The death of John Curtin (7-5-45)

White House Statement on the Death of Australian Prime Minister Curtin
July 4, 1945 (July 5 in Australia)

It is with deep sorrow that I have learned of the death today of the Right Honorable John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia, who has brought to the public service of his country not only great ability and integrity but also a deep sense of loyalty to the principles which have guided the United Nations through this war so victoriously ended in Europe and so successfully being waged in the Far East. The government and people of the United States mourn with the people of Australia the passing of this great leader.

Daily News (July 5, 1945)

John Curtin dies


CANBERRA – John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia, died peacefully in his sleep this morning. He was 60.

Death of the plain Australian who had led Australia through her darkest years to the dawn of victory was announced by Acting Prime Minister Forde. “The life of the Prime Minister came to an end peacefully and without pain in his sleep at 4 a.m. today," Mr. Forde said.

Apart from the nurse who was on duty at the Lodge, Mrs. Curtin was the last person to see Mr. Curtin alive.

Shortly before midnight, she had a cup of tea with him. With a smile, he then said to her: “Go on, Mrs. Curtin, it’s best that you go off to bed now."

Mrs. Curtin went to bed in an adjoining room but did not sleep. She was with the Prime Minister when the last moments came but he died without waking.

In the early hours before dawn, Mr. Curtin’s medical adviser was summoned to the Lodge by the nurse. But Mr. Curtin was dead.

Sergt. John Curtin, the Prime Minister’s only son, was at the Lodge. Mr. Curtin’s only daughter Elsie (Mrs. J. Cole), who is in Perth, was informed by telephone early this morning.

Mrs. Cole was to have left Perth for Canberra by a Service plane early today but, when the news came of her father’s death, the flight was cancelled.

Originally Mrs. Cole was to have left by tomorrow’s mail plane but news from Canberra yesterday caused plans for the earlier departure.

Says goodnight

Few people were allowed to see the Prime Minister over the closing days.

Mr. Ray Tracey, who has been chauffeur to every Prime Minister since the last war and who was Mr. Curtin’s invariable billiards opponent when the Prime Minister was living alone at the Lodge, was one of the last when he went to the Prime Minister’s bedroom to say goodnight.

“How are you, Ray?" Mr. Curtin asked. Then he added: “I’ve had a tough day today."

Mr. Curtin then smiled, bade Tracey goodnight.

Governor-General the Duke of Gloucester, who is visiting operational areas, will return to Canberra immediately.

News was also flashed to General MacArthur, who had become a firm friend of Mr. Curtin.

Efforts are being made by the government to inform External Affairs Minister Dr. Evatt, who was scheduled to leave San Francisco by ship on Tuesday.

Mr. Curtin is the second Australian Prime Minister to die in office.

The first was Mr J. A. Lyons, who died in April 1939.


Though bulletins this week on Mr. Curtin’s health had been ominous, the dramatic radio announcements this morning of his death left listeners shocked and bewildered with a sudden sense of personal loss and tragedy.

Newspaper offices were besieged with telephone calls to confirm the news and throughout the city, conversation was only on one topic – the passing of the man who was the friend of all Australians.

After the first radio announcement at 6 a.m., all commercial broadcasting stations suspended advertising for two hours and played appropriate music with tributes to Mr. Curtin.

Serious illness first overtook Mr. Curtin in November last year, when he had a heart attack brought about by the strain and responsibility of wartime leadership.

He went into Mercy Hospital, Melbourne, where he stayed ten weeks.

Early this year, less than three months after his heart attack, Mr. Curtin resumed his official duties at Canberra and attended the opening of Parliament on February 21.

Appearing to be well on the road to recovery, Mr. Curtin attended practically every sitting of Parliament until near the end of April, when he had a relapse and was admitted to a private hospital in Canberra on April 24 suffering from congestion of the lungs.

He left hospital on May 22 and was at the Prime Minister’s Lodge until his death.

Left school at 14

Mr. Curtin was slightly under six feet in height, with thinning greying hair.

Although he finished schooling at 14, intense study up to 30 left him with an astigmatism of the left eye.

Mr. Curtin’s first job was as “printer’s devil" at 14 on papers produced by the famous Lindsays of Creswick.

