Pte Hugh Moran, POW: his own words

We rarely have the opportunity to hear about the wartime experiences of a family member in their own words. You can imagine my surprise, and pleasure, to discover that Trove’s digitised newspapers included interviews with Pte Hugh Moran (my mother’s cousin), about whom I wrote on Anzac Day this year.

Settle in, grab the drink of your choice, and follow his story.

What worked in my favour was the fact that (1) Hugh had been a Prisoner of War (POW) and (2) had been among the early troops repatriated to Australia. He was obviously not bashful about being interviewed and provides quite a lot of detail on his POW experiences. This story is from Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper (26 July 1945, page 3):

MORAN Hugh Courier Mail 26 July 1945ITALIANS USED P.O.W’s TO BOLSTER MORALE

THREE hundred Australians, the first captured by the Italians at Derna, in 1941, were used as ‘propaganda prisoners’ ‘ and marched through every large town in Italy. Their photographs were taken thousands of times, superimposed on top of each other, to make their numbers appear the strength of several divisions.

Pte. H. A. Moran, of Charters Towers, one of the 16 repatriated prisoners of war, who returned to Brisbane yesterday, told of his experiences as a propaganda prisoner with the first captured Australians. ‘When our group arrived in Italy we became a great novelty. We were photographed incessantly the day we landed, and issued with brand new Italian P.O.W. uniforms,’ said Pte. Moran. ‘For propaganda reasons, the Italians treated us very well in the first six months. ‘We were fed well, kept tidy and healthy, because the tougher and fitter we seemed the harder it made the task of capturing us. The Italians moved us from one camp to another, and marched us through all the large towns. These marches were always accompanied by a blare of publicity, in which the Italians announced that they had captured thousands of Australians and would march a section of them through the town’.

‘Later we saw the photographs in the papers, and realised they had superimposed group snaps of us in all different positions so that our numbers appeared multiplied many hundred times. After six months of this roadshow life our publicity value began to wear off. We were herded into a camp at Bolzana (sic) [Bolzano], near the Brenner Pass, and treated like ordinary prisoners. This was a concentration camp guarded by the Carabinieres [Carabinieri] — the Italian equivalent of the German Gestapo. The guards were frightened of Australians, and punished them severely for petty offences.’ Pte. Moran was taken to Germany on Italy’s capitulation and liberated by the Americans early this year [my emphasis]. With 1000 Dominion ex-prisoners of war he was entertained by the Royal family at an afternoon party at Buckingham Palace during his recuperation in England.

That last little snippet was a “Wow!” moment but I notice that there was no mention of the Death March/Long March west from Stalag VIIIB.

However, let’s press the pause button on that for a while. Knowing that men were often feted in their home communities when they enlisted I went looking for any such news. The Townsville Daily Bulletin of 12 June 1940 revealed that:

MORAN Hugh Nthn Miner 21 Dec 1940 p2

Hugh also received gifts in Charters Towers. Northern Miner 21 Dec 1940, p2

A meeting was convened last Thursday for the purpose of forming a committee to farewell the men resident in this district who had enlisted. Owing to lack of time it was found necessary to hold the send -off on Sunday night as volunteers were leaving on Monday. During the evening eulogistic speeches were made by Messrs. K. Hort, W. Watkins. T. Jamieson, K. Johnstone and M. Graham, and the volunteers: Messrs. J. Doyle, H. Moran, D. Turpin and H. Axelsen jnr., were each presented with a fountain pen as a small token of esteem.

I wonder if Hugh found that pen to be handy over the coming years? Perhaps not, as ink would have been hard to come by. Did it too survive the war?

POWs Capua Italy 29 July 1941 p

Cairns Post, 29 July 1941., p4. List includes HA Moran.

Twelve months after this eulogistic evening, the papers were displaying long lists of POWs including the name of Pte HA Moran from Cardwell. In my research I learned the significant role played by the Vatican in coordinating this news and in assisting men, and their families, to communicate with each other. Vatican representatives visited the camps and documented the men’s names which were then broadcast. Ironically the news could be received more promptly this way than through official channels.

Bolzano Udine

From Bolzano to Campo 57 near Udine.

