When Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 Prime Minister Robert Menzies declared Australia was also at war.
In 1941 he flew to Britain (the first Australian Prime Minister to fly overseas rather than go by ship). En route he visited Australian troops in Singapore, and realised how vulnerable Singapore was to attack. In Britain he asked Prime Minister Churchill to increase Singapore’s defences, but without success. Menzies also reluctantly committed Australian troops to what became a disastrous campaign in Greece.
Menzies also saw the devastation of the German bombing campaign on London and other major cities. He took his wind-up film camera everywhere he went, and his very personal record of the visit includes strikingly informal footage of a young Princess Elizabeth.
On his return to Australia in 1941 he lost the confidence of members of Cabinet and his party who believed he was an electoral liability and he was forced to resign. As an Opposition backbencher during the war years, he helped create the Liberal Party and became Leader of the Opposition in 1946. At the 1949 federal election, he defeated Ben Chifley’s Labor Party and once again became Australia’s Prime Minister.
Robert Menzies (1894–1978) was Prime Minister of Australia twice: from April 1939 to August 1941 and December 1949 to January 1966. Robert Menzies’ camera is held at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.
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