Arrivals & Departures WA's North West: Lest we forget

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Scattered through the Kimberley and Pilbara are reminders of when war came to Australia.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of air raids carried out across the north of Australia during World War II.

Australia’s northern reaches were hit by eleven air raids in 1942 and 1943, with Broome experiencing the second worst air raid on Australian soil.

Towns in the North West played a crucial role during the war as posts for refuelling, staging and communications, supporting the Allied operations in the Pacific.

Broome

Broome's civilians were mainly evacuated during much of World War II, but it was still a busy transport hub with transit and refuelling points at the airfield and Roebuck Bay, and with evacuees from Java passing through.

On March 3, 1942, Japanese fighter planes attacked Broome, resulting in about 100 fatalities.

A plaque on Carnarvon Street now commemorates the attack, along with an exhibition space at the Broome Historical Society Museum at Town Beach.

If you catch certain low tides, you can walk out from Town Beach and see the wreckage of the flying boats at Roebuck Bay. A heritage trail guide is available.

At Cable Beach, the Beaufighter Memorial commemorates RAAF Flight Sergeants Ronald Smith and Ronald Kerrigan, whose aircraft crashed into the sea shortly after take-off in September 1944.

Carnot Bay

At Smirnoff Beach, Carnot Bay you can find a monument commemorating the deceased, survivors and rescuers of a plane shot down by Japanese Zeros.

While Broome was under attack, the Japanese also spotted a Dakota DC-3 carrying the pilot and 12 evacuees from Java, including one child. The plane was strafed and forced to land at Carnot Bay.

The survivors spend four days stranded at the bay before being rescued by a group from Beagle Bay Mission. Sadly, four passengers died from injury and sickness before the rescue.

Kalumburu

At Kalumburu, formerly Drysdale River Mission, visitors can see the remains of an airstrip and wreckage of WWII aircraft on the Mitchell Plateau. The Mission Museum houses more artefacts, and a plaque commemorates those who died in an attack on the mission, which was used as a small army base and radar station during the war.

Wyndham

A plaque near the start of the Wyndham Port Heritage Drive commemorates the sinking of MV Koolama 1. After limping back to Wyndham after an aerial attack, the ship was bombed again and sunk at the wharf on the same day of the Broome bombings.

The remains of a World War I wireless station can also be seen near Wyndham at Parry Lagoons, Telegraph Hill. Visitors can take an 800m walk with informational signage through the foundations of buildings that housed the station workers. 

Onslow

Onslow’s war memorial is a spectacular sculpture based on the insignia of the ADF’s Rising Sun cap badge.

The town was a refuelling stop for the Australian Navy and was the site of the most southern bombing during the war.

Port Hedland

More than 70 bombs were dropped on Port Hedland’s airfield on July 30, 1942. The town’s war memorial is located on the Esplanade, across from the Esplanade Hotel. 

Corunna Downs

While it has been abandoned since the end of WWII, Corunna Downs still bears the marks of a secret major airfield with foundations, revetment outlines and runways. Lying south-west of Marble Bar, the site can be visited, with more information available at the Comet Gold Mine museum.

Whim Creek

A memorial at Whim Creek commemorates the services of indigenous Australian servicemen and specifically, the Lockyer brothers. Local to the area, these five young local Aboriginal men signed up to the army and air force during WWII. Only three returned.

With suggestions from Australia’s North West.

Top picture: Wreckage of the flying boats at Roebuck Bay.

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