A lengthy Christmas radio broadcast from the Vatican reveals the Pope’s care and concern for the POWs, which is endorsed in reports from prisoners, many of whom were not Catholics. We can only imagine these words would have provided consolation to Catholic families in Australia, like that of Bridget Moran nee McSherry whose son had been taken prisoner only a month after her husband’s death that same year. I’ve included much of the report as it reveals a variety of things about the prisoners and the Pope’s concern for them.

Christmas Message Concerning Australasian Prisoners of War in Italy Broadcast by the Vatican Radio Station[i].

In the name of the Holy Father Pope Pius XII. the Papal Nuncio to Italy has once more visited the Prisoner of War Camps, visiting thus those who are near arid dear to you. His commission is the outcome of the Holy Father s paternal Interest in the prisoners and of his unceasing solicitude for their welfare. It is his task to bring the men the Holy Father’s greetings and as his representative to help alleviate in every way possible their necessarily irksome lot. In the past fortnight he has seen your dear ones, commissioned this time in particular to convey to them the Holy Father’s Christmas Greetings and to present them with Christmas cards and gifts from him. To every prisoner he has brought a card on which is a reproduction of Raphael’s Adoration of the Magi, and this greeting in English— a greeting sprung indeed from the heart, of the common Father: ‘Christmas, 1941’.[ii] With ever greater paternal solicitude we turn our thoughts to each one of you who in your separation from distant. homes at this Christmas Season feel very keenly the absence of your loved ones. They are prayerful and affectionate good wishes. May they sweeten the bitterness of that separation and be to you all a source of Divine comfort and Christian hope. Pope Plus XII.’

Vatican diary and card 1942

1943 ‘Vatican Radio on Prisoners of War in Italy’, Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954), 9 July, p. 1. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167778333

With the paternal wishes go the presents which the Holy Father’s generosity has provided — cigarettes, books, games of all sorts, and as prizes for Christmas raffles, handsome leather bound clocks (sic) [query books?]. This have (sic) the Holy Father’s representative and those who accompany him to tell of the men and their conditions. Your dear ones cannot but feel the dreariness that go with their lot as prisoners of war, but they are not unhappy and they are keeping their spirits high.

It continues with the following description of life in an Italian POW camp, which doesn’t quite coincide with Hugh’s recollections, but then in December 1941 perhaps things had not yet deteriorated. (see below for more details)[iii]

See, now, the picture of what is actually happening. In the person of his representative the Holy Father is among your dear ones, to wish them a Happy Christmas and brighten the celebration for them as far as ever he may. Their thoughts are directed to other Christmases celebrated in the intimacy of their homes. They think of you and so seize on the chance of the Nuncio’s visit to beg him to send you a Christmas message, and that message, still warm from their hearts, this marvellous gift, of God — the radio — enables us to give you now before it has time to cool.

They greet you all — parents, wives, children, relatives and friends, assuring you of their thought for you and for you they pray, through the Saviour’s coming, every blessing, spiritual and temporal, in the New Year. And may we join our wish to theirs, praying that the Prince of Peace may shorten the scourge of war, hasten the coming of a just and universal peace, and reunite you and your dear ones.

After Hugh’s transfer to Germany in 1943, he was shuttled through Stalag VIIIA near Gorlitz (now Zgorzelec, Poland) before being sent on to Stalag VIIIB.

Gorlitz to Poland LambinowiceSince my last post I’ve done further reading and found out a little more about his conditions and where he worked as an Arbeits Kommando. He was allocated initially to Paris Grube, at Sosnowitz (now Sosnowiec) near Dombrowa (Dabrowa) with Kommando group E543 of which nothing seems to be known. The fact that it was called Paris Grube suggests to me it was a mine called, ironically, Paris. Hugh was there for seven months from 2 November 1943 until 5 June 1944.

Camps Poland MORAN

This is the distance between Stalag 344 (8B) at Lamsdorf (Lambinowice) and Sosnowiec.

It is sickening to realise that Hugh was essentially slave labour at Sosnowitz soon after the massed deportation of its Jewish community to Auchwitz (Oswiecim).  Had he been transported from Łambinowice to Sosnowitz on these same trains which would have carried the despair like a miasma. It’s highly likely he was unfortunate enough to witness at least some of these horrifying trains en route to concentration camps from which few would return.

