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Remembering our grandfather

Our grandfather James Gallagher c 1944

Our grandfather James Gallagher September 1944

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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..

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 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.

Addendum:

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.

References

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

http://www.awm.gov.au/exhibitions/alliesinadversity

http://library.thinkquest.org/10236/

http://www.abc.net.au

Family history across the seas Blog

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