Attack on Broome - March 1942
By Ned Young
On the 3rd of March 1942, two weeks after Darwin was bombed by the Japanese, Broome was attacked in a raid that killed at least 88 people. Broome was an important base for the refuelling of Allied aircraft, however it did not house any fighter planes of its own, meaning it was practically defenceless against an air raid. Japanese Zero’s strafed Dutch flying boats in Roebuck Bay and the RAAF Base at the Broome Airfield. A USAAF B-24A Liberator was shot out of the sky, killing 19 of the 20 passengers onboard. That was just one of at least 22 aircraft destroyed. Most of these vessels were carrying Dutch refugees evacuating from Java, of which at least 30 were killed, among them children as young as a year old.
The attack may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of the Pacific theatre, yet Broome’s only hour at war produced incredible stories of bravery, camaraderie, bereavement and mystery that remain largely unknown. This week, I will feature 7 stories from the attack on Broome that have captivated me.
Read Monday's article "The Art of Jack Dale Mengenen" Here.
Read Tuesday's article "Silent His Wings - A Sister’s Tribute" Here.
Read Wednesday's article "Gus Winckel’s Bronze Lion" Here.
Read Yesterday's article "Broome’s Flying Boat Wrecks" Here.
Local Hero Charlie D’Antoine
Charlie D’Antoine was refuelling a flying boat[i] when he saw a fleet of Japanese Zeros swooping into Roebuck Bay. The flying boat was carrying Dutch refugees who had just flown in from Java. Amour-piercing bullets began penetrating the plane’s hull as Charlie tried to take cover.[ii]
The two other men Charles was working with jumped from the plane into the only available dinghy and began frantically paddling to shore. The only option for Charlie and the remaining refugees was to jump over-board before the flying boat sank. The cockpit door would not open, so Charlie was forced to smash a window so he and the passengers could flee.[iii] As he began swimming to shore, Charlie noticed a woman floundering, desperately trying to keep her baby’s head above water. He turned back and took hold of the woman, treading water tirelessly against the fast receding tide to keep them both from drowning. The Japanese Zeros did not let up, and for 20 minutes all Charlie could do was hope he and the Dutch mother and child were spared from their fire. Other refugees called out to Charlie for help, but he simply couldn’t cary any more weight before he too began to drown.[iv]
Once the raid was over, Charlie dragged the woman and her child to shore. The trio were picked up by a lugger some time later, and an exhausted Charlie was finally able to rest his legs. When they were back on dry land, Charlie stayed with the woman and baby to make sure they would recover.[v] He said that the thing that had worried him most “was not the Japanese bullets coming from above, but the sharks from down below”.[vi] Charlie helped to collect the bodies from the Bay in the following days, and was forever saddened that he was not able to help more refugees during the raid.[vii]
In 1944, Charlie was awarded a Certificate of Merit from the Royal Humane Society of Australasia[viii] in recognition of his efforts on March 3rd, 1942. He was also awarded 4 medals for bravery from the Dutch government.[ix] Nearly 80 years later, he still has not received any formal recognition from the Australian government or military. Along with Charlie, at least 5 other Indigenous men also bravely took part in rescue efforts that day.[x]
Listen to Charlie’s sister Peggy Clements recollections of the raid in a 2012 interview by Kimberley ABC journalist Vanessa Mills:
A beautiful watercolour artwork by James ‘Jimbo’ Picton
Charlie pictured in 1992 holding his Certificate of Merit and sporting one of his Dutch medals
i Sunday Times, 1942, Aborigine Hero Of Broome Raid, p.2.
iii Clements, P 2012, ‘Remembering Charlie D'antoine: Broome's Japanese Air Raid Hero On The Bay’, Interview with Vanessa Mills, ABC Kimberley, 3 March.
v Sunday Times, 1942, Aborigine Hero Of Broome Raid, p.2.
vi Broome Historical Society & Museum, 2019 Local Hero, [online] Broome Historical Society & Museum, Available at: <https://broomemuseum.org.au/broome-during-world-war-ii/local-hero/>.
vii Clements, P 2012, ‘Remembering Charlie D'antoine: Broome's Japanese Air Raid Hero On The Bay’, Interview with Vanessa Mills, ABC Kimberley, 3 March.
viii Broome Historical Society & Museum, 2019 Local Hero, [online] Broome Historical Society & Museum, Available at: <https://broomemuseum.org.au/broome-during-world-war-ii/local-hero/>.
ix Clements, P 2012, ‘Remembering Charlie D'antoine: Broome's Japanese Air Raid Hero On The Bay’, Interview with Vanessa Mills, ABC Kimberley, 3 March.