There had been considerable underground activity among the Jews in Sosnowiec. The uprising, which began on 3 August 1943…The last Holocaust transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau with Jews forced to bury the dead, left Sosnowiec on 15 January 1944.[iv]

Hugh was apparently kept at Stalag VIIIB for five months until 7 November 1944 (perhaps this is when he was sick?). This time he was with Arbeits Kommando E42, working at a paper mill at Rothsfest (Rudawa). Hugh’s isolation in the work camps may explain why he did not receive either personal mail or Red Cross parcels.

MORAN Work camps

The location of the two work camps to which Hugh Moran was allocated..nearly 200kms from Stalag VIIIB (8B)

There is no indication of when Hugh returned to Lamsdorf but it seems likely that it predated the evacuation of the prisoners from VIIIB with the oncoming march of the Russian army. It is at this point that Hugh Moran and his fellow prisoners commenced the Death March that would take the lives of so many. It’s pertinent to notice that at no point does he make mention of it in his interviews – a typical soldier’s response to largely play down the true horrors of war.

AWM POWs ART25519

Australian P.O.W.s on the march through Germany. AWM Art 25519 in the public domain.

Just imagine the excitement among his family when the news came through that he had been repatriated and was safe!

MORAN Duke aka Hugh Ntn Miner 24 May 1945

Northern Miner, 24 May 1945, page 4.

Pte Hugh Moran (Charters Towers): English politicians have been battling against fraternisation, but they have reckoned without the human element. You can’t stop it. A soldier is a soldier no matter where he is. When I left England letters from English soldiers in Germany were appearing, in the Press urging relaxations. The Nazis had severe punishments for any German civilians who fraternised with us but some still talked to us. The older Germans have had their lesson, but we still have to watch the young Hitlerites.[v]…… Pte Moran was among 1,000 Empire troops who were invited to Buckingham Palace to an afternoon party. The King and Queen [and the Princess Elizabeth and Margaret] moved among them in the palace grounds. “I was very impressed by the informal way that our Royal hosts greeted us and spent so much lime talking to the men” he said.

His family, and Hugh himself, would have been buzzing with excitement at a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

download(1)

EMPIRE GARDEN PARTY AT BUCKINGHAM PALACE FOR EX-P.O.W.s OF THE EMPIRE. http://trove.nla.gov.au/version/182628782 Hugh Moran would have been somewhere on one of the trucks arriving at Buckingham Palace for the garden party.

MORAN Buckingham Palace AWW

The Australian Women’s Weekly had something to say about the shindig. 16 June 1945, p22. Right: Princess Elizabeth and HRH King George VI chat with returned POWs.

download(2)

There must surely have been times when he was overwhelmed by the change from being a POW, German slave labour and the long Death March. Perhaps the men were grateful for the sea voyage home, giving them a buffer between these extreme experiences and before meeting up with family. The excitement continued with Hugh’s repatriation to Australia when the car he was travelling in was mobbed by enthusiastic friends and perhaps relatives.

MORAN Hugh Telegraph 25 July 45 p3

Telegraph (Brisbane) 25 July 1945, p3.

So far, little is known of what happened to Hugh on his return to Australia, other than that he visited family in Charters Towers and Bundaberg on demobilisation. Further research is needed, and no doubt we’ll never know what his true thoughts were about his experiences as a POW.

We are very fortunate that Australian service records include both the German POW records and the soldier’s repatriation statements. The British (UK) service records have to be applied for under Freedom of Information (FOI) conditions.

For further reference you may be interested in reading some or all of the following: Hitler’s British Slaves by Sean Longden (available as an e-book), is excellent in revealing the horrors and degradation the men faced.

Stalag VIIIB/Lamsdorf Facebook Group

Campo 57 Facebook group

Previous posts on Pte Hugh Moran are here and here

[i] Catholic Freeman’s Journal, 2 January 1942, page 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146374770 Similar in The Catholic Press, 2 January 1942, page 7 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106361197.

