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Image Students digging trenches at Ascot State School, Brisbane, 1942

TLF ID R8613

This black-and-white photograph shows schoolchildren digging air-raid trenches in the grounds of Ascot State School in Brisbane, Queensland, on 24 January 1942. Working in the slit trenches, knee deep or deeper, the male students use picks and shovels to dig and remove the earth. A man digging with them on the right is possibly their teacher. Wooden school buildings can be seen in the background. The trenches are being dug next to the grassed flat school oval away from any habitation. Onlookers in the background watch the work.



Educational details

Educational value
  • Air-raid trenches, shown here under construction, were built by Brisbane residents afraid of invasion by the Japanese after Australia's declaration of war on Japan in 1941. The declaration followed the Japanese attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The Japanese attacks in the first part of 1942 on Broome and Darwin and later that year on Mossman and Townsville confirmed the possibility of invasion.
  • In 1942, when this photograph was taken, the start of the Queensland school year had been delayed for a month to enable head teachers in coastal and danger areas to put in place precautions necessary for the safety of school communities, which included organising volunteers to dig air-raid trenches in schoolyards, staggering school hours and preventing children from entering danger zones during the day.
  • It is mainly students doing the laborious work in the photograph; no adult workers were provided and many head teachers were forced to advertise in local newspapers for adult volunteers to help. Newspapers of the time complained that it was many weeks after Japan began its Pacific 'blitz' at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and that this action at schools was considered long overdue and too reliant on volunteers.
  • Authorities considered that such measures - even by students - were necessary; a secret War Cabinet document of the time indicated that Australian military forces would have been unable to defend the coastline. Rifles, machine guns and antitank guns were in such short supply that only some of the militia regiments then being called up could have been equipped to half-strength. Tanks were non-existent and there were no capable fighter and bomber aircraft.
  • The trenches were only part of the protective measures for schools. Brisbane was considered a danger zone where schools might be invaded or bombed and windows were criss-crossed with tape to prevent flying glass. Fire buckets, stirrup pumps and shovels to scoop up incendiary bombs were procured and students were supplied with identity discs, a cloth bag holding earplugs, dressings, water bottles, disinfectant and an earth-coloured hood to wear in the trenches.
  • As well as digging trenches, these students contributed in other, often gender-specific, ways. Girls knitted with string on wooden butcher's skewers to make soldiers' face washers, hemmed khaki handkerchiefs and knitted balaclavas and woollen squares for hospital blankets. Both boys and girls brought along food to send to Britain and to prisoners of war, raised money, collected goods to recycle and grew vegetables for hospitals.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    Contributors
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 06 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: State Library of Queensland
    • Address: Brisbane QLD 4000 Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of State Library of Queensland
    • Content provider
    • Author
    • Organisation: Sunday Truth
    • Remarks: publisher
    Access profile
    • Colour independence
    • Device independence
    • Hearing independence
    Learning resource type
    • Image
    Browsers
    • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
    • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
    • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
    Operating systems
    • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
    • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
    Rights
    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements