ANGUS Scott knows he’s lucky to be living in Australia in 2019 and he wants others to realise this about themselves too.
Now 96, Mr Scott arrived by car in Darwin on February 19, 1942 as part of the Horsham-based 19th Australian Machine Gun Battalion, bound for the war against Japan in the south Pacific.
But Japan came to them that same day.
“There was a boat there ready, but we got held up by floods, we were sitting on the roads for days,” he said.
“So they sent another battalion on the boat we were supposed to be on, and we arrived just after that boat left, but they got out to sea and at night time. The Japanese attacked that boat, so it came around and turned back, and they all got off the boat. That was when the first raid was on. They blew all the ships in the wharf.”
Just before 10