N navigates North Shields, Nguiu and Nuremberg

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today’s places are scattered far and wide.

N is for North Shields (Northumberland)

North Shields is all about the sea, then and now. © P Cass 2010

North Shields lies between Tynemouth and Newcastle on Tyne in Northumberland. In its heyday there were busy shipyards with all the associated workers. Among the workers and residents of the nearby poorer areas, were my ancestors, the Gillespie/Gilhespy families, including my 2x great grandmother Margaret Gillespie. In the course of my research I’d read a number of references, and thought I had a pretty good idea of the layout of the town before I got there. Even so I was surprised to see how much the maps and Google Earth had helped me to understand the place. We were also impressed to see a huge slab-sided freighter come into the harbour: like a massive big box on the sea.

The wooden dolly is a feature of North Shields. © P Cass 2010

North Shields reminded me a little of Leith when I first saw it. Very much rooted in its working docks history, with hints of upcoming gentrification. Online searching had indicated that there were some very flash apartments near the river at North Shields. I’d say the Global Financial Crisis put paid to that idea for some time, as the construction site was a wasteland of inactivity. Empty shopfronts sit cheek by jowl with burgeoning quality restaurants. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves in coming years.

I enjoyed doing a tour of the area looking at their well-placed and informative historical signage. Because it covered a fair distance it became a driving tour, and the rain was driving as well. I managed to see most of what I’d hoped to, before I became soaked to the skin and had to call it quits…it was November, and cold!

N is for Nguiu (Northern Territory, Australia)

Nguiu waterfront, Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory. © P Cass 2002

Nguiu is an Aboriginal community on the Tiwi Islands and was my daughter’s first teaching posting. The Tiwi people have a rich cultural heritage and their art work, carvings and fabrics are popular collectors’ items. There are all sorts of wonderful places to visit but you require a permit to go on the island (except on Grand Final day), so you need to take a tour or have family/friends on the island. The Tiwis were our first real exposure to Indigenous Australians in their own environment and we learnt so much from our daughter’s stay there. Not much use to my distant overseas readers, but maybe some of my Aussie geneabloggers will add a visit to the Tiwi Islands to their touring wish-list.

N is for Nuremberg (Bavaria, Germany)

The Nuremberg Christkindlmarkt: a sea of striped awnings. © P Cass 1992

For a certain age bracket of readers, Nuremberg will evoke memories of the post World War II Nazi crimes tribunal, as it did for me. Putting that aside what you’ll find is a Bavarian city rich in culture.

If you visit at Christmas, as we did, your focus will be on the city’s fantastic Christmas markets. It provides a sensory overload of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch combined. Stalls bristle with bratwurst on crispy white rolls with mustard, drunk with mulled wine to combat the chill, and decorated gingerbread for a sweet-treat or roasted chestnuts grilled over braziers.

Gorgeous horses and carriage tour Nuremberg © P Cass 1992.

Through the darkness the twinkle lights overhead mix with the coloured lights in the stalls to bring happiness and atmosphere. Stalls sell glittering Christmas decorations of all descriptions, large and small, inexpensive and pricey. A lovely nativity scene sits in sight of the ancient church in a square flanked by buildings. Beautifully groomed horses with golden manes clop by pulling old carriages for anyone who wants a sight-seeing ride. Lucky tourists may see the area dusted with snow. Truly magical!

And for anyone who is interested I’ve added Murphys Creek to my “M is for” list. I don’t know how I omitted it, given its significance to my family history.

In the A to Z challenge you might like to look at:

Coffee Lovin’ Mom on Galway

Family History Fun has a great “M is for…” post on Scottish sources.

The Bombing of Darwin 19 February 1942: the 70th anniversary

Darwin is in a flurry of activity this week as the city commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942. Although it’s said that the event was little known in Australia’s history perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it was a good example of war-time “spin”…perhaps understandably in the sense of keeping up morale.

In the beginning the numbers of fatalities and injuries quoted were sadly underestimated and to this date, the figures remain contested by some people. The prevailing view is that “more than 243” were killed and between 300 and 400 injured.

