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Bombing of Darwin

Darwin was bombed over 60 times during WWII (wikipedia link) and other Territory locations felt the impact of Japanese military forces in what was known as the 'Battle for Australia' becoming the first and only Australian police force subjected to enemy action. Eric Arthur McNab won a British Empire Medal for his post bombing rescues and body recoveries at the Darwin Post Office. Police assisted widely in the aftermath of the first attacks. In the weeks to come the Military took control of Darwin and those members not engaged in military service were transferred to other parts of the Territory. Alice Springs became the Police Headquarters. The official wartime strength was 62 men. Over 2 dozen either enlisted or were seconded to the NAOU along with their trackers.


Ironically many of the ships that were sunk in Darwin Harbour were later salvaged by a Japanese company.



This Video is Part 1 of a series about the Bombing of Darwin from the perspective of the members of the NT Police Force in Darwin. Below is the original video text which has more information than the cut down narrative on the video.



 

Darwin under attack - the police perspective

Prelude

Each year on Territory Day the cacophony of fireworks that lighs up the Darwin skyline is a welcome sight but during WWII unwelcome explosions heralded the beginning of the single most devastating attack on Australia. Following the devastating attack on Pearl Harbour and with Japanese attacks expected the government ordered the evacuation of non essential personnel from Darwin and most women and children were evacuated during December 1941 and January 1942. Darwin, still unprepared for war, waited for the attack to come.

Before the first bombing

Darwin then was a small town that had only been settled since 1870. The first Post Office was established the following year and it was of special significance because it was also the site where the telegraph cable from Batavia and then Europe connected with Australia. In 1941 a series of trenches and shelter coverings were built throughout the post office complex to protect the staff. The postmaster was 48 year old, Jubilee Medal recipient, Hurtle Clifford Bald. He had worked for the Post Master General's Department since 1909 and had been a Sgt. Signaller in WWI. In 1942 he was on his 2nd posting to Darwin. His wife Alice Bald was a school teacher and had refused to be evacuated from Darwin and had taken up telephonist duties. Their daughter Iris worked in the Taxation Office nearby and their son Peter was visiting in Adelaide.

Archibald Thomas Roy "Bro" Halls was a telegraph supervisor who had joined the PMG in 1907 aged 15. He had arrived in Darwin just 5 days before. Sisters, Eileen Carrig Mullen and Jean Carrig Mullen, were trained telegraphists from South Australia. Jennie Freda "Fay" Stasinowski was a telephonist who had been brought to Darwin because of her specialist expertise with the upgraded services being established at the exchange. Arthur Wellesly Wellington was a postal clerk who had come to Darwin in 1940. His wife and infant daughter had been evacuated but he elected to stay to continue his work. Emily Young had been a telephonist in Darwin until marrying but she later volunteered to return to work to assist with staff shortages. Walter Robert Lewis Rowling was a foreman mechanic. He had arrived less than two weeks earlier to assist with the defence build up. The Administrators office and residence were nearby at the end of Mitchell Street and nearby to them the police barracks and station making the wharf end of Mitchell Street a significant target to disrupt command and communication assets. There were only about 15 police members in Darwin at the time. There was no actual Commissioner of Police as this role was also performed by the Administrator who wielded all executive government authority and at that time C.L.A. Abbott was the incumbent and the most senior officer was Superintendent Stretton. Eric 'Sandy' McNab was an experienced officer who had was in charge of the Criminal Investigation Branch in Darwin. After the fall of Singapore he had sent his wife and child to Perth expecting the worst. Dave Mofflin had just finished night shift and was sleeping in his room at the police barracks when the first bombs fell and air raid sirens sounded but neither woke him. In number 1 courtroom prosecuting Constable Jim Fitzgerald was preferring a charge of keeping a common gaming house before SM Ward. They saw the jetty fall to pieces just moments before hearing the terrible roar that hastened their departure from the building.

