20 Minutes of Terror: 1942 Bombing of Broome Western Australia

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 seemingly endless rows of identical grey headstones, each one representing a unique life lived then lost. (Image: Thesilvervoice)

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 – with some already 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.

The Netherlands Annex to the Perth Commonwealth War Cemetery (Image Thesilvervoice)

Fresh wreaths and floral bouquets decorated with the national colours of the Netherlands.(Image Thesilvervoice)

Still puzzled, I made my way towards the formal wreaths placed  below a wall plaque..


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 on 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 being refueled  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, nine 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 but the exact 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.

The Dutch bodies recovered were first buried in the Broome War Cemetery but were removed and reburied in a special area in the Karrakatta cemetery in Perth in 1950. I have been unable to discover the reason for this other than Perth possibly being  more accessible for relatives who may wish to visit the graves.
Many are commemorated in Karrakatta. Those known to be buried here are :
Name Age
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
Loes Heidsieck 25 Civilian
Henri Rudolf de Sera 21 RNN
Hendrik de Bruyn 4 Civilian
Alida Brandenburg-Trumpie 30 Civilian
Jenny Hendrikse van der Putte 28 Civilian
Johannes van Tuyn 1 Civilian
Maria van Tuyn van Gelooven 28 Civilian
Elizabeth Kuin 5 Civilian
Anna Maria Dorothea Kuin Sturk 29 Civilian
Cornelius Piers 14 Civilian
Frans Piers 7 Civilian
C.G.E. Piers Morien 42 Civilian
Johanna Borsch Baas 36 Civilian
Adri Kramer 17 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.


Just a few weeks ago in February 2017, the following comment was added to this post:

Nancy Gleason

My father, Capt. Harry W. Markey, was aboard the American plane that was shot down. He was killed, age 29. The Japanese pilot who shot down that plane was shot down and killed by a Dutch gunner on the ground.
Nancy Gleason
In memory too of Capt. Harry W Markey and all those who lost their lives on that tragic day.


Information on burials taken from Mervyn W. Prime, WA’s Pearl Harbour: the Japanese raid on Broome (1985).




Family history across the seas Blog


Filed under Emigrants from other countries, Family History, Genealogy, Oral History

18 responses to “20 Minutes of Terror: 1942 Bombing of Broome Western Australia

  1. Angela, this is a very poignant reminder to many Australians who have forgotten or never heard of the bombing of innocents in Broome. I have just had this discussion recently with an older person who had never known about Broome and didn’t really believe it, and did know about darwin, but believed that there were only a ‘ few casualties’ there also. It seems our government propaganda at the time was very successful. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of others, also to cassmob who writes Family History Across the Seas.

    • Thank you for your comment. I was quite astonished by it and I have been reading about the efforts to keep this under wraps. I suppose it was understandable in a way that they did not wish to alarm the population. Interestingly I also read an item about the Dutch government attempts at also suppressing the incident as so many Dutch military personnel and their families were victims. That is more research for another day.

  2. An eloquent tribute. Very well done.

    • It was a very moving moment to happen on this just a couple of days after the 70th anniversary and I would not have noticed it had it not been for the beautiful flowers. And there is something quite shocking about seeing a grave of a 1 year old in a war cemetery. Thank you for reading and thank you for the compliment!

  3. Lyn Nunn

    Hi Angela, I agree it would be very shocking and puzzling to see the graves of children in a War Cemetery. Thankyou for this story – I was unaware of it as well. If you haven’t seen it already you might like to watch the movie “Australia” about the bombing of Darwin. There was also the Japanese mini subs that made it into Sydney Harbour.

  4. An excellent post Angela. I knew about the bombing of Broome having visited there, but I don’t think I knew about the loss of all those Dutch lives. What an absolute tragedy that the women and children were lost -it breaks your heart to think about those little ones in the midst of such horror. There’s a view now that the government didn’t censor the news but if so how come so few people know of this part of Australia’s (and the Netherlands’) history.

    • Thank you Pauleen – and thank you for your earlier post on the commemoration of the Darwin bombing. I could not wait to get home to ‘Google’ the Broome event. It would be interesting to find out about any efforts to suppress the news in Australia – I imagine that Broome was a very remote place 70 years ago and we need to recall a world without mobile phones and other methods of communication!

  5. FYI Angela, the movie is available through the Australian War Memorial at http://www.awm.gov.au. It’s so tragic about the graves of the unknown. You have to wonder why no one “claimed” them after the event..perhaps all family members had been killed. And yes, Broome, then as now, was remote but then the telegraph lines were pivotal.

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  7. Nancy Gleason

    My father, Capt. Harry W. Markey, was aboard the American plane that was shot down. He was killed, age 29. The Japanese pilot who shot down that plane was shot down and killed by a Dutch gunner on the ground.
    Nancy Gleason

  8. Richard Kramer

    Dear Sir, I’m very mooved by the story of your visit to the Dutch anex. On that day in March 1942, my father (then only 18 years and a fresh midshipman in the Royal Dutch Navy) lost his father and mother (whose bodies never were found) and his Sister Adri, only aged 17. Together with two of my brothers, I attended the 70th aniversary of the attack in 2012. This visit gave my brothers and me a form of closure, as this part of our family history was kept from us for a long time. Now we are at peace with what happend and why we were told so little. It great to read your impression about the Dutch anex. Thank you very much!
    With kind regards
    Richard Kramer

    • Hello Richard
      How very sad for your family to have suffered such a tragic loss. It was a horrid event for sure. I am so glad that the visit to the site for the anniversary led to some sort of peace for you. You will see on an earlier comment that others who suffered loss during this attack have visited my blog post. It is fascinating that, so many years later, this event is still a cause of sorrow to so many. Thank you so much for dropping by and I am honoured that you left a comment.
      Kind regards

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