STATEMENTS ON INDULGENCE - 70th Anniversary of the Bombing of Broome

In February 1942, Broome, Western Australia, was used as the Australian end of an air shuttle service from Java. Hundreds of evacuees were ferried to Broome in Dutch, American and Australian military and civil aircraft, including flying boats of Qantas Empire Airways. By the end of that month the town was overflowing with military personnel and refugees.

Most of the people were there waiting for flights to continue their journey elsewhere. During the final week of February 1942, it is estimated more than 7,000 people passed through Broome and, on a single day, at least 57 aircraft landed there. It was a tiny pearling port untouched and far removed from the devastation of the Second World War, a transit stop on the escape route for refugees fleeing the Japanese advance in the Netherlands East Indies. 

Broome was a place of rest and revival before refugees and war victims could continue their travels to safer places. However, on 3 March 1942 all that changed. Without warning, Japanese fighter planes attacked the quiet coastal community. The invasion lasted no more than 20 minutes, during which time 25 Allied aircraft were destroyed and as many as 100 people died. Another 30 crew and passengers, mostly military personnel, were lost when an American Liberator bomber was shot down shortly after taking off. Many victims were Dutch women and children, refugees and escapees who were packed into flying boats on the harbour either waiting to be ferried ashore or waiting to depart for the southern states. 

Young Pilot Officer Frank Russell described the scene as one of 'ghastly devastation'. He said: 
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. 

It was safety and a new life to which these women and children were running, which they so desperately sought and which they craved, but unfortunately it was not to happen on that sad and unfortunate day. This unexpected attack, just short of two weeks after Darwin was bombed, robbed them of the new life, a new beginning. Due to the circumstances of many of those killed, precisely how many people died in the raid and who they were will never ever be known. 

Only 30 bodies were ever recovered from the water. The bodies of the Dutch victims, initially buried at Broome, were moved to the Perth War Cemetery at Karrakatta in 1950. Many were not identified and lie in unmarked graves. This anniversary is an important occasion. It is an important and sad occasion for Australia and elsewhere, and is one we should respect now and always remember. Lest we forget.

Cristy Houghton