FROM THE NEWSPAPERS - 1941 - Wartime Evacuation Scheme for Yallourn


History shows that by early 1940, Australia was on a war footing and serious discussion turned to the possibility of attacks on Australian cities and key industrial centres. Yallourn was one of several industrial towns deemed to be ‘vulnerable’ if air raids over Australia eventuated.

Fears of aerial bombing were very real; and the government authorities went to great lengths to prepare contingencies for any attack on Yallourn and its power generating installations. People are often surprised when learning that the residents of Yallourn were provided with materials to build back-yard air-raid shelters during that era…
“…each household was given enough timber to construct a five feet by seven feet underground air-raid shelter.” Prue McGoldrick ‘Yallourn Was’ Page: 122.

Among the emergency plans that were considered, during those war years, was a scheme to evacuate children from major cities and key industrial towns if bombing raids became a reality.

The following brief news item appeared in the ‘Benalla Ensign’ in December 1941 (just eight weeks prior to the bombing of Darwin ); and reports on two young evacuees, from Yallourn, arriving in the Benalla district as part of the Wartime Evacuation Scheme.

Note: The issue became ‘very real’ when the first air raid on Darwin, by Japanese aeroplanes, occurred on the 19th February 1942. It is documented that at least seventy (70) people were killed in the raid; and, as can be imagined, the news heightened fears across the nation and hastened the urgency of the issue regarding the evacuation of children.

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It is not known how many children were evacuated from Yallourn during World War: II; and perhaps the children mentioned, in the extract below, were the only two. The evacuation of children from Yallourn, during World War: II, remains a mystery; and there may be a reader with further information regarding this little-known aspect of the town’s history. Please feel welcome to add to this story if you are able. Thank you.



First Evacuees Arrive in Benalla
Yallourn will be the first town to come under the Government evacuation scheme and yesterday saw the, arrival of the first evacuees in Benalla district. They were William and Sandra Sheehan*, who are at present staying with their relatives. With the evacuation of Yallourn thousands of children will be billeted throughout various districts of Victoria, and amongst them is the Benalla district.
This will not include the town, as the area within five miles of the Benalla post office is declared a vulnerable area.

1. In the original copy of the ‘Benalla Ensign’ parts of the brief report were indecipherable but it is seems that the family name of the children was either ‘Sheehan’ or ‘Sheeran.’

2. It was difficult to find any articles directly related to the evacuation of children from Yallourn during the war. However, there are more than 200 items, in other metropolitan and regional newspapers, about the general topic of the wartime evacuation of children. For example: ‘The Argus’ newspaper in 1941 carried the following article…
“EVACUATION OF CHILDREN“ Supply of food for country centres should evacuation of children from seaboard areas become necessary was discussed at the conference of Victorian Federation of Mothers Clubs at Central House yesterday. Transport of much food would be difficult because of troop movements and transport of war materials it was thought...” ‘The Argus’ December 10th 1941 Page: 6

3. A clue to the gravity of the situation, for the people of Yallourn and Yallourn North, can be found in an extract from the ‘Live Wire’ from February 1942 which mentions the evacuation of children and demonstration lessons in relation to incendiary bombs ( i.e. combustible bombs). It must have been perturbing for local residents to be forced to consider such contingencies; and in Kath Ringin’s book entitled: ‘The Old Brown Coal Mine’ it is stated…
“Volunteer Defence Corp extended. More civilians needed for instruction. Hundreds of thousands of camouflage nets will be needed. The Fire Brigade are to give a demonstration at Yallourn on how to deal with incendiary bombs. All should attend. More volunteers needed for Air Raid Precaution services. Registrations are being taken for the evacuation of children”

4. A ‘Letter to the Editor’ in the ‘Morwell Advertiser’ in July 1939, highlighted the genuine dread of air raids in the district. The insightful letter, which was written by O.J. Howard, clearly outlined the situation for others to heed…
“ Air Raid Precautions.
Dear Sir-
It is not for me to say whether war is imminent or not, but persons in a position to judge, describe the position as critical. Should hostilities commence, what are we going to do to protect the children in towns such as Yallourn and possibly Morwell?
Yallourn is a key-town, without defence, and could be bombed with ease. Until an interception squadron of aircraft, is located to the East of Yallourn, 'the destruction of this vital electric service is easy…..”
The Air Raid Precautions authorities consider that in the event of war, the children, and mothers of young children, should be evacuated from Yallourn and the Morwell Shire Council has been requested to make some provision for their accommodation.
I am submitting for consideration a plan which will give food for thought. The main points for consideration are Transport, Accommodation and Maintenance…” ‘Morwell Advertiser’ July 27th 1939 Page: 5.

5. Another piece of correspondence, by the same O.J. Howard, suggested options for sheltering children of Yallourn in the event of an air-raid…
“… as the Junction hall would be of value as a training depot, or it may be used as a shelter for children from Yallourn. How many people realise the ease with which an enemy raider could catapult planes to bomb Yallourn and that the women and children would have to be evacuated at a moment's notice…” ‘Morwell Advertiser. ‘

6. During World War: 2, air raid shelters were built at various points around Yallourn; and anti-aircraft batteries were installed at Yallourn and Yallourn North during those years.

7. The following quote from the Australian War Memorial Research Centre, regarding the issue of ‘vulnerable towns’, mentions Yallourn in the national air raid precaution plans….
“…of potential evacuations of parts of mainland Australia is described in “War in the Far East, December 1941–January 1942”, chapter 1 of The Government and the People, 1942–1945 by Paul Hasluck, Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series 4 – Civil, Volume II. There is an outline of Air Raid Precaution plans and the classification of risk to a number of towns and cities, including Yallourn, in Appendix 1, “Civil Defence Organisation”, of the same volume…”

8. Thankfully, large scale evacuations of children throughout Australia were not necessary during World War:II. However, younger readers may be interested to know, that during the war three million children in Britain were evacuated to ‘safer’ parts of the nation (and overseas e.g. Canada, USA, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa).

9. Those who have found the above story, regarding the planned evacuations from Yallourn during World War:II , interesting may enjoy reading a book entitled: ‘When the Children Came Home’ by Julie Summers. The story tells of the mass evacuation of children from the cities and industrial areas of England. The British evacuation scheme was named ‘Operation Pied Piper’.

This story is part of a history project entitled ‘From the Newspapers’ and a full list of titles in this series can be obtained by contacting Julie George. The research and writing was completed by Roger Spaull and presented and posted by Julie for the Virtual Yallourn website in October 2017.
The above extract from the ‘Benalla Ensign’ has been faithfully reproduced. The only amendments to the original copy are the font style, font size and spacing, so as to enhance the story for the purposes of posting on the Virtual Yallourn website.