With the temperature gauge in the car registering 41.8 degrees C (107 F) I recently embarked on a mission to find some specific graves in the biggest cemetery in Western Australia,having the beautiful name of Karrakatta. Needless to say some thought I probably needed to be delivered to a home for the bewildered, venturing out on such a hot day!
Almost a quarter of a million burials and cremations have taken place at this vast graveyard at Karrakatta, so my visit required some forward planning. Having (eventually!) found the ‘target’ plots, I noticed reference to a Commonwealth War Graves section on the cemetery map and decided to take a look as I had never been in a war graves cemetery outside of the United States of America.
The War Graves cemetery is dominated by a tall central ‘Cross of Sacrifice’. The manicured lawns and straight lines of almost 500 grey granite grave-markers are a poignant sight. When visiting any memorial, I like to read as many names as I can. Here are the tombstones of 16 WWI Veterans, 477 WW2 Veterans and 4 Veterans of the Vietnam War. Walking along the rows I became aware of a great blaze of colour off to one side of the main section. I wandered off to investigate and was truly astonished at what I found.
I entered an enclosed area marked ‘Dutch War Cemetery’ and surmised that perhaps floral tributes had been placed to mark a day of significance to the local Dutch community. There was a number of small neat gravestones – each with a single rose, already fading – and some had been displaced by the wind. I was puzzled to see children buried here – one headstone for a child aged 1, another for a child aged 15, the latter with a bunch of fresh flowers wrapped in a sunshine yellow bouquet.
Still puzzled, I made my way towards the formal wreaths placed below a wall plaque..
THIS MEMORIAL IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF DUTCH REFUGEES AND CREW MEMBERS WHO PERISHED ON 3RD MARCH 1942 WHEN SEAPLANES OF THE ROYAL NETHERLANDS NAVY WERE ATTACKED AND SUNK IN BROOME HARBOUR BY JAPANESE FIGHTER AIRCRAFT.THE VICTIMS WHOSE BODIES WERE NOT RECOVERED ARE LISTED BELOW…..
I had not been aware until recently that Australia had suffered any enemy bombing during the Second World War. I was informed otherwise in a recent post in an excellent blog that I follow, entitled Family History Across the Seas. Read here. A post in February was on the commemoration of the bombing of Darwin in 1942 in which about 250 people died and several hundreds were injured. Just 12 days after the bombing of Darwin, the town of Broome in the northern part of the vast state of Western Australia was targeted.
Broome was then a small pearling town that had become a staging post for hundreds of refugees fleeing the advancing Japanese in Indonesia. Indonesia as we now know it, was then a Dutch Colony known as the Dutch East Indies. Singapore had fallen on 15 February and as the Japanese advanced on Java, the evacuation was hasty with little time for recording names of refugees. It is estimated that up to 8,000 arrived at Broome from Java in the two weeks before March 3rd 1942, having been brought there by planes of the Dutch, American and Australian military as well as civil aircraft. On one day no fewer than 57 aircraft arrived in Broome.
Many of the evacuees would have breathed a sigh of relief to have reached the safety of Broome as it was considered to be beyond the range of Japanese aircraft. Packed into flying boats, they remained on board while awaiting refuelling before flying south. They remained on board as there was insufficient accommodation in the tiny town to facilitate the large numbers of people passing through.On the morning of March 3 1942, there were 15 flying boats in Broome for refuelling, each one ‘packed to the brim’ with Dutch people. Just after 9 am, 9 Japanese planes attacked and within 20 minutes had destroyed every aircraft in Broome harbour as well as those on the airstrip.
The burning waters of Roebuck Bay were filled with screaming men women and children. Many who survived the strafing drowned in the fast flowing currents, were incinerated or taken by sharks as they tried to make it to shore. It is not known precisely how many died on that day or who they were, as there were inadequate passenger lists. Also killed were passengers and crew of an American aircraft shot down shortly after taking off. The number of victims varies between 80 and 100 – the number and the identity of some of them will never be known.
Twenty-three-year-old Pilot Officer Frank Russell was aboard one of the flying boats; soon afterwards he described, “a scene of ghastly devastation! Our flying boats all over the place were sending up huge clouds of black smoke. Burning petrol in sinister patches floated all over the sea … All around us there fell a ceaseless stream of tracer bullets. Several of the Dutch Dorniers had been full of women and kids, waiting to take off to … safety.”
The Japanese flew 97 air-raids over northern Australia during World War II. The bombing of Broome was ‘hushed up’ for some time as the authorities did not wish to cause alarm to the residents of Australia.
In Broome at very low tide, the wreckage of the destroyed aircraft can be seen – a poignant reminder and memorial of that terrible day.
|Sergeant Albert van Tour||35||RNN|
|Catharina van Tour||8||Civilian|
|Sergeant Johannes Gerardus van Aggelan||32||RNN|
|Johanna van Aggelan||32||Civilian|
|Luitenant ter zee Pieter Johannes Hendrikse||51||RNN|
|Henri Rudolf de Sera||21||RNN|
|Hendrik de Bruyn||4||Civilian|
|Jenny Hendrikse van der Putte||28||Civilian|
|Johannes van Tuyn||1||Civilian|
|Maria van Tuyn van Gelooven||28||Civilian|
|Anna Maria Dorothea Kuin Sturk||29||Civilian|
|C.G.E. Piers Morien||42||Civilian|
|Johanna Borsch Baas||36||Civilian|
|Abdul Hamed bin Juden||36||Civilian (killed in raid March 20 1942 )|
Another three graves are marked “Unknown Dutch lady”, and two are marked “Unknown Dutch child”.
This story struck a chord with me as it is about emigration, one of the key themes of my blog. I concentrate on the Irish diaspora and in so doing I am even more aware of other great movements of people – migrations – across the globe. Many went on to better lives and many also endured terrible suffering, and many more gave their lives because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I salute the Dutch men and women who lost their lives or who lost family members in this great tragedy.I was happy to have made this serendipitous discovery and to walk among their graves in Karrakatta cemetery, to remember them and their families who still honour them and leave floral tributes at their graves.
Information on burials taken from Mervyn W. Prime, WA’s Pearl Harbour: the Japanese raid on Broome (1985).