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Menzies War Record – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers

May 25th, 2012 · No Comments · Anzac, Australiana, Pacifism, Politics, War, WW1

When Menzies was Prime Minister in 1939, the Country Party leader, Earle Page, subjected Menzies to a bitter attack in the house. Page had served on the Western Front as a doctor (his field instruments are on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra). Page told the Parliament that he and his party were no longer prepared to serve in a Menzies government and, with war threatening, he did not believe Menzies had the right attributes to bring about ‘a united national effort’. Page said, based on Menzies’ record, he had no confidence the Prime Minister had what was required: ‘the maximum courage, or loyalty or judgments.’ After numbering what he believed were faults in Menzies’ record, he devoted particular attention to Menzies’ war record. Page is responsible for fostering the falsehood—still widely held to be true—that Menzies resigned his commission. Page continued: I am not questioning the reasons why anyone did not go to war. All I say is that if the right honourable gentleman cannot satisfactorily and publicly explain to a very great body of people in Australia, who did participate in the war, his failure to do so, he will not be able to get that maximum effort out of the people in the event of war. All this was greeted with cries of ‘shame’. Menzies immediately replied and was heard in silence. On the charge of not serving in the war, there was real, if dignified, bitterness in Menzies’ response. He said the charge was not a novelty and represented ‘a stream of mud through which I have waded at every election campaign in which I have participated’. Menzies explained that on the issue of enlistment he had to answer the supremely important question ‘[i]s it my duty to go to the war or is it my duty not to go? The answer to that question is not one that can be made on a public platform.’ Menzies went on to say the question related to ‘a man’s intimate and personal family affairs and in consequence, I, facing these problems of intense difficulty, found myself, for reasons which were and are compelling, unable to join my two brothers in the infantry with the A.I.F’. In the political uproar following the Page attack, two Queensland Country Party MPs, Arthur Fadden and Bernie Corser, disassociated themselves from Page’s speech, saying that henceforth they would sit as independent Country Party members. (It is somewhat ironic that after Menzies resigned as Prime Minister with so many in his party room opposed to him, Fadden became Prime Minister.)

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