Since he entered public affairs, Mr. Curtin travelled about 250,000 miles, but he made only six plane journeys.

He covered Australia scores of times and in 1924 visited Geneva and South Africa and in 1944 went to Britain, the United States and Canada.

Royal sympathy

The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester have sent personal messages of heartfelt sympathy to Mrs. Curtin and her family.

Messages read–

From the Duke:

I am deeply distressed to hear of your bereavement. I feel it as a personal loss to myself and a shattering blow to Australia and the Empire. My sincerest and heartfelt sympathy.

From the Duchess: “I send my heartfelt sympathy to you and your family in your great sorrow.”

Forde acts as PM

CANBERRA – Because of the long illness of Mr. Curtin, the machinery of government will go on without interruption.

Deputy Prime Minister Forde already holds authority from the Governor-General to act as Prime Minister. This ensures the legality of all administrative acts.

Cabinet is meeting today to ascertain whether an interim commission should be issued to Mr. Forde or whether there should be a fresh commission, such as was issued to Sir Earle Page after the death of Mr. Lyons.

Whatever the decision, the commission would be only temporary as Mr. Forde would advise the Governor-General that he would have to meet the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Caucus is not likely to take any steps about future leadership until after Mr. Curtin’s funeral.

Whether the party should await the return of Attorney-General Dr. Evatt from USA before proceeding to the election of a new leader and the filling of the Cabinet vacancy and whether it will decide that all portfolios and offices, such as those of Speaker, President of the Senate and the Chairmen of Committees, should be thrown into the melting pot will be for the party itself to decide.

It is expected that the House of Representatives and the Senate, which are to meet this afternoon, will adjourn immediately.

Instructions were issued immediately after Mr. Curtin died that flags should be flown at half-mast from all Commonwealth buildings throughout Australia.

Record service

CANBERRA – As well as holding the Prime Ministership during Australia’s most perilous years, Mr. Curtin established a record for continuous service as Labour Prime Minister.**

His total service was three years and nine months.

Previous longest continuous service for Labour Prime Minister was that of the late Andrew Fisher with three years, one month and 26 days in 1910-13. Fisher’s overall service over three terms as Prime Minister was four years, nine months and 26 days.

Mr. Curtin was appointed Federal Labour Leader on October 1, 1935, and remained leader for nine years, nine months and five days.

In a telegram to Acting Prime Minister Forde, Premier J. C. Willcock said:

All members of the government of Western Australia desire to join with me in expressing to you our profound sorrow at the passing of John Curtin. Australia has lost a great Prime Minister and we have lost a great personal friend.

Personal telegrams were sent to Mrs. Curtin.

Funeral here on Sunday

CANBERRA – The funeral of the late Mr. Curtin will take place at Karrakatta cemetery on Sunday.

A memorial service will be held in Canberra tomorrow.

Mr. Curtin’s remains will then be taken to Western Australia by air.

The RAAF will make special arrangements to fly to Perth members of the Commonwealth Parliament who wish to attend the funeral.

Funeral service on Sunday will be conducted by the Rev. Hector Harrison, Presbyterian minister of Canberra, and the Rev. Lincoln Sullivan, Congregational minister of Fremantle, both of whom were friends of the late Prime Minister.

Mr. Sullivan conducted the service at the funeral about 18 months ago of Mr. Curtin’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Annie Needham.

‘Good friend’ to radio

SYDNEY – After the first radio announcement at 6 a.m. of Mr. Curtin’s death, all commercial broadcasting: stations suspended advertising for two hours.**

They played appropriate music, paid tributes to his work.

President A. C. Paddison of the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations said:

John Curtin was a good friend to commercial broadcasting.

He believed in the system of commercial and national stations, and although he as Prime Minister had the right of access to our stations, he had an excellent appreciation of this right and reserved it exclusively for important occasions.

He was associated with some momentous broadcasts, including the declaration of war against Japan and the New Year’s Day message of 1941.

In Western Australia, he was actively associated with the establishment of a commercial broadcasting station for the Labour Party.

Editorial: John Curtin

All victims of war are not battle casualties.

It is no exaggeration to say that the deaths of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister John Curtin were attributable largely to the strain of war conditions and the heavy burdens thrown upon them.