[ii] See an image on this page http://www.grupignano.com/camp-life.html

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sosnowiec_Ghetto

[v] 1945 ‘”FRATERNISE, “SAY AIF REPATRIATES’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 25 July, p. 3. (SECOND EDITION), viewed 09 May 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187496961

[iii] Continued: The food supplied them is good and sufficient, corresponding to what is given to the same rank in the Italian Army, and since the men run their own canteens and do their own cooking they can add to it something of the relish that comes from this serving in the ways they have known at home. They are well clothed and recently received an adequate supply of winter clothing. They are in fine health, and the visits have shown little or no sickness in the camps. For their recreation they have theatres where they stage concerts practically every week. For the past, month preparations for Christmas shows have been under way. Small libraries are gradually being built up in each camp. There are language classes for those who wish them and many have become proficient in Italian already [perhaps helped by the fact that Mass was said in Latin at the time]. Every facility is given for religious services for the men, and an Australian Anglican Minister, a prisoner, is allowed entire freedom in providing religious assistance for the men of his camp. Catholics, if they have not Sunday Mass, in the Camp itself, are given the opportunity of hearing Mass outside.

Skylarking in the army

Sepia Saturday 245This week’s Sepia Saturday 245 is all about men larking about, perhaps with a wee drop of whisky in the background.

army group1My images today date from a serious aspect of our nation’s history, World War II, but it’s also obvious the men weren’t on the front line and were having a fine time larking around. This series of photos is from my aunt’s photo album which I inherited. Her husband, Pat Farraher, was a cook with the Army during the War and I wrote about the serious side of his story back on Sepia Saturday 180.Pat Farraher 4

In the photos Pat and his mates are having a play stoush, doing the seemingly-inevitable rabbit ears behind a mate and generally having a light moment or two with or without the wee dram. I don’t know whether the photos were taken at Enoggera barracks in Brisbane or somewhere in Papua New Guinea, but my guess would be the former except in the final photo. Seriously, would you trust these men with the nation’s security?Army mate

I wonder how other Sepians have responded to this challenge? Do their photos reveal lurking, posing, drinking or sharing?army friends

 

This photograph has the following names on the reverse: Ned Eteell, Slim Hope, and Percy Holt. My guess is this photo is in  PNG.

This photograph has the following names on the reverse: Ned Eteell, Slim Hope, and Percy Holt. My guess is this photo is in PNG.

 

An army marches on its stomach

Sepia Sat 180It seems that my uncle Pat Farraher is determined to have his moment in the Sepia Saturday sun. Pat appeared back in Sepia Saturday 166 and today’s topic is tailor-made for him.

The World War II nominal roll only gives bare details but it lists Patrick Joseph Farraher enlisting on 15 September 1942 in Enoggera, Brisbane at the age of 34. He was attached to the 4th Field Bakery (AASC) as a private. His next of kin was my Aunty Mary.

Among my aunt’s estate were some old family photos including some of Uncle Pat’s military service, including those mentioned above. Today we start moving into the field and the Australian War Memorial’s photographic collection places Pat’s photos in context. I knew he’d served in Papua New Guinea, and immediately recognised some of Pat’s place photos from his time there, but knew nothing about these service photos of his.

It may be this is field training prior to departing to Papua New Guinea -it looks like Australian scrub in the background.

It may be this is field training prior to departing to Papua New Guinea -it looks like Australian scrub in the background. Photograph from Pat Farraher collection.

The cook "train" -you can see this photo links with the one above.

The cook “train” -you can see this photo links with the one above. Photo from Pat Farraher collection.

I could see this was an Army Dukw (amphibious vehicle) photographed, I suspect, at Enoggera army camp by Uncle Pat but what relevance did it have?

Perhaps they were heading off to the ship to PNG.

Perhaps they were heading off to the ship to PNG. Photograph from Pat Farraher collection.

But the AWM website makes it clearer in its caption for this photo: A FIELD BAKERY BEING ESTABLISHED ON THE NORTHERN BANK OF THE BUMI RIVER. THIS PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS MEMBERS OF THE 4TH AUSTRALIAN FIELD BAKERY PLACING SHEER LEGS IN POSITION ON TWO “DUKWs” PREPARATORY TO UNLOADING THE BAKERS OVENS.

Photograph 61074 from the AWM Collection, taken in the Finchhafen area of PNG.

Photograph 61074 from the AWM Collection, taken in the Finchhafen area of PNG. Image in the public domain. Men from the 4th Field Bakery.

Armies need food as well as ammunition so the army bakers were kept busy making bread, rolls, meat pies and who knows what else. I don’t suppose that with people being shot at, any concerns for health regulations went out the window. I was lucky to find so many great photos of the 4th Field Bakery in the AWM collections.

Image 061258 AWM. 4th Field Bakery men preparing bread rolls.

