Bill Dunstan looked around the bucolic German village where his unit was billeted on May 20, 1945, and wondered to himself “why?”.
“All the Germany I have seen so far is very beautiful and I just can’t imagine why the people who live in such a country should want to plunge the world into such a horrible war,” he wrote.
The Australian captain, serving with the British army, penned these thoughts to his “dear Dad” in the wake of VE Day on May 8.
VE – or Victory in Europe – Day marked the end of World War II in that theatre.
Germany had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies the day before, ending a conflict that had torn Europe apart and killed tens of millions.
Among the tens of thousands of Australians who served in Europe and the Middle East during the conflict, Dunstan was a rarity.
Other than thousands of prisoners of war, few Australians were on the ground in Germany when the war ended.
By 1945 most Australians still serving in Europe were either RAAF personnel or seconded to the Royal Navy.
Australia’s military focus was firmly on the war against Japan, which would continue raging until August of that year.
But in 1942, according to the Australian War Memorial, Dunstan was unimpressed with his lot.
After returning to Australia from fighting in the Middle East, the artillery sergeant was transferred and learned his new unit probably would not leave the country.
His request for a transfer to the British army was approved and from 1944 he served with the 5th division during the brutal campaign in Italy.
Dunstan was promoted to captain and was with the 5th division when it was transferred north, entering Germany in the closing stages of the war.
“The events of the last few weeks have been the greatest experiences of my life,” he wrote to his father on May 7, the day Germany surrendered.
“As far as we’re concerned the war is over and we’re starting on our occupational duties.”
Australians served in Europe and the Middle East from 1939-45 in the army, navy, air force and merchant marine.
Army units such as the famed Rats of Tobruk were all home by the end of 1942 to fight Japan.
About 10,000 Australians were killed in the European conflict.