St Raphael's Catholic School K-12 - Cowra, Central West NSW, Australia.

Established in 1870 the school has strong links with the Cowra community and sits in the Diocese of Bathurst. The students have undertaken this project based on life at the home front during the second world war from the perspective of everyday people.

"In completing this project, we wanted look beyond the P.O.W. camp that Cowra is so widely known for. We strived to uncover stories of people who lived in Cowra at the time of the war and listened to their personal wartime experiences. In doing this we will work to promote peace in the wider community and hopefully create lasting friendships between Australia, Japan and America that will mean a tragedy like WWII will not happen again in the future."

Students - St Raphael's Catholic School K-12

Wartime in Cowra - Stories of everyday people

Communication objective

The focus on positive relationships developed during and post war and the continuing reminders of the need for peace.

Our research

The town of Cowra was impacted by the Second World War in myriad ways. Men left to gladly serve their nation in a war fought on many fronts, the women left behind took on new roles as well as their traditional roles. The small rural town was chosen as a site for a Prisoner of War camp as well as a military training camp and various other areas of industry in the town developed with the pace of the war. 

Cowra also experienced a tragic incident that will forever remind the community of the importance of international friendships - 'the Breakout'. This event caused much heartache for both the locals and prisoners whose lives were lost. The presence of the Peace Bell in Cowra reflects the impact of World War II on the small rural town and acts as a reminder of the importance of a peaceful future. 

The prisoner of war camp at Cowra, 1944 (AWM 064284) Retrieved From:
The prisoner of war camp at Cowra, 1944 Photo: (AWM 064284)

War in the Eyes of a Child – Interview with Helen Stendall

Helen Stendall’s story is an intriguing recount of a child’s perspective of war. She was two when the war broke out and has fond memories of growing up during that time. Throughout her story we see that the war did impact the town, however the war did not have a huge effect on Helen’s life. During her interview, Helen said multiple times that although she grew up during the war she believes that these were the best times to grow up. She also spoke about food shortages and ration coupons, her schooling years, her family's responsibility as the mail delivery service and spending time with the soldiers that were serving in Cowra. 

Women in the workforce

As a high percentage of the male population left to fight in the war, a major hole in the working industry had risen. This was an opportunity for women to step up and work in society instead of continuing in their ‘traditional’ roles. Women such as Carolie Delboux contributed to the war efforts through a nursing career, while others such as Elvine Elliott Horsfall did voluntary work for the Red Cross and other organisations. These are two local Cowra women's stories have inspired future generations to contribute to the community.  

Women from the Cowra Land Army WWII. Retrieved From: Cowra Family History Group Inc.
Women from the Cowra Land Army WWII. Photo: Cowra Family History Group Inc.

Industry Develops in Cowra

After the war began, Cowra’s industries were transformed in a number of ways. The hospital required an additional wing and more equipment, a military camp was opened to train soldiers before they were sent to war, munitions were manufactured in the town and a cannery was opened early to provide food for the growing need of tinned products at the time.

The Breakout: The Amos Family Story

Mitchell's family story gives us insight about what local families in Cowra dealt with during the war. The Amos’ family owned a few local farms around the area of the P.O.W. camp. The town was put on high alert when they received news about the breakout. The Amos men decided to be stationed with weapons on the deck of their house to keep watch for the Japanese P.O.W.s while the women kept the children safe inside. In the middle of the night the men heard noises coming from their barn and notified the police. When the police arrived they shot into the hay and a few Japanese were shot dead. When his great-grandfather went down to the river he found one man with a knife in his stomach and another dangling from a willow tree.

Margaret Tremble

During the war many children were blissfully ignorant, and unaware of the troubles arising due to the war. However, Margaret Tremble, who was born in 1930 and lived on a small farm near Gooloogong in Central West NSW, became an exception. Although just a child during the war, Margaret was significantly impacted in many different ways. Meals were rationed and mostly unenjoyable. Whilst boarding in Sydney, students were trained to react in the event of an evacuation and were responsible for junior students’ safety. One event had Margaret sleep through a serious evacuation. As a result of her father joining the Army and being severely affected, Margaret had to leave school, to assist her mother in paying rent and providing for the family. 

Margaret Tremble enjoying riding on the family farm as a young woman
Margaret Tremble enjoying riding on the family farm as a young woman

Cowra Peace Bell

The Cowra Civic Square now proudly hosts the Peace Bell, a replica of the original that hangs in the United Nations Building in New York. It was given to Cowra due to local efforts to promote peace and international understanding. This holds great significance because it is the only Peace Bell in Australia. 

The idea behind this bell is to keep people informed of the horrors of war and to promote peace throughout the world as well as acting as a constant reminder of the continual need for people to re-dedicate themselves to working for peace.

Cowra Peace Bell. Cowra Tourism (2018) Retrieved From:
Cowra Peace Bell. Photo: Cowra Tourism


Blog Post

Feature Story - War in the eyes of a child

Feature Story - Work Life

Feature Story -  Elvine Elliott Horsfall VAD

Feature Story - Margaret Tremble

Feature Story - Nursing on the Night of the Breakout

Feature Story - Cowra Breakout Amos Family story

Feature Story - Cowra  Peace Movement