The following are a selection of articles and photographs from the Darwin Defenders Archives…
(They will be changed from time to time to show you the wide range of archives held.)
Mospital Ship Manunda
The declaration of war saw Manunda fitted out as DEMS ship (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship), under the control of the Australian Shipping Control Board.
She was converted into a hospital ship at Sydney in compliance with the Geneva Convention Regulations and was taken over by the authorities on 25 May 1940, and entered service as AHS Manundaon 22 July 1940, under Captain James Garden, previously the captain of the Adelaide Steamship Company Manoora and Commodore of the Adelaide Steamship Fleet. The general hospital based on board was commanded by Lt. Col. John Beith, and members of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) on board were led by Matron Clara Jane Shumack (1899-1974).
Manunda sailed on a shakedown cruise to Darwin, Port Moresby and returned to Sydney, before heading for Suez in the Middle East (she made four trips to the Middle East and Mediterranean between November 1940 and September 1941). She was then despatched to Darwin. On the morning of 19 February 1942, Manundawas damaged during the Japanese air raids on Darwin, despite her highly prominent red cross markings on a white background. 13 members of the ships’ crew and hospital staff were killed, 19 others were seriously wounded and another 40 or so received minor wounds. The Manunda was able to act as a casualty clearing station for injured personnel from other ships involved in the attack. She sailed to Fremantle the next day. Captain James Garden was later awarded the OBE, in 1945, for his bravery and skill, both during the attacks, in leading a fire extinguishing team on the ship and in later navigating it by the stars to Fremantle with no navigation equipment and a jury-rigged steering system.
J Fowler, A Brief History of the 118 Aust. Gen. Transport Co
The unit was originally formed at Caulfield in March 1940 as the 104 Reserve Motor Transport Co. and after training was completed, moved to Broadmeadows in early 1941.
The next move was to Fishermans Bend about December 1941, and they remained there until August 1942, when they were renamed the 118 Australian General Transport Co.
They then moved to the St Kilda Cricket Ground and they became an A.I.F. unit. They remained at the St Kilda ground until the beginning of February when the unit began the move to Darwin as a four working platoons with headquarters and workshop unit. Their duties up until now had been general transport and wharf work.
The unit arrived at Darwin at the 24 mile camp and some members of the unit were detached the next day to various units in the area.
In May 1943, D Platoon was detached to Adelaide River for three months.
The Stuart Highway, or the track as it was called then, was just a dirt road and a bit on the rough side.
The trucks which we took over were not in the best of condition but were better than none, but it must be remembered that the previous unit had done a lot of up and down the track, and the trucks were mostly commandeered for the Army. They were mainly three-ton tray trucks and a few blitz wagons. A lot of trouble with leaking radiators caused by the rough road, and also a lot of mechanical problems causing quite a number of trucks to be off the road.
The unit was transporting anything from lolly water to bombs for the allied forces. When the boats came in we used to put in some long days or nights, as the case may be, as we were on 12-hour shifts, plus as we were at the 24 mile camp we had to allow 1-1/4 hours each way travelling time before starting our shift.
In the early days until workshops had caught up on the truck repairs, the change of shift drivers would leave the 24 mile camp in one truck and drive around Darwin to all the different stores and dumps, and the wharf to change over a driver until every one had been accounted for. The trucks would do 24 hours a day, and the drivers 12.
Only two trucks were allowed on the wharf at a time, and empty trucks waiting for a load would wait in the dispersal area on the corner of Cavanagh and Peel Streets. This system went on for a short time until workshops had repaired the required number of trucks and they were doing long hours as well, and did an excellent job.
Until the new timber wharf was ready for use in October 1943, we only had the small Navy boom jetty, and a small wharf built along the side of the sunken ship, the MV Neptuna, which was lying on its side just off the C.A. wharf.
The pier was just wide enough to take a truck and the driver had to back across to the side of the ship.
Once the timber wharf was far enough advanced to use, larger and more ships at the one time could use the wharf, and work still continued extending the wharf.
About April or May 1944, both A and D platoons were equipped with International semi trailers which were in good condition. Also in May 1944 two platoons of men and trucks marched in from the 130 Australian General Transport Co. which had been disbanded. This made the 118 Australian General Transport Co. a six working platoon, plus headquarters and workshop unit.
First home leave started about June 1944, which had meant a stay of 16 months in Darwin for the first draft to go on leave of four weeks at home, with an average of 12 to 14 days to get home and another 12 to 14 days to get back.
By the time the last draft went on leave, they served a stay of nearly two years, then it was back for another 12/18 months, depending when you got discharged.
In March 1945 our unit moved into the 13 mile camp which had been occupied by the 135 Australian General Transport Co. but was disbanded.
We did not remain at the 13 mile camp for long because in July 1945 we moved to the corner of Bagot and McMillans Roads.