During the Attack

It was just before 10.00 am on the 19th of February 1942 and Darwin was under attack. Four of the six aircraft carriers of the Japanese fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbour 10 weeks before were positioned within airstrike range north of Darwin and also had access to recently captured airstrips in Ambon. The skies over Darwin were fine and clear. The Japanese flew around Darwin and approached from the south making most think they were American aircraft until they attacked. Sandy McNab heard the air raid siren and rushed out to shepherd people into improvised shelters and then could not find one himself and had to lay flat on the ground. Sandy watched the bombs fall "They were like silvery bubbles at first. Then they got bigger. I remember wondering if they would drift in the wind and miss us". John Roberts was a telegraphist who had been in Darwin for just 10 days. He was working on a noisy Murray Multiplex Perforator machine when he heard the first bombs go off. Finding himself alone he went to the front door and when he saw everyone running he did the same. Constable Leo Law was just about to shower at the police barracks. He ran out in a towel and jumped into a partly dug trench only a foot deep. Looking up he saw the bombers and soon after felt the blast and was covered deeply in clay. Another man in a nearby trench was so completely covered he had to be dug out. Sandy McNab said "The police station was only a block from the jetty, so we had a full view of the furious attack on the shipping". One bomb "burst nearby. It made a crater 25ft. across and 14ft, deep The lip of thc crater was only 20 ft off and I was buried, covered with wood, concrete and debris". John Roberts jumped the front fence at the Post Office and crossed the Esplanade and started to scramble down the slope. A large explosion showered him with debris. After digging himself out he continued to the light cover at the bottom where others were sheltering and watched dive bombing and straffing of ships in the harbour.

Air Raid Warden Edgar Harrison had just left the Post Office and was 150 yards away when the first bomb fell. Although all the air raid wardens had disbanded three weeks earlier there was now a clear need for them and sirens started howling from around the town as they took up their stations. Lionel McFarland was riding his police motorcycle into town from Parap when he heard the explosions and looked up to see high flying bombers with bombs falling from them. He rode off the road into the long grass until after the attack. Ferocious pattern bombing was focused on the harbour and nearby buildings in what was later admitted to be massive assault for such a small town. 19 bombs fell within 200 yards of the main Post Office. The Administrator's Office, the police barracks and the post office were all destroyed. A bomb scored a direct hit from on the bomb shelter and slit trench outside the office where Postmaster Hurtle took cover with his wife and daughter as well as other telephanists. In all 10 people were killed at the Post Office including Postmaster Hurtle Bald, his wife Alice, his daughter Iris, Archibald "Bro Halls, Eileen and Jean Mullen, "Fay" Stasinowski, Arthur Wellington, Emily Young and Walter Rowling who later died from injuries aboard the hospital ship Manunda. At the Administrator's Office a bomb landed in the grounds 15 metres from the shelter lifting the concrete roof and smashing the iron door which helped protect the occupants from falling concrete. 18 year old Daisy Martin, an Aboriginal domestic worker was killed and another Aboriginal girl and boy almost buried. Administrator Abbott and his driver used crowbars to free them but Daisy Martins body was trapped under heavy rubble. Thankfully there was no loss of life at the Police Barracks but the building was destroyed and there was also damage to the station. The harbour was littered with sinking and damaged ships and the burning "Neptuna" loaded with mines and other explosives finally detonated throwing a large chunk of steel that went through the roof of the police station and embedded nearly upright in the concrete floor. Over 20 civilians were killed with ten times as many sailors.

Aftermath

McNab said "I was dug out. I was bomb-shocked and had some ribs broken and was spitting blood, but I can remember getting around after the others". McNab went to the Post Office.

"I remember when we got to the post office seeing amid the debris a couple of young lads standing by at the switchboard trying to raise calls" Soon afterward a temporary station was set up in the Lands Department on Cavenagh Street and messages flowed south. It was again cut in the second raid and another station set up further out of town.

McNab and Bob Darken, who had pulled himself out from under a car near the police barracks both witnessed some of the worst tragedies in the raid and had to dig out the bomb ravaged bodies of people they had known well. They were assisted by others including Brough Newell from the ARP. The bodies were removed and taken to the hospital morgue.

He assisted at the hospital assessing the arriving injured and taking control of the bodies. "The nurses and doctors showed a marvellous spirit," he said. He recalled a Bathurst Island Aboriginal clearing the path to the hospital to allow casualties to get in even when there was a risk of straffing".

