The Australian War - The Bombing of Darwin Ecumenical Services
|my father, Colin Alfred Hockey in 1941 just after he enlisted|
I have a close tie to the memory of this day. My father served in the RAAF during the Second World War and was posted in Darwin and other parts of the Northern Territory during all the bombings. My father pasted away 17 years ago and never did return to the Northern Territory since those war years.
The Japs Bombed Darwin
On 19 February 1942 mainland Australia came under attack for the first time when Japanese forces mounted two air raids on Darwin. The two attacks, which were planned and led by Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour ten weeks earlier, involved 54 land-based bombers and approximately 188 attack aircraft which were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea. The first wave of bombers was spotted passing over Bathurst Island, to the north of Darwin, half an hour before the first bombs fell. News of the sighting was radioed to the RAAF operations centre in Darwin, but was ignored by officers on duty because they believed the aircraft were American Kittyhawks returning to Darwin. It wasn't until a few seconds before they dropped their bombs that the first siren in Darwin was sounded, and this delay added to the casualty toll.
"We could see the red dots on the side of the aircraft, they were so low," says one witness. "We thought they were dropping silver bells, until we realised they were bombs. I was terrified and ran to shelter in a quarry."
In the first attack, which began just before 10.00 am, heavy bombers pattern-bombed the harbour and town; dive bombers escorted by Zero fighters then attacked shipping in the harbour, the military and civil aerodromes, and the hospital at Berrimah. The land targets included the Post Office, Telegraph Office, Cable Office and the Postmaster's Residence, where postal workers were killed. The attack ceased after about 40 minutes. The munitions ship Neptuna, a merchant ship, was tied up at the inner wharf when it copped a direct hit. It exploded with the loss of at least 45 lives. Men were blasted into the sea, burning with fuel oil: some were rescued in acts of extraordinary bravery, but many others perished.
The second attack, which began an hour later, involved high altitude bombing of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Parap which lasted for 20–25 minutes. The two raids killed at least 243 people and between 300 and 400 were wounded. At least 22 aircraft were destroyed, including two Catalina flying boats, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed. The Japanese encountered little resistance. A lone Kittyhawk managed to meet the incoming fighters but was quickly shot down. Anti-aircraft gunners fought hard but with little effect. They had received no training.
The raids left Darwin stunned. Chaos, bordering on anarchy, reigned. Civilians looked to the government-appointed Northern Territories administrator, Aubrey Abbott, for instructions but he dithered, expecting the military to take control. Communication was poor enabling local authorities to keep a lid on what happened on that awful day. Communications out of Darwin were also very poor and it took time for the news to filter out; while the Australian authorities played it down, for fear of provoking national panic.
Contrary to widespread belief at the time, the attacks were not a precursor to an invasion. The Japanese were preparing to invade Timor, and anticipated that a disruptive air attack would hinder Darwin's potential as a base from which the Allies could launch a counter-offensive, and at the same time would damage Australian morale. With Singapore having fallen to the Japanese only days earlier, and concerned at the effect of the bombing on national morale, the government announced that only 17 people had been killed.The air attacks on Darwin continued until November 1943 (the last one being over Adelaide River), by which time the Japanese had bombed Darwin 64 times. During the war other towns in northern Australia were also the target of Japanese air attack, with bombs being dropped on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland.
In the hours following the air raids on 19 February, believing that an invasion was imminent, Darwin’s population began a southward rush by any means available heading for Adelaide River and the train south. The panicky exodus became known as the Adelaide River Stakes, as people packed whatever possessions they could manage and took cars, bikes; even the council sanitary cart; or walked towards Adelaide River. Approximately half Darwin's civilian population ultimately fled. The panic in the town was repeated at the RAAF base, where servicemen deserted their stations in great numbers. The exodus may have been chaotic, but a civilian rush to leave a battlefield is hardly a cause for shame. Instead, the finger of shame can be pointed at the military. After viewing the total destruction at the airfield, the RAAF station commander ordered his men to meet at a kitchen station half a mile down the main south road and half a mile into the bush. This order was passed on by mouth and was inevitably corrupted. Some men went three miles down the road; others seven. Some men simply took to the bush. Three days after the bombing, 278 RAAF personnel were still missing. One made it to Melbourne in 13 days. First newspaper reports said there had been "considerable damage" in Darwin, but later stories told of minimal impact. Stating there were two deaths, said one report, when the real figure was at least 243.