McMillans Road at that time was just a mark on the map. The boys did not think much of this camp and referred to it as Belsen Park.
In August it was all over and it was not long before some of the older, married members of the unit were getting ready to go home, but it was March or April 1946 before the last of the unit went home.
Service on HMAS Koala, Ken Simmonds
I was drafted immediately to a small ship of 637 tons, the H.M.A.S.Koala”. This was a brand new vessel designed for boom-defence work.lt was an odd-looking vessel, with tvo projections sticking out over the bow for about 12 feet. These served the purpose as cranes to handle the anti-submarine nets, and, actually, when working, the whole ship was a very heavy duty mobile-crane. The ship was to lay an anti-submarine net across Darwin Harbour.
Leaving Sydney, we proceeded north, where our first stop was Cairns where we spent two days exploring the area. We then stopped at an uninhabited coral reef on our way to Thursday Island, and as the ship had a heavy duty drag-net aboard we decided to obtain some fresh fish. The water in the lagoon was teeming with fish, mainly Trevally and Pike. The shore-line was edged in coconut palms and paw-paw trees, and I found that the tropical fruits were delicious and had my first drink of green coconut milk.
We ate very well on the “Koala” as there were only 46 crew members, and the ship had a large refrigerating area. When we reached Darwin we embarked a working party who were to do the actual boom-defence-laying work. The boom net was not ready for laying for several months, so we acted as a patrol boat and store-supply ship to the outlying missions etc,. We stayed overnight at a mission station on the top end of W.A. This was run by 2 Spanish missionaries, and the aboriginal people were very happy to see us. In our honour they performed a corroboree, which was really good and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Darwin wharf labourers often went on strike, leaving the Army and the Navy to unload ships. At that time all supplies had to come by ship and it was a well-known fact that the wharfies never went on strike when the beer was to be unloaded.
We did several patrols out in the Timor Sea. I had not had any contact yet with the real war, and things seemed very peaceful, although I though that things were not good with the Japanese as that was the only reason I could see for a Boom defence across Darwin Harbour.
September, 1940, the Japanese forces entered Indo-China and were slowly and stealthily moving their forces into the Pacific areas.
Although I had shore leave, I had no home leave in months – just home leave when I was drafted to a minesweeper being fitted out in Sydney. From Darwin, we shipped down on a Burns Philp passenger ship, the “M.V.Merka”, on which we travelled first class in absolute luxury.
The minesweeper to which I was posted was a converted trawler called the “Narani”, very old and very dilapidated. It was in the Balmain ship-yard where several gangs were working on it to make it seaworthy. I was dismayed at the sight of this dank, dirty ship, which was built prior to the 1914 war, It had been lying idle for quite a while, but the war was becoming serious. Australia was short of ships and anything that could float was being re-assessed and re-fitted.
There was one bad strike of the re-fit workers while I was there and it was over a most trivial thing. An electrician was doing some re-wiring during which he drilled a hole through a bulkhead. Everybody downed tools, because the hole should have been drilled by a boiler-maker. It was a week before they resumed work. I thought it incredible, especially in wartime.
It took at least 4 months of’ hard work to turn this ship into a sea-worthy mine-sweeper. Even so, with its wooden hull, it was hardly suitable against mines – had it struck a mine the “Narani” would have blown apart and. sunk. The engine room of the ship was of average size, but, despite their reconditioning, the engines were pretty worn and required much up-keep. The steam pipes were coated with asbestos (for insulation) and this hung down everywhere.
Our Hero Men
The old blokes come back now and visit,
They must wonder just why is it,
Australia was plunged to war,
Near all the world was ripped and tore.
Old camps here in our Top End,
Where were some final letters penned,
Still bear the marks of warrior lads,
No wonder their return is sad.
These hero men are lads no more,
Lots of them are stiff and sore,
The rest of us appreciate,
The men who locked up our front gate.
A Little Key.
Upon the steps to a missing front door,
(There’s nothing left now, only the floor,)
There lay a key, left there to rust,
Gradually turning back to dust,
A little key, as from a suit case,
Had the owner been caught in an aerial chase?
‘Twas a hospital step I found it on
From wartime days, thank God they’ve gone,
They treated victims of bullet or bomb,
Then let them out to regain there aplomb.
Hopefuly the key’s owner still lives,
Enjoying life and all that it gives.
Agis Of Sparta.
Old Agis of Sparta reckoned,
When the God of war politely beckoned,
Don’t ask how many they number,
But where they’ve gone in search of slumber?”
The Spartans were a worthy foe,
Two thousand years or more ago,
Finely polished fighters,
Pretty tough old blighters.
Two Thousand and Four’s the year for them,
To have the Olympic Games again,
If ghosts of yore still do remain,
They’ll come out with a glad refrain.