Image 061258 AWM. 4th Field Bakery men preparing bread rolls. Image out of copyright.

In a hot and humid region, working in the bakehouse must have been incredible sweaty work though they were probably well-served by their bush-materials bake house. In the bigger scheme of things I guess the Diggers probably didn’t care too much about a salty addition to their bread rolls.

The AWM states on one picture “with improvised ovens and huts and the help of native boys, the men of the 2/4th Field Bakery baked thousands of bread rolls each day to supply the Division”.

Some bakers from the 4th Field Bakery heading back to quarters after a busy day’s work. The contrast between the featured image today and the men in this image is amusing, I think. No wonder the British officers complained about the casualness of Australian soldiers during WWI.

AWM Image 061613 of the 4th Field Bakery men leaving the bush materials bakehouse at Dumpu in the Ramu Valley, PNG.

AWM Image 061613 of the 4th Field Bakery men leaving the bush materials bakehouse at Dumpu in the Ramu Valley, PNG. Image out of copyright and in the public domain.

Lest We Forget: the Battle of Milne Bay

As you know we’ve just returned from Papua New Guinea, and in particular Milne Bay where we spent most of our time. We had lived there for a couple of years after our marriage but Mr Cassmob had also spent his teenage years in the district, when home from boarding school, and he regards it as his “place”.

It always shocks me how little known Milne Bay is within the history of World War II, while Kokoda gains a much higher profile. Despite contradictory stories, it was in the Battle of Milne Bay that the Japanese suffered their first land defeat, proving they were not invincible. Following the rapid domino effect of their overthrow of the Asian countries such as Singapore, this battle gave hope that their forces could be defeated. While there is now no indication that the Japanese forces intended to invade Australia, there’s little doubt that an enemy force ensconced in Papua or New Guinea would have been cause for grave concern and fears for Australia’s security. This year has been the 70th anniversary of the battle.

The Battle of Milne Bay was a relatively short but difficult campaign exacerbated by challenging terrain, heat and the hazards of malaria. It raged up and down the northern coastline of Milne Bay exactly where we were visiting last week and where we had lived in the 70s. The major air base was on Gili Gili Plantation where my husband worked briefly in the late 60s (see the story of his discovery of a wartime artefact here).

Rather than give you chapter and verse I’m going to show you the images of the War Memorial near Alotau and also the information plaques which tell the story of the battle. You might also be interested in the images on my Tropical Territory blog which show the stained glass windows in the Catholic Church in Alotau, honouring those lost in the battle.

The map shows the range of the battlegrounds. Alotau, the provincial headquarters, where we’ve just been, is slightly to the left of the arrow.

The memorial overlooks Milne Bay: a far more tranquil scene than 70 years ago.

The Australians gained great support from the local people who risked much to help them.

Lest we forget

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

In Memoriam: Crows Nest Memorial to those who gave their lives in World Wars I and II. The memorial includes the names of Cpl French VC and my grandfather’s cousin, James Gavin.

The Bombing of Darwin: an Awkward Truth

Last night we were in the audience for the world premiere screening of the documentary, The Bombing of Darwin, an Awkward Truth. The Darwin Entertainment Centre was filled close to capacity with old servicemen and their families, Darwinites old and new, and visitors.  We were rewarded with a very engaging and educational documentary based on a book of the same name by Peter Grose. Recurring comments are that people had known next to nothing about the bombing. You too can see it if you have cable TV as it shows on the History Channel on Sunday night in Australia and can also be bought from the Australian War Memorial after this week. I don’t have the film-reviewer skills to phrase these comments effectively but let’s see if I can give you the flavour.

Pros

  • Great archival film footage from the National Film and Sound Archives and the Australia War Memorial though little is from the day of the bombing.
  • An effective merger of the archive footage with staged reproductions – filmed in sepia or black and white ensured they blended well together.
  • The interviews with the now-aged servicemen interspersed through the doco were extremely effective: dry, and often amusing, and revealing of the poor level of preparation for a war on Australia’s soil. Their memories of the fear were clear to see.
  • The men’s youth was shown subtly with images of them in uniform occasionally shadowed behind them as they spoke – they were so young and it was interesting to see how similar they were to their youthful photos irrespective of ageing.
  • The recounting of facts like burying bodies or finding men with their skin boiled off by the burning oil, simply told.
  • It revealed the ensuing chaos, lack of leadership, and the real fear and expectation that the Japanese would now stage an invasion on Australian soil. After all “impregnable” Singapore had fallen only days before.
  • The sheer good fortune of those who survived despite the odds, including the post office worker who didn’t hide in the PO’s secure trench –which took a direct hit.
  • The “warts and all” approach of honesty in regard to looting and the ambiguity of military directions.
  • Includes references to the Indigenous people and their experiences.
  • The film will be shown to history teachers at the National History teachers upcoming conference and included in the teaching curriculum.

