When WWII began, the Tasmanian government did not consider that air raid shelters and measures such as blackouts would be necessary. However, when Japan bombed Peal Harbour on December 7 1941 and subsequently attacked Darwin, everything changed.
‘Surface shelters in Tasmania should soon be an accomplished fact…….The Mercury today presents a survey of the shelter question. For many months the digging of trenches as private shelters, although not discouraged officially, was not adopted for public needs. Today, the digging of trenches is proceeding as quickly as picks and shovels can be used. ‘
The small town of Ulverstone had responded promptly. A notice in The Advocate stated that on Monday, December 22 1941, a blackout test would be held. It would cover an area bounded by Button’s Creek, Mr T. Yaxley’s on Forth Road, another Yaxley property on Gawler Road, Mr T.H. Piper’s on South Road and Picnic Point. The start of the test at 9.00pm was to be signaled by the ringing of the bell at the Catholic Church for one minute. The bell would be rung again 15 minutes later to end the test. Car drivers were to park as close to the kerb as possible and extinguish their lights.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, there was some collateral damage. When a test was held on February 11 the following year, Mrs Alma Langmaid ended up in hospital (Langmaid, what a well known Ulverstone name). The 58 year old was alone at home when the church bell sounded, and she climbed a step ladder to put up her blackout curtains. Unfortunately she fell, breaking both her legs, with a dreadful compound fracture in one. She remained on the floor for some time before she was found. When bone penetrates the skin there is a high risk of infection, and I couldn’t help wondering how the poor woman got on.
Trenches began to appear all over town. A Mr Mulligan of Helen Street, West Ulverstone organized volunteers to dig a couple on the nearby Esplanade. Others protected pupils at the state school and convent school. Rather than waiting for permission from the Education Department, they were located just outside the school grounds.
One thing that surprised me was that plans were even made for casualty clearing stations. The Council Clerk reported that he had inspected the Methodist Church hall at Abbotsham, which was available at 10 shillings a week and considered suitable for the purpose. (Advocate, March 17, 1942.)
The inconvenience of anti air raid measures was nothing compared to the scarcity of, well just about everything.
As with the rest of the country, petrol rationing caused great angst in Ulverstone, along with staple foods such as tea, sugar and butter.
An Englishwoman who had lived through WWI called into The Advocate office in Reibey Street with some advice for social reporter La Donna and her readers. It was about how to ‘stretch’ tea leaves.
Clothing was another huge issue, especially for brides trying to assemble a trousseau. Great imagination was required to come up with a ‘fairytale’ wedding dress, and long trains were just not possible.
Any number of my relatives could have been the Ulverstone farmer complaining about work pants;
A farmer said he bought the best wearing trousers he could procure in Ulverstone, but after one week cutting blackberries they were in tatters, ‘What are we to do?’ he asked. ‘We must keep the rubbish in check, otherwise we will be grown out.’ His main complaint was that his coupons would not allow him to replace his worn out garment. (Advocate, Feb 25 1943)
Alternatively, the man could have been Earnie Townsend. My father bought Earnie’s farm in 1952 and it was covered in blackberries.
By the way, I’m not sure whether Mrs Langmaid’s broken legs left her with permanent problems but I’m pleased to report that she recovered and lived to the age of eighty.
Rationing continued long past the end of the war.
1950 – BUTTER IS BACK
ULVERSTONE – TRADERS PLEASED. – The lifting of butter rationing has been welcomed by all. The end came suddenly, however, and caught traders flatfooted. Soon after shops opened on Saturday morning it was impossible to meet the demand, and although a shortage was anticipated and voluntary rationing introduced in an attempt to meet the position, most shopkeepers had sold out shortly after 10.00 am. (Advocate, June 30 1950)
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