EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS

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"Townsville at War - A Soldier Remembers" by Herbert C. Jaffa
Page 30

Townsville itself was attacked from the air just before and again a day after the publication of the Darwin photograph in July.  And here again, the Bulletin served.  By recalling Darwin at the very time that their own city was being bombed, the Bulletin helped to minimise the experience and allowed Townsvilleans to shrug it off as a "nuisance" compared to what had happened at Darwin.

The Japanese made much of their late night raids on Townsville, calling them "the largest raids .... since the fall of Singapore,"   They were not; and picking up their short wave broadcast afterwards, he felt an exhilarating sense of satisfaction.  The Nips, who had so vocally threatened the city for months, even addressing inhabitants and businesses by name, had been forced to exaggerate grossly when they finally penetrated Townsville's anti-aircraft cover.

There was never any "large formation of Japanese bombers" over Townsville, as the broadcast claimed.  At most three fat four-engined Kawanisi flying boats (whose silhouettes he knew by heart) and their bombs, which supposedly had been dropped during the first raid "on docks, airfields, and oil dumps," causing "large fires," had missed their targets completely and fallen harmlessly into the bay off the town jetty.  During the other raids (also on magnificent moon-bright nights with which memory still flashes), one or two Kawanisi managed to destroy a line of palm trees and to gouge the earth with craters in sparsely settled areas.  More seriously, they narrowly missed the railway bridge over Ross River which, if hit, would have disrupted the flow of supplies from the south and west. All the raids combined caused only one casualty, a little girl who was wounded by a bomb fragment, and very little property damage. The little girl, whom the Bulletin in later weeks was to report as having recovered, was the daughter of a cane farmer outside Mossman to the north.

During the raids he had worried about Dorrie and her family in their wide, open-verandahed house on Mitchell Street.  It stood just a short stretch up from the Strand, and was too close to a clustering of searchlights and guns in their neighbourhood.  He knew the Dinsmore drill, Townsville having lived with alerts for months, so he knew where they all were - in shelters under the house where they had gone at the first whine of the "red" signal -  though larrikin Ron again might have sneaked off to the dunny for a read with the flashlight.  But the shelters were too shallow, and the wooden house itself, though sturdily raised up on solid posts, and covered with a roof of corrugated iron, provided little protection against any direct impact.

(And he saw again the single Kawanisi, breaking off from the others, flying high, dodging the lights and the snapping bursts of flak falling behind it as it sped along the sea front before suddenly turning inland towards the centre of the city.  And he remembered once more how he had tried to "will" the plane away from North Ward and Dorrie's house and then how surprised he had been, and with the surprise, a rush of relief and gratefulness - and he actually felt it again - when the Kawanisi suddenly changed again and fled back out to sea.)

 

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"The WAAAF in Wartime Australia"
by Joyce Thomson
Page 180

Newspaper accounts of Japanese air raids on Townsville intensified civilian protest about the servicewomen's lack of pension and repatriation benefits.  On 25/26 July around midnight two Japanese four-engined flying boats (type HGK2, codenamed 'Emily'), operating from Rabaul, dropped fifteen 250 kilogram bombs towards the Townsville wharves and three vessels anchored alongside.  Little damage was done but the city had been completely unprepared to resist attack, despite its relatively close proximity to the fighting in the New Guinea area.  Raids on Townsville by lone 'Emilies' on the two following nights met a measure of resistance from anti-aircraft gunfire and American Airacobras but, as Ian Moles later wrote, 'it was the ineptness of the Japanese bombardiers rather than the efficiency of the city's defence which was the main reason for the citizens 'lucky escape'.  On 30/31 July in a fourth raid, Japanese aircraft dropped bombs at Mossman, near Cairns, mistaking the town's lights for the aerodrome area, but no damage was done.  A further bomb fell on a sugar-cane farm, just missing the building but wounding the farmer's 2 1/2 year old daughter.

WAAAF shift workers were on duty at North-Eastern Area Headquarters and at the Voluntary Air Observers Corps Headquarters during the raids and evidently carried out their work in exemplary fashion.  Wing Officer Gwen Stark later described the reaction of the airwomen at the St Anne's barracks on the first night of the raids:-

The air raid alarm, there was no panic at all. It was the first time they had had an alarm and they just got into the trenches and stayed there.  Everybody knew what to do.  It was a bright moonlight night and we saw the two planes coming over and heard the thump as they dropped their bombs going out.  I think they were after the docks where the troops were all leaving from [New Guinea].

Graphic descriptions of the raids were given in the press. For example, the Sunday Mail correspondent, B.J. Anderson, reported on 2 August that Australian servicewomen, under fire on the home front for the first time, had established by their fine behaviour their 'right to be regarded as equals of the nations' fighting men'.  In Sydney, a day or two after the raids, Erna Keighley, President of the United Associations of Women, drew attention to the serious injustice that WAAAF, many of whom were at 'battle stations' and whose names were also appearing in the casualty lists, were being deprived of the same repatriation and pension benefits as men of the RAAF.  Her comments were hyperbolically expressed, but she probably had in mind the recent death of Corporal Ray Diggles, who had been among those killed when a seaplane crashed on a test flight over the Townsville Harbour. (Sydney Morning Herald 31 July 1942, Townsville Daily Bulletin 27 July 1942)

 

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This page first produced 27 June 1998

This page last updated 13 August 2002