Sunday, 19 February 2012

Genealogy notes 19 Feb 2012 - Day 3 Darwin battlefield tour

The 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin on 19 Feb 1942 also marks the introduction of the Bombing of Darwin Day into the Australian calendar of military events. It's good to know that the 19th of February will be remembered every year in a formal way just like ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day.

The Sunday Territorian had a wonderful 32 page souvenir wraparound which is full of moving personal stories, great photographs and contributions from the Prime Minister, Chief Minister and the Lord Mayor of Darwin. So I made sure to get a copy of the newspaper early as I did not want to miss out. NT News also has a special multimedia presentation on their website.

Along with just about everyone else in Darwin, we attended the main commemorative service at 9.30am, although a little later than that due to the usual last minute delays. Everyone attending was given a program and a very handy City of Darwin/1942 Frontline Australia hand fan and a free bottle of water which was great to see and much appreciated. Obviously there were not enough seats for everyone but huge screens had also been erected for those who couldn't get close enough to see in person. Fortunately the area has lots of trees for people to sit/stand under as well.

We managed to find a place to stand at the back of one of the seating areas with a screen just in front so we had a great view and it was easy to hear too. Next to me was a very elderly man on his own and he looked like an old digger and I was concerned to see him standing when just in front of us there were a number of families with very young children occupying chairs. I started thinking that one of the parents should put a child on their laps and give the old man a chair. Well my thoughts must have communicated with the parents as after about a half hour, one of the fathers offered me a seat. I immediately offered it to the old man and he said no, I should have it. After insisting, and holding the chair for him so that he could shakily sit down, he gave me a big smile and a thank you.

As  we started going through the program and listened to the speeches I could see him trying to discretely wipe the tears behind his dark glasses and felt my own eyes misting up as I sensed his memories. I don't know if he was one of those personally caught up in the bombing of Darwin on that fateful day as he was reluctant to talk but when he got up to leave during the wreath laying, he thanked me and gave me that big smile again and wandered off on his own. I'm so glad that we decided to stand next to him and in some strange way it made the whole ceremony that much more personal for me.

As I mentioned earlier there was a program and Ray Martin was the Master of Ceremonies and was on stage with all the official dignitaries including the Governor General, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Chief Minister, Lord Mayor and so on. The Darwin Choral and Australian Army Band Darwin sang I Am Australian and the air raid sirens went and a RAAF PC3 Orion Aircraft flew over. A very realistic re-enactment was then staged by the Australian Army and one of the other freebies given out were ear plugs to minimise the noise. Within a few minutes it was very easy to appreciate how loud and scary it would have been for everyone in Darwin on that day.

The Lord Mayor then welcomed everybody and the Governor General, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition all gave speeches and then there was the wreath laying ceremony which took quite a while as so many people wanted to lay wreaths. The local guest speaker was next and Mrs Ada Mumford told the audience of her own personal memories of that day and it was a very emotional moment for her. A commemorative prayer followed and then there was the minute's silence (which some people don't seem to understand means that you do keep quiet and don't talk). The ceremony concluded with the first verse of the national anthem Advance Australia Fair (and the words were on the program which was handy as a lot of people around us didn't seem to know the words).

We then wandered back to our hotel and a cup of tea in air-conditioned comfort. Overall I found it very moving and it must have been even more so for all those with personal connections to Darwin on that day. Nothing else was planned for the group and it was a free afternoon and evening although there were other events that people could attend.

Personally I would have liked to have had another talk or two in the afternoon as it was so hot and people might not have wanted to walk into the shopping area or wherever. It is always hard when you are on bus trips as you don't have your own car to easily drive somewhere. Tomorrow there are three talks scheduled from 4-7pm after a big day touring various museums and it might have been preferable to have one of those on Sunday. I'm also an early dinner person so perhaps that's part of my thinking that 7pm is a late finish.

I know how hard it is putting these programs together to try and please everybody (not quite possible anytime) so Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours are to be congratulated on the program so far. Everything has gone quite smoothly and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Another great report, Shauna. Thanks for providing such a detailed report on the commerative event for those of us that could not be there.