Whatever their political colour, few will dispute that Australia owes much to John Curtin. There will be widespread and deep grief at the news of his untimely death.

John Curtin became Prime Minister at a critical stage of the war without a secure majority. The subsequent general election was an overwhelming vote of confidence in his government and a great tribute to him personally.

That tribute has been justified by the firm and farsighted leadership of John Curtin when Australia was threatened with invasion for the first time in her history. It was justified by the dignity and ability with which he represented his country in council with the leaders of great nations.

A lovable personality was John Curtin the man. He disliked all ostentation and shunned social display. He was armoured with impregnable integrity.

Yes, a great debt is owed to John Curtin. Let us not forget it.

Death broke a compact

Death has severed a compact made between the late Prime Minister and Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

When Gen. MacArthur landed in Australia in 1942 after his heroic defence of the Philippines, a close friendship arose between him and the Prime Minister.

They made a compact that when the war was over and the Philippines regained their independence, the Prime Minister would spend a holiday there as the guest of the General.

This was revealed today by a close personal friend of Mr. Curtin.

The nation mourns

News of Mr. Curtin’s death spread rapidly through every State and the whole country mourned.

People felt his passing as a personal loss.

Flags flew at half-mast in every Australian town, and church leaders planned special services.

From all sections of the community came eloquent tributes to Mr. Curtin’s unselfish devotion to the nation – a devotion which hastened his death.

State Premiers, irrespective of party, felt his death a terrific loss to the nation.

West Australian Premier Willcock said:

The passing of John Curtin is a national calamity.

As has been said of the late President Roosevelt, his death was a real war casualty.

Undoubtedly his efforts for Australia as a member of the United Nations had broken down his constitution and prevented a recovery from his serious illness of last year.


Mr. Curtin’s inspirational leadership during the times of crisis through which we went places him as one of the greatest figures in Australian history.

The Labour movement has suffered an almost irreparable loss.

His singleness of purpose, his loyalty to the principles of the movement, and his tremendous energy won him not only the respect and admiration of his- party but gained for him the affection of and loyal support necessary to weld the movement into a unity which made possible the great success he attained.

At the same time, he won the respect and esteem of his political opponents.

As a friend of nearly 30 years’ standing, I feel a sense of great personal loss and intense and sincerest sympathy for his wife and family, which I am sure is not only Australia-wide but will be felt among all the peoples of the United Nations.

Ever respected

South Australian Premier Playford:

When direct invasion of our country was threatened Mr. Curtin was the rallying point and he organised the defences of Australia in a manner which must make his name ever respected by our people.

One could not help liking him personally. Australia today mourns the passing of one of her greatest sons.

Acting Premier Baddeley of New South Wales:

I express the sorrow of the government and people of NSW and my own personal grief at the passing of John Curtin.

He was a great Australian – one who will always be remembered in the history of this country.

No Australian Prime Minister has faced a more terrible crisis than he did in 1942. It was due largely to his loyalty, devotion and courage that we remain free people.

Acting Premier of Queensland Hanlon:

Australia mourns the loss of a statesman who devoted himself with, fire and zeal to a great cause and thanks him for his part in the great deliverance from its enemies. I feel that Mr. Curtin gave so freely of his, health and strength that it might be said that he died that Australia as a nation might live.

Greatest casualty

To unionists, too, Mr. Curtin’s death meant one of history’s greatest losses.

Federal Secretary C. Dougherty of the Australian Workers’ Union, in Sydney expressed the general feeling when he said: “Mr. Curtin is our greatest casualty in this war.”

In this State, general secretary of the ALP T. G. Davies said:

The hearts of all men and women will be filled with sorrow at the news of the passing of Prime Minister John Curtin.

It can be truly said that he wore himself out physically in the service of the nation of which he was so proud, and for which he ever possessed the highest hopes for its future – for itself and in its association with other nations.

Whatever be one’s political feelings or affiliation, every Australian will pay tribute to his great leadership, his high mindedness, his inexhaustible patience and tact, his remarkable conception of the dignity of his high office.

To those in the Labour movement who studied under him, who worked with him, who enjoyed his generosity, loyalty and mateship, will ever remain a sense of personal loss – an imperishable memory of a truly great mate.

