Darwin Port Corporation pays tribute to all waterside workers and seafarers who lost their lives at Stokes Hill Wharf (then known as Town Wharf) on 19 February 1942.
At 9:58 am, sirens at Darwin’s wharves will sound to commemorate the Bombing of Darwin.
In Darwin on the morning of the 19th February 1942, the harbour was busy with around 45 vessels at various moorings including Stokes Hill Wharf, then known as Town Wharf. The majority of vessels were based in Darwin as part of the allied war effort including the depot ship HMAS Platypus which was the flagship of what was locally known as the ‘ Royal Darwin Navy’.
Just before 10am, some of the 80 wharfies on rostered duty that day were just sitting down in the recreation hut to enjoy their morning smoko. They hardly heard the strange whining noise before the hut was blown apart by the first bombs ever dropped on Australian soil.
Six men died outright and in total a known 23 wharfies and 48 seafarers lost their lives that day. The men had been working primarily on the freighter SS Barossa and the MV Neptuna, an ammunition ship moored at Town Wharf that had arrived from Sydney two days previously with a complement of 22 Officers and 125 Chinese crewmen.
Number 3 gang members John Cubillo and George Tye were working on the MV Neptuna and had just come up from No1 hatch to head off for smoko when they saw the planes flying towards them from the northwest. They thought it was American reinforcements right up until they saw the bomb bays open and the bombs drop.
George leapt into the water but John did not follow as he could not swim. George later recalled the last he saw of John Cubillo was him running down the wharf calling out to his workmates “See you in the next life boys!” He was not seen alive again and four others in the same gang also perished that day, John Hynes, Catalano Spain, Andrew DeJulia and Domingo Dominic.
There were spontaneous acts of bravery such as Warrant Officer Gibson who heroically steamed his tug through the film of blazing oil to pull a lighter tied up alongside the SS Barossa away from the flames.
The first attack ended 42 minutes after it began leaving behind a scene of devastation and death. Eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk and eleven damaged. Many military and civil facilities in Darwin, including the hospital at Berrimah, were left in ruins.
The second wave of 54 bombers struck just on noon and this time it was the Darwin RAAF Base that was in their sights. The Japanese bombing raids on Darwin continued over the next 18 months and expanded to include other strategic locations right across north Australia including Katherine, Milingimbi, Broome, Townsville, Horn Island and Learmonth.
Each year since the families, friends and colleagues of the waterside workers and seafarers gather on the Wharf to mark this tragic episode in Australia’s WWII history and to honour the memory of those who lives were lost.