Judge wells had been at his residence and now walked along the esplanade, spoke with the Anti Aircraft Gunnery Crews who had performed so bravely during the raid, and looked for his staff, none of whom had received serious injury. Sandy McNab and other police scoured the beaches, mangroves and harbour for bodies of the dead sailors. Apart from the nurses most remaining women and children were evacuated by train in the afternoon with assistance from police and public servants. A number of British and American barefoot sailors from sunken warships stopped at the Parap Police station and asked for directions to Adelaide intending to walk there. During the raids the Gaol had been straffed and Superintendent Jock Reid had ordered prisoners be released from their cells and all internal gates and doors opened to allow them to take cover. Judge Wells and the Administrator went further and ordered the complete release of all prisoners. One prisoner named Sinclair was serving a sentence for murder. He was an ex ambulance man and upon his release went to the hospital and started treating the injured with some dedication and skill. He was later granted a pardon by the Governor General for his actions (the first one granted since federation). On the afternoon there was another air raid this time focused primarily on the aerodrome. Many civilians had already started to flee south and this only confirmed this option before the expected land invasion. Fear and confusion was fed by a breakdown in communication and opportunities to rally the town were missed. The army withdrew to more defendable positions away from the shore leaving only the navy and the isolated anti aircraft batteries in the town with a skeleton crew of civilian workers. There was confusion regarding who had jurisdiction in the deserted township between the bombing and the official handing over of control to the army. The police who remained in Darwin were subject to numerous further air raids. After moving into houses on McMinn Street to avoid being in the direct line of fire they had a relatively safe base of operations although on the 2nd of April Gordon Birt recalls a "Daisy Cutter" striking near the temporary station sending shards of steel in every direction. "It sounded like and express train going through a tunnel rather than the whistling sound when dropped further away". There is no doubt that there was widespread looting, that is if you can distinguish it from resourcefulness in adversity. One Gunner admitted he had looted many items but did so to sustain the military effort. As distressing as that may be to the owners they need to be considered in the context of the time and place in which they occur. On the 4th of April a letter from Major General Blake was delivered by provost riders advising no civilian police would be required any longer. After receiving approval from Judge Wells the police outpost in Darwin departed on the 6th of April to take up posts elsewhere in the Territory for the duration of the war handing over their responsibilities to the Army Provost Corps. By then air and anit-aircraft defences were becoming a match for the Japanese and the frequency and intensity of the raids reducing to 'pin prick' operations. Only Constable Lionel McFarland stayed on to be Judge Wells driver.

Conclusion

Sandy McNab was awarded the British Empire Medal for his actions after the first raid. The graves of the people killed in Darwin were eventually moved to the Adelaide River War Memorial. A new post office was built 4 years later on another site and in 1954 the bombed Post Office site started conversion into the Legislative Council building. A remnant wall was incorporated into that building and later relocated to the new parliament house that was built between 1990 and 1994. In 1942 Prime Minister John Curtin said "Let us vow that this blow at Darwin and the lives that it has involved, and the suffering that it has occasioned, shall gird our loins and steel our nerves... Darwin has been bombed but not conquered". Today Darwin is a vibrant tropical city that has put these dark days behind it. The passage of time has allowed the tragedy to be mourned so that sadness over the tragic losses can be balanced with due respect for the courage and endurance of those who kept Darwin functioning in the face of invasion - each playing their part to keep Australia free from occupation.



 

Ammunition Storage Bunkers

The Charles Darwin Park has a number of Ammunition Storage bunkers that were built to resist bombing attempts. Today one is a WWII exhibit space while others still serve as cyclone protection for post cyclone recovery assets.



Click for the Ammunition Storage Bunker page.



 

Links and Sources


 


Veteran Remembers - ABC


Bombing of Darwin 1942 - building damage


Bombing of Darwin WWII

NT Library Exhibition - Bombing of Darwin and salvage operation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFBrvDtcEXI&feature=related

Darwin - Doorway to Australia - National Film and Sound Archive


An Awkward Truth - History Channel Promo - http://www.historychannel.com.au/tv-shows/videos.aspx?id=1003


Darwin from 1941 - Footage from the National Film and Sound Archive


 

The Military Museum at East Point is the major repository of artefacts of war in the Northern Territory and the Australian War Memorial the largest collection of Austrailian war relics and information. The Aviation Heritage Museum in Darwin also has many wartime relics and information.


The Northern Territory Library was host to a talk by Austin Asche and Tom Pauling regarding the Bombing of Darwin - Listen to it HERE. (link to the NTL website 19 Feb 2011 - you can listen while you continue to browse)

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