Among the many others in Perth who paid tribute to Mr. Curtin’s statesmanship were Lord Mayor Dr. Meagher, State Opposition Leader A. F. Watts, Liberal Party leader Ross McDonald, Mr. P. J. Trainer, employees’ representative on the Arbitration Court Bench and former general secretary of the State branch ALP; Mayor of Fremantle F. E. Gibson, MLC; president P. F. Ryan and secretary F. Mann, of Fremantle District ALP Council; Professor F. Alexander, on behalf of the Adult Education Board; Police Court magistrates Hannah and Read; State president P. Belton of the Australian Journalists’ Association, of which Mr. Curtin was a former president.

The Syonan Shimbun (July 5, 1945)

Curtin passes away

LISBON (Domei, July 4) – John Curtin, Australia’s Labour Prime Minister, passed away early Thursday morning after a protracted illness due to congestion of the lungs, according to a Canberra dispatch. He was 60 years old. It is expected that Francis Forde, Army Minister, who has been Acting Prime Minister, will now lead the Australian government.

L’Aube (July 5, 1945)

Mort de M. Curtin premier ministre d’Australie

Melbourne, 4 juillet – M. Curtin, premier ministre d’Australie, est mort. M. Curtin, âgé de soixante ans, souffrait d’une maladie de cœur depuis plusieurs mois. Il était devenu premier ministre en 1941, après avoir été pendant six ans chef du parti travailliste et de l’opposition parlementaire.

Youngstown Vindicator (July 5, 1945)

Curtin, Aussie leader, is dead

Prime Minister a close friend of MacArthur


CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Prime Minister John Curtin, who unhesitatingly turned to the United States when the Pacific war opened and gave Gen. Douglas MacArthur every aid he asked, died today after a long illness which denied him a role in the San Francisco peace conference. He was aged 60.

To critics who charged he had turned over Australia to MacArthur lock, stock and barrel, the Prime Minister replied he was proud he could do just that.

‘John’ and ‘Doug’

The close friendship with Gen. MacArthur made them known to each other as “John” and “Doug.” MacArthur has conveyed his deepest sympathy to the commonwealth.

A state service will be held tomorrow. Acting Prime Minister Francis Forde will continue in his role until the Labor Party elects a new leader to form a government.

A year ago, medical advisers told the Prime Minister he must take a long rest but he returned to duty prematurely and in April had to reenter a hospital. The Australian press acclaimed him as a “war casualty,” victim of four years of efforts to save his country.

The immediate cause of death was coronary thrombosis.

The son of a police officer and native of a gold-mining town, Curtin associated himself early in life with the Australian Trade Union movement.

He was elected to the House of Representatives first in 1928, became leader of the Labor Party in 1935 and Prime Minister in October 1941.

In April 1944, he visited the United States, conferred with President Roosevelt and expressed Australia’s gratitude for the assistance which prevented a Japanese invasion of Australia.

He is survived by Mrs. Curtin, a son and a daughter.

The Pittsburgh Press (July 5, 1945)

MacArthur going to Curtin funeral

Australian Premier dies in sleep

John Curtin, led in war on Japs

CANBERRA, Australia (UP) – Gen. Douglas MacArthur was hurrying here today for the special state funeral to be held tomorrow for Australian Premier John Curtin.

Mr. Curtin died from heart disease at 4 a.m. today at Canberra Lodge, his official residence. He died in his sleep.

Gen. MacArthur immediately sent the Duke of Gloucester word he would speed here by plane from the South Pacific battle areas. The Duke, in a message to Mr. Curtin’s widow, called his death “a shattering blow to Australia.”

In Manila, Gen. MacArthur issued the following statement:

He was one of the greatest of wartime statesmen, and the preservation of Australia from invasion will be his immemorial monument. I mourn him deeply.

After the service here, Mr. Curtin’s body will be flown 2,000 miles across Australia to be buried at the little Karrakatta Cemetery, at Claremont, in West Australia, from where he first went to Parliament in 1928. He was 60 years old when he died.

Acting Prime Minister Francis M. Forde will continue to run the government until the Labor Party elects a new leader.

All flags flew at half-staff today throughout the Commonwealth for the policeman’s son who led Australia through her darkest days. He became premier three months before the Pacific war began.