The Battle of Brisbane: Australia and the Yanks at War

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Apr 24, 2012 No Comments ›› admin

For two days in November 1942, the city of Brisbane became a war zone when Australian servicemen attacked American troops. At the height of savage fighting on Thanksgiving Day, an American military policeman shot dead an Australian war hero and wounded six other soldiers and a civilian.  The book The Battle of Brisbane: Australians and the Yanks at War by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin draws on eyewitness accounts and unpublished documents, and the authors strip away the sentimental gloss to reveal the startling truth about the shameful 48 hours when the Allies went to war with each other.

Photographs recently published by the State Library of Queensland and compiled nicely by Backyard Photography Magazine with excerpts from the book add another dimension to the to the story of the Battle of Brisbane in 1942.  Below is a small sample of the many photographs in the State Library’s collection. BWM Books has compiled a selection of them at a Pinterest board.

This first picture says a lot about the reasons for the antagonism between US and Australian troops which lead to the conflict…girls. US servicemen were able to attract the Australian girls and the Aussie troops weren’t happy about it.

Source: John Oxley Library, State library of Queensland Neg: 104176

 Women with visiting American sailors, Brisbane, Queensland, 1941

“The Americans gave presents to the girls and won them over, which was extraordinarily annoying for the Australians. But my mother encouraged me to invite Americans home and we always had oodles of people for dinner… I went out with several Americans; I was very innocent and very good, and I had a wonderful time with them. We went to the pictures and I took them to my church functions.” [Marjorie Robertson, who lived in East Brisbane at the time]. Excerpt from The Battle of Brisbane


Source:John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 105718

American military police outside the Central Hotel, Brisbane, Queensland, 1942

“The Australians had grievances, and they had very solid reasons to be aggrieved. The Yanks had everything – the girls, the canteens and all the rest of it – and our blokes were completely ostracised in their own city. The damage had been done. The wounds were very deep. It’s a wonder there wasn’t more upset.” [Lieutenant Bill Thomas, commenting on the Battle of Brisbane. He subsequently investigated Australian troop conditions.] Excerpt from The Battle of Brisbane

Source: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 106222

Witnesses in a stabbing incident in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, 1942

Morale in the Australian forces was low, and dissent with American troops was on the increase. Street brawls, stabbings and fights became widespread (some estimates were up to 20 brawls a night), and culminated in the “Battle of Brisbane” on the evening of November 26, 1942. Australians came to the defence of an American soldier who was challenged (and perceived to be being bullied) by the US Military Police. Tensions then escalated when an MP struck an Australian with his baton and a scuffle became an all-out battle, resulting in the death of Australian serviceman, several gunshot wounds and hundreds of injuries. Excerpt from The Battle of Brisbane

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