When the War Comes Home tells the powerful story of the Beachport Mine Tragedy, one of Australia’s least-known yet most significant stories of WWII.
On the 14th of July 1941, a German GY sea mine exploded on a quiet stretch of beach just outside of the small coastal town of Beachport in South Australia. The accident took the lives of two young Royal Australian Navy sailors: Able Seaman Thomas Todd, 30, and Able Seaman William Danswan, 23. Both were married with small children.
They were the first two casualties killed on Australian soil due to enemy action in World War II.
This was 10 months before the Japanese mini-submarines’ attack on Sydney Harbour and 7 months before the Bombing of Darwin… But unlike those well-known attacks, this was at the hands of the German war machine.
The tragic accident disrupted the lives of all involved, impacting not only the families and loved ones of the two sailors killed doing their duty, but many from the town and local area – the effects of which are still being felt today.
So how did a German mine come to be in Australia – let alone Beachport – in 1941? And how did this accident happen?
From family members and descendants to Navy personnel, historians and local townsfolk, eighteen people come together to tell this incredible true story of WWII, 80 years after it happened, with the roiling the sea as an ever-present backdrop.
Remarkably and extraordinarily, this is one of Australian military history’s least known stories - but this this podcast aims to change all that.
Cinematic, historic, moving and powerful, When the War Comes Home: Beachport Mine Tragedy was made by award-winning podcast maker Megan Spencer for the Virtual War Memorial Australia, and made possible with funding from the South Australian Department for Education.
Production of this podcast has been made possible through a grant from the South Australian Department for Education.
Part 1 explores the little-known Beachport Mine Tragedy of 1941, where a German sea mine exploded at Beachport, South Australia, resulting in the deaths of two Royal Australian Navy sailors, the first casualties on Australian soil due to enemy action in WW2. The episode reveals the presence of German warships and mines in Australian waters during WW2, shedding light on the significance of mine warfare and the control of sea lanes. Expert interviews with Commodore Hector Donohue (retired) and Commander Andrew Schroder provide insight into the German mining campaign and its impact on Australia's maritime security. Australian authorities and the public were initially unaware of German mining activities until ships started sinking.
Part 2 explores the extent of German naval mining in Australian waters during WW2, where many of these mines broke their moorings and drifted. One of these mines came adrift near Beachport. Two local fishermen, Maurice "Mick" Stebhens and Fred Ball, discovered the mine and reported it to the authorities. A team from HMAS Torrens, led by Lieutenant Commander Arthur Mackenzie Greening, was dispatched to deactivate, or destroy the mine. They decided to tow the mine back to shore but faced challenges due to rough beach conditions. Eventually, the decision was made to move the mine to a safer location the next day. However, the attempts to detonate the mine failed, and further investigations were carried out. The episode highlights the difficult decisions and risks involved in rendering mines safe during that time.
Part 3 explores the personal experiences and aftermath of the mine explosion. Frank Corigliano Jr., who was six years old at the time, recalls the explosion and the impact it had on the school and the community. Lt. Commander Greening, who made the decision to detonate the mine, is speculated to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after losing two men under his command. The Naval Board of Enquiry assigned blame to Greening's lack of training in rendering mines safe. We hear personal stories from the victims' families, including Gloria Danswan-Bradley, the daughter of Able Seaman William Danswan, and Deborah Filippone, the granddaughter of Able Seaman Thomas Todd. The episode highlights the lasting impact of the tragedy on the families and the community of Beachport.
Part 4 focuses on the preparations for the 80th-anniversary commemorative service at the Beachport Mine Monument. Megan Spencer visits the monument and describes its significance as a tribute to the mine explosion that occurred during WW2. She speaks with Deb Filippone, the granddaughter of Able Seaman Thomas William Todd, one of the sailors who died in the explosion. Deb expresses her nervousness about the service and her discovery that her grandfather didn't die instantly as previously believed. Various speakers, including Commander Alastair Cooper, pay tribute to the sailors' courage and the importance of their sacrifice. Fred Ellis, a World War II veteran who served on minesweepers, also attends the service and reflects on the tragic event.
Part 5 features interviews with various individuals connected to the commemorative service. Leading Seaman Musicians Jonathan Rendell and Luke Townsend express their pride to be part of such commemorations. Daniel Filippone, the great-grandson of Thomas William Todd, discusses his family's connection to the story and the importance of remembering. David Stebhens, the grandson of Mick Stebhens, who found the mine, shares his emotional memories of his grandfather's involvement. The episode highlights the impact of the event on the town and the bravery and sacrifice of those involved in the service. Commander Alastair Cooper reflects on the significance of the commitment to service, emphasizing the importance of never forgetting. Deb Filippone, Todd's eldest granddaughter, describes the emotional experience of the commemoration and the unity between the Todd and Danswan families in honouring their loved ones.
Megan Spencer visits two local women who have worked to preserve the memory of the Seamen Todd and Danswan. Elaine Donaldson, Secretary of the Beachport National Trust Museum, believes it is crucial to maintain the memorial and tell the story to keep the memory alive. Marcia Dening, from the Robe RSL and a driving force behind the commemoration, emphasizes the importance of remembering the sacrifices made by Navy personnel and how war can impact communities even on home shores. The podcast ends with an emotional interview with Gloria Danswan-Bradley, the daughter of William Danswan, as she reflects on the loss of her father.
The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Virtual War Memorial Australia.