Cons/Questions (some of these arose from the Q&A session at the end)

  • The map which showed the spread of Japanese control to include Papua New Guinea though this never fell to the Japanese and was heavily contested in fighting with Kokoda and the Battle of Milne Bay key defensive successes. (We lived in PNG so knew the back-story to this).
  • Discussion over how much looting took place and whether it was for profit or much-needed supplies.
  • Discussion over whether some units were left in Darwin.
  • Dispute over the “Adelaide River stakes”: the mass departure of civilians from Darwin after the bombing: a wise strategy if you think you’re about to be invaded.

There were a large number of servicemen in the audience who had survived the bombing and it was impressive to see their general level of fitness and mental clarity as they were all very elderly.

The documentary is certainly well worth watching if you get a chance. There’s a short trailer for it here.

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.

Sadds Ridge Rd, Charters Towers (Qld) and WWII in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.

This post is really about my husband’s family and some World War II history from Papua New Guinea (then Papua). This story shows how family history intersects with local history and each can complement the other.

Let him tell the story of how this all started:

From the late-1960s my family lived at Alotau, the District Headquarters for the Milne Bay Province, for a number of years and prior to that in Samarai also in the Milne Bay District.  Alotau as a town only came into existence in the mid-1960s but service men and women who were in Milne Bay during World War II may have known the location as Sanderson’s Bay, on the northern side of Milne Bay and to the east of Koiabule (KB) Mission. Sanderson’s Bay is near near where Corporal John Alexander French won his VC  on 4 September 1942.
During a university break in 1968 I was working as a supervisor on Gili Gili Plantation, a copra plantation near Gurney Airstrip. The plantation was essentially a very large clearing in the jungle which cover the ranges of hills surrounding the Bay and extend down across the coastal plains almost to the sea. In 1968, the stands of coconut palms on the plantation were still littered with bomb craters, wrecked military vehicles and other discards of war, including quite a lot of rusted-up weapons and unexploded ordnance; they probably still are!  I was overseeing a “labour line” or work gang using grass knives or “sarifs”, a sort of primitive hand-held scythe, to clean out overgrown parts of the plantation. I was nineteen at the time, the same age as many of the soldiers who had fought over the same country twenty-six years previously.
One of the workers took a chip out of the blade of his sarif on something metal which, when he uncovered it, proved to be a street sign, but not like any street sign I’d ever seen in Papua New Guinea or, indeed, in Brisbane or Melbourne. It was a blue rectangle with a white border carrying the name Sadds Ridge Road. I took the sign home and it has graced the many houses my family of origin and later my wife and I have lived in. While we often wondered where the sign came from, the occasional search of Australian street directories did not help, and we did not solve the mystery until March 2008, although my wife had previously seen an elusive reference to it among the Queensland pension indexes.

We now live in Darwin, and were driving to Cairns on holidays, calling in at cemeteries and Family History Societies along the way, as you do if you are relly-hunting. We stopped in Charters Towers because Pauleen’s great-grandfather Stephen Gillespie Melvin had well-known refreshment rooms and a chocolate factory in Gill Street. We saw a reference to Chinese market gardens at Sadds Ridge – and there you are! I gather the name of the Road was changed to York Street years ago, and this explains why we hadn’t found it previously.
The sign was obviously souvenired and taken to Milne Bay in 1942. While it must have meant quite a bit to someone to go to that much trouble, we have no clue as to their identity – someone who lived on the Road and wanted a reminder of home, or a soldier from somewhere else who wanted a memento of their time in Charters Towers?

So the mystery is: does anyone out there know of a soldier from Charters Towers (there were many) who served in Milne Bay during World War I? It would be intriguing to fill in the final part of the puzzle.

World War I discovery in Milne Bay, Papua

Sadds Ridge Rd sign