Similarly the number of Japanese planes in the assault was also underestimated at the time: 70+ or so compared with an actual 188. Much appears to have been made of the fact that 4 enemy planes had been brought down during the two raids which occurred an hour apart, although one of the planes actually crash-landed on Bathurst Island.The USS Peary was among the naval casualties in the harbour that day, ironically having only returned the day before to refuel.

The Prime Minister of the day, John Curtin, responded to the attacks with the following comments published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 20 February 1942:

”Damage to property was considerable,” he said, “but reports so far to hand do not give precise particulars about the loss of life. The Government regards the attacks as most grave, and makes it quite clear that a severe blow has been struck on Australian soil”.

Darwin had actually had some warning that the planes were coming when Father John McGrath of Bathurst Island Catholic mission at Nguiu radioed to warn Darwin. This message was transmitted to the RAAF base. Unfortunately the message was largely ignored as they thought it was some returning American aircraft. Since that time the Tiwi people have their own commemoration of the event, with their bombing dance featuring swooping plane movements and shooting. We were lucky to see the dance for ourselves when we visited Nguiu in 1995, as it was our daughter’s first teaching post. A Tiwi Islander, Matthias Ulungura, captured the 1st Japanese prisoner of war on Australian soil, Sergeant Hajimi Toyoshima whose Zero fighter crashed near Snake Bay.

The Bombing of Darwin occurred about 10 weeks after Pearl Harbour and was masterminded by the same Japanese commander, Mitsuo Fuchida with the same squadrons and pilots taking part. It’s interesting to compare the two events, one very well known and one almost unknown. Astonishingly Darwin had 683 bombs dropped on it during that first morning compared with Pearl Harbour’s 271 though without doubt the magnitude of the bombs was smaller. At Pearl Harbour torpedo bombs were used which have a much greater impact. Based on the bombing pattern, it seems the Japanese intent was plainly not just to decimate the shipping and aircraft but to take out the infrastructure so there was no northern base from which Australia, and its Pacific ally America, could mount an offence against Japanese bases in Asia. The indicative number of civilian deaths in Darwin was around 60.

Pearl Harbour

Darwin

Japanese aircraft

353

188

Japanese aircraft carriers

6

4

Aircraft destroyed (US/Aus)

188

20

Killed (US/Aus)

2402

243+

Wounded

1282

300-400

Ships sunk

10

8

Date

7-Dec-41

19-Feb-42

Throughout the battle, the 18 anti-aircraft guns were fired constantly until their barrels were red hot. So hot in fact that when the cleaning cloths were used, they burst into flames. Famously one bloke came running from the showers in his hat and boots -with a towel   wrapped around him, that soon dropped off. Artists’ representations show him naked manning the guns.

Many of the women, children and elderly of Darwin had been evacuated to friends and family around Australia in the preceding month or so, and after the bombing most of those remaining went/were sent south. This left the men, civilian and military, and the indigenous people on the Frontline. The list of evacuees is extensive but can be seen here on the National Archives of Australia webpage (click on view digital copy on the right). Some of the evacuees were to become refugees in their own country a second time in 1974, when 33,000 people had to leave the city after it was nearly destroyed by Cyclone Tracy.

The effect of the war in Darwin is easy to ignore, yet visible everywhere. There are military installations scattered around the cliffs and parks, main streets were runways, and down the Track (the Stuart Highway) there are regular signposts to former airstrips, supply depots and the like.

The new Defence of Darwin Experience at the revamped Military Museum, which will be opened this weekend, will no doubt do much to make this part of Australia’s history far more well-known. (Update: we visited this on Saturday 18 February just after it opened, and it really is an excellent insight into the bombing. I’m pleased we’ll be able to visit it on a regular basis so there’s less risk of information overload).

Over the next few days I’ll be posting some photos that relate to Darwin’s role in World War II and to the Bombing. You can find them on my Tropical Territory blog.

And if you are in Australia and have cable TV, the history channel will be screening “The Bombing of Darwin, an Awkward Truth” on Sunday night. It premiered in Darwin tonight and was extremely interesting.