Filming the bombing of Darwin | Australian War Memorial

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Filming the bombing of Darwin | Australian War Memorial

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On the 19th of February seventy years ago, the city of Darwin was bombed. Sustaining heavy damage and civilian casualties in air raids by Japanese forces, this attack was the first of over sixty air raids conducted up until November 1943.

For footage of the actual bombing, we today rely on the films of amateur filmmakers who were living or stationed in Darwin at the time. They also took in scenes of destruction, filmed once the danger had passed. Though mostly black and white, faded, scratched and lacking a sound track, the films clearly convey the devastating effects of the attacks : masses of smoke rise against a clear sky, out of which a shot fighter plane drops to earth; ships stream plumes of smoke, and the wreckage of homes and more is seen.

Here are a few selections from the Memorial’s film collection of Darwin in 1942. See our YouTube channel to view the clips.


1. Bombing of Darwin , by Roy Wheeler. Title no. F04605.

Aboard the hospital ship Manunda moored in Darwin Harbour on February 19, Lieutenant Roy Wheeler filmed smoke rising from the USS Peary and the SS Zealandia, hit by Japanese aircraft. In other scenes, army personnel in tin hats and life jackets watch the bombing as it occurs, and the camera surveys damage done to the Manunda’s rigging, deck and windows.

2. The bombing of Darwin and aftermath February-March 1942 by Francis Sheldon-Collins . Title no. F04775
Sheldon-Collins, Captain and Commodore’s cook at Darwin’s Naval Headquarters, had ample opportunity to follow the bombing and its effects. In the first scene, smoke from bombs bursting on Darwin’s RAAF Station can be seen. These shots were taken from a rooftop at Myilly Point. In the second scene, Members of the 2/14th Field Regiment are seen proceeding to slit trenches for defence. Then the camera races to keep up as bombs rapidly fall across the landscape, hitting the Naval Barracks at Myilly Point, the hospital beach, the Naval Supply stores and the Naval Paymaster’s office. In the third scene, the camera follows the course of an aircraft shot from the sky. The film donor thought it was a P-40 Kittyhawk, which, he later observed , was not a craft to match the speed of the Japanese Zeros. In the fourth scene, we see a bomb crater by the hospital, while officer’s cook, N.J. Phillips, stands within to give an idea of the depth. Then follows scenes of damage to the town including the Supreme Court, the Administrator’s Residence, a block of flats nearby, the Post Office, and the Darwin Pier, damaged in the first air raid. Behind it, lying on its side, is the wrecked freighter Neptuna , lost when her cargo of depth charges was exploded by a bomb.

Read more about the bombing of Darwin here
Look here for more Darwin bombing content in the Memorial’s collection.

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Life as a defence partner – ABC Brisbane – Australian Broadcasting Corporation

  • The life of a defence partner isn’t easy.

    Army wife of nine years and southern Queensland representative of Defence Families Australia, Caetlin Watch likens it to being a single mum, but married.

    "We go through the same things as separation," she says of defence partners.

    Defence spouse of 12 years Melissa Hingston established a Facebook group for women in Brisbane whose partners are in the defence forces.

    "It’s a rollercoaster," says Mel.

    "No two days are the same."

    Although Mel says separation is the biggest challenge, the practical matters also take their toll, such as doing the banking.

    "Just trying to finalise loans… not being the primary account holder."

    President of the Defence Force Welfare Association, Rob Shortridge spent 36 years in the airforce and experienced the challenges from the other side.

    "I had an instance where I was shouting at the tax office in Tasmania from outside a hotel in Baghdad because they refused to talk to my wife, even though she had the power of attorney," says Rob.

    "It’s pressure that my wife doesn’t need and also in that environment where you’re working 18-20 hour days and it is dangerous, it’s a pressure you don’t need."

    And from both sides, there’s constant nervousness about media reports.

    "We get drilled into us – if it hits the news and you haven’t had someone turn up on your doorstep, it’s not your partner," says Caetlin.

    But she says it is still nerve wracking.

    "Doesn’t matter how many times you get told… your heart still misses a beat when you see it on the news."

    After such a stressful separation, Mel says the homecoming is one of the biggest highs a defence partner can have.

    "How many times do you get to fall in love with the person that you love over and over again?"

    But coming home also requires readjustment and Rob says it takes time to come down from the long, stressful days of defence work.

    "I found… I needed down-time but I needed up-time with the family and those two didn’t neccessarily mingle particularly well," he says.

    "That caused a little bit of stress on the family."

    Caetlin says in her experience it’s been important to remain emotionally aware of each other at that time.

    "You’ve got to take in the fact that you’ve just spent a week, six, nine months separated from your partner… you’ve got to let the reigns go a little."

    And she says it can be especially challenging when those defence force personnel are also parents.

    "Sometimes those children have been born while they were away so they’ve never met their father or mother, it can be really hard," says Caetlin.

    Compounding the strain on family relationships, the women say people in the general community are often reluctant to befriend defence families.

    Caetlin says they are no different to anyone else and just want to be treated the same.

    "It’s definately not like the Army Wives TV show… we don’t get free medical, free housing, we pay taxes, our husbands do pay taxes," she says.

    "We’re integrated in the community, we don’t live in little patches on base anymore."

    Mel says she would like to broaden her social circle outside of other defence families.

    "We just want people to have an open mind when they meet us in the street," she says.

    "Not segregate us into – oh well they’re defence families, they’re not worth getting to know because who knows in two years they’ll be gone."

    From left: Hannah and Caetlin Watch, Melissa Hingston and Rob Shortridge. (Ursula SkjonnemandABC Local)