Thursday, 16 February 2012

Darwin Bombed Heavily in Two Day Raids


Courier Mail 20 February 1942

 
William George Busby
Seeing this Courier Mail headline 20th February 1942, you can imagine his Brisbane based wife Myrtle’s extreme worry for the husband that she had last seen 25th January 1941. She knew  he was with the 20th Platoon E Machine Gun Company 19th Battalion based in Parap, Darwin as he had been a regular correspondent.

I don't know how long she had to wait to receive this letter.



Q70473
Pte WG Busby
20th Platoon E (MG) Coy
19th Battalion Darwin
20th February 1942

Dear Myrtle,
Just a few lines to let you know that I am still OK. I heard that the mail will be going any old way now so am writing to you tonight just in case it goes tomorrow. By the time you receive this you will know we have had an air raid and because of it the mail will not run to time. It may go tonight or it may not go for a week or two. I did not like to send a telegram, as when you received it, you would have taken about six fits and I didn’t want that. So I think a letter would be much better for everybody.

When the raid started we were out on a working party, we saw a lot of planes and before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’ we had disappeared and stayed hidden until all was over.

What with A.A guns firing, bombs dropping and planes roaring all over the sky, the noise was like fifty trains blowing off steam and blowing their whistles all at once.

After all the noise had gone and everything was quiet it was great fun talking about how we felt while the raid was on. Well, I for one had the wind up properly, but after it was over I was fine again but while it was on I hugged the ground pretty close.

Then after, we came back to camp had a wash, had tea, we were told there was a free picture show on at the church army hut so what started as a bad day finished up all OK and as the saying goes, all’s well that ends well. I cannot say more than I have already said as we are not allowed to tell any rumours because you cannot say too much or too little after things like that.

So Toots keep your chin up and do not believe any rumours down there. I and all my cobbers are all OK and still smiling. Above all don’t believe too much of what you read in the papers, because they have to sell their papers and they will print anything in them. 

Remember I am thinking of you as much as you are thinking of me. Cheerio darling until I write again and that will be as soon as possible.

Hoping this finds you in the best of health as it finds me at the top at present.
With lots of love from your loving husband Bill. xxxxxxxxxxxx
PS. Give my love to Pansy and family xxxxx
For Tuppence xxxxxx


My Grandmother had had heart troubles which is one reason he was worried about the telegram as receiving a telegram in war time was a traumatic event. 

I am very lucky in that I inherited about 200 letters from my Grandfather written to my Grandmother during WW2. He was based in Darwin then New Guinea then Borneo. The censor was very active and a number of William’s letters have been carefully excised of information. A couple have had whole paragraphs removed. Information was scarce for the people involved in the action as well as the people at home. All news released to the newspapers had to be cleared by the censors.

The bombing on the 19th was the start of over 60 attacks on Darwin (other areas in the North were also attacked) over 21 months. The actual casualty figures from the bombing were not released for quite a while (initially it was stated that only 17 people died) and even today there is discussion about what the total really was. 

Officially today 243 people were killed while some historians have estimated between 500-1000. My Grandfather always said many more people were killed than were officially reported.

We are lucky today in our research as a lot more information is available to us. I have William’s service records, not that they give any detail of the bombing. 

I have downloaded the units diaries which are available online from the Australian War Memorial as PDF files, the below is the detail from the War Diary for the Unit for the 19th February.

 
From AWM Item Num 8/3/58 19 February 1942



2012 is the 70th Anniversary  of the bombing and there is a lot going on. http://www.frontlineaustralia.com.au/  gives information about events and links to further information.  

 A book has been published: ‘An Awkward Truth. The bombing of Darwin, Febuary 1942’ by Peter Grose gives a lot of detail particularly about the political decisions at the time.