The Northern Territories administrator, Aubrey Abbott, appeared to compound the problems by his ineptitude. In an acclaimed book on the Darwin bombing, An Awkward Truth, Peter Grose writes that Abbott tried to enlist the help of military police to restore order. But they themselves ended up drunk and took part in the looting that followed the attacks. Abbott himself spent his time securing his drinks cellar and making sure the bank's money was sent away for safe keeping; a strange set of priorities for a man whose town was in ruins. However, unlike many, he did, a least, stay at his post, remaining for another 12 days after the assault. One of the few other laudable responses to the raid had come from the gunners who'd tried to repel the Japanese onslaught, though their meagre munitions, which made them no match for their aerial opponents.
The exodus south and the looting and disorder which subsequently occurred led the government to hurriedly appoint a Commission of Inquiry led by Mr Justice Lowe which issued two reports, one on 27 March and the other on 9 April 1942. The awkward truth was still too raw to be dealt with. Lowe used temperate language in his report, but there was no mistaking his meaning. He blasted top RAAF brass for a lack of "competent leadership", which had led to "deplorable" outcomes. He said the quality of the men was not unsatisfactory, but they had been failed by a lack of training and a lack of leadership. Many of those military men who absconded into the bush had not been trained in the use of rifles, and they had only a few rounds of ammunition, and were unwilling to "hang around to be massacred by the Japanese." Lowe rebuked Abbott for failing to plan for an air attack and for dithering before handing power to the military. But he refused to criticise him for removing liquor and crockery that otherwise would have been looted. He also acknowledged the "many acts of heroism" during the raids, with special mention of nurses at the bombed-out hospital and a prisoner, "Sinclair by name", who was released from Fanny Bay jail during the raid and who "performed magnificent service" in providing first aid to the injured before reporting back to jail.
|the boys in the bush|
From the first raid on 19th February 1942 until the last on 12 November 1943, Australia and its allies lost about 900 people, 77 aircraft and several ships. Many military and civilian facilities were destroyed. The Japanese lost about 131 aircraft in total during the attacks.
The Australian Government at the time put out a 50years Secret Act stopping any information about the war in Darwin from being released to the public. For years the attack was kept a secret and was rarely mentioned, but now the story is finally being told.
More interesting reading http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/japanese-bombing-of-darwin
Tuesday 19th February 2013 - The Bombing of Darwin Ecumenical Service
|dressed in the uniform of the 1942 day|
|Her Worship Lord Mayor of Darwin, Katrina Fong Lim & Mary Lee|
The crowd had gathered, a Naval Patrol Boat patrolled the waters of the harbour to keep any other boats clear, the soldiers were in place and then at 0948hs the air-raid sirens sounded, the exact time it had sounded on this day 71 years ago. For a few moments everyone stood still, an eerie stillness along with the eerie sound of the sirens. It was at this moment that I recalled the memories of my father and wondered where he was right now back then.
This mood was immediately broken with the sound and sight of the flypast of five F/A 18 Aircraft and the firing of four M2A2 (105mm) Howitzer Guns from the 8/12th Regiment, Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery. It was like being at the frontline, the noise was thunderous, I was close enough to see and smell the sweat on the soldiers faces. Like everybody else, I did wear the earplugs suppled and did keep behind the imaginary line patrolled by a few soldiers, some dressed in the dress of the era, even so the noise of the guns thundered through my chest and the smoke from the shots covered me in a thick haze. The noise, the smoke, relentless sun and the humid heat all helped to produce that dirty, smelly, sweaty feeling and here I was bobbing around with my camera in a light dress. That’s about as close I will ever come to the real thing.My counterparts, I feel that I can call them that now, the other camera men and one woman (an official naval photographer) carried their big guns while I had my little one, which up until today I had always thought of as a big camera (It is compared to my old point and shoot cameras) and we all got the same shots. Well nearly, they had the better zoom lens.
The Catafalque Party entered the parade ground and took their post. A catafalque (cat-a-falk) is a raised structure supporting a stand that usually holds a coffin to allow mourners to file past and pay their last respects. A watch or catafalque party was traditionally mounted around the coffin to ensure the safety of the body while it lay in state. Legend has it that the first catafalque parties guarded important and wealthy people’s coffins from thieves and vandals. Today, catafalque parties are mounted around coffins as a sign of respect and around memorials on occasions of remembrance. The catafalque party consists of four members of an armed guard, the four sentries, who stand, their heads bowed and their arms (weapon) reversed, facing outward approximately one meter from the coffin or catafalque as a symbolic form of respect for those who have fallen, a waiting member in reserve and a commander The origin of the tradition of resting on reversed arms is lost in time. It was used by a Commonwealth soldier at the execution of Charles I in 1649 (the soldier was duly punished for his symbolic gesture towards the King’s death) and it is recorded that at the funeral for Marlborough in 1722, the troops carried out a formal reverse arms drill which was especially invented for the service as a unique sign of respect to the great soldier.
|a deceased veteran's great, great grand-daughter|
The speeches were made; they went on forever, before the laying of the wreaths by the veterans, official and public. The Ode to Remembrance was read, the response – Lest We Forget, the Last Post was played and the Minutes Silence was done, which put me back in the memory of my dad. We all joined in with the singing of the National Anthem, music played by the Australian Army Band Darwin, the Catafalque Party and Flag Party dismounted, the Australian Defence Force Party departed the parade area and we all went home.
Well, not really – most of the crowd went home or to wherever, the officials and official Veterans went to an official luncheon at Parliament House, MrJ and I took a walk around to Parliament House but only got as far as the Library, we did not have the right invitation to get in (now that is another story in its self). We then went and grabbed some lunch at The Deck, great Curried Duck Slices and Rice, yummo, and then went for another long walk along the Esplanade before heading for the bus and home.
Wednesday 20th February 2013
With the loan of Fern’s car MrJ and I were out early to drive the 125ks down to Adelaide River where the War Memorial and War Cemetery for the dead from the Bombing of Darwin. MrJ was wearing his service medal and I had my dad’s with me. Adelaide River was going to be the frontline if the Japanese had of invaded Darwin after the air raids.This day, standing out at the Memorial and seeing the numerous graves, a lot of which are un-named, brought out the realization of the horror of the bombing to me. I began to have many thoughts of my dad and his mates. Where were they on the day and days and months to follow? Dad did speak of mates who had been killed but never told the full stories, just that they had died. Were they here? Which one would they be or were they one of the un-marked graves? I will never know.
The Commemorative Service at Adelaide River War Cemetery was a small quiet affair, about 200 people attended. Two busloads of people, including the old veterans who were in Darwin yesterday came out. The service started at 1000hs. It had turned out to be another very hot humid morning; the boys and girls of the Catafalque Party and Flag Party once again stood in that one position for near the entire service, which was not as long as yesterday’s. All visitors were helped to their seated and regularly supplied with cups of fresh drinking water by the students of the Adelaide River School. The service began with the song I Am Australian, performed by Y11 student from the Good Shepherd Lutheran Collage, Saysha Ham with an angelic voice and a very competent guitar player. Saysha also sang the Nation Anthem, Advance Australia Fair and the Hymn, Abide with Me. It was fabulous to see all these school students taking a part in the service; brought back memories of a small village and my children’s involvement in similar remembrance days many years ago.
|Her Worship Lord Mayor of Darwin & MrJ|
There was dignitary present, including Her Worship Lord Mayor of Darwin, Katrina Fong Lim who MrJ and I got to speak to at the end of the service. Lord Mayor Katrina is an easy to talk to lady, a very down to earth person with a huge infectious smile and a long family history around the Territory. One speaker or should I say storyteller, Richard Luxton a historian who told the story of two servicemen that were buried at the War Cemetery, prayers and wreath laying. The veterans’ one by one, or being assisted by their helper, approached the cenotaph, stood silently and quietly laid a red poppy down. The Red Poppy has special significance for Australians; the Red Poppy was adopted as the Emblem of Remembrance.
Because I was allowed to move around with my camera (I did so quietly) I was able to see a few of these special things up close and by seeing them I was feeling them too. This made me very emotional. The wreath laying was followed by the reading of The Ode"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
This was followed by the Last Post, a minutes silence and the Rouse –the raising of the flag. That did it for me. I raised my hand to still the tinkling of my dad’s medal on my chest; it was too much, I welled up with tears. The relaxed atmosphere of a more personal small service where you can sense the camaraderie felt by the diggers along with the natural bush surrounds and the stillness of the grave sites, was a huge emotion ride for me and no paparazzi to spoil the feeling.
MrJ and I had arrived early so before going to the Cemetery we had an iced coffee and a sandwich at one of the picnic tables just across the road. The bush setting was perfect with small kangaroo and/or wallabies in the distance feeding on the grass, the sound of the birds above in the big shady trees and the scurrying of the ants to the smell of the food. It was quiet! Then it was time to go.After the service we called into the historic railway from WWII at Adelaide River and then drove back to Darwin stopping at the Noonamah Pub which is now called a tavern, for some lunch. Nothing fancy, a Barra burger and a beer!
Footnote: I have sent away for my father’s War Service records. Maybe they will help me add more pieces to the puzzle.