston, Invermay, Inveresk, Newstead, East Launceston and St Leonards.
Volunteer men and women made up the sectors, lending a hand and their special skills to prepare for the unthinkable.
By August 1940 the Legion was holding air raid rehearsals in the city, with all sectors and more than 2000 people participating, including the coordination of 250 cars and up to 60 trucks as transport.
Historic documents from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery’s collection show the intricate details the sectors kept.
Each sector’s supply lists detailed the number of cars, their locations and their seating capacity, licensed drivers, bicycles and riders, first aid posts, factories to sound sirens and reporting stations.
Similarly each sector also had a list of public halls, churches and other infrastructure that could house evacuees or provide goods in the event of a raid.
Each of them were required to provide detailed lists of their crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils.
One document in the QVMAG’s collection from the city’s Holy Trinity Church on Cameron Street noted it had 40 cups and saucers, two knives, 24 small plates, three kettles and eight teapots among other items.
The importance of the efforts was highlighted on January 21, 1942 when The Examiner printed a 14-page legion handbook to give the community instructions and information on what to do if there was an air raid.
Ms Green said although the purpose of the legion was to prepare for an air raid, it unintentionally played a larger part.
“I think it reduced fear because if nothing was done, people would be going ‘what happens if they arrive’. It did, to an extent, pacify the population, as something was being done,” she said.
“Not that it was the Civil Defence Legion’s purpose, but it did mean that psychologically a number of people actually were involved in the war effort.
“So, in planning for defending their state and the nation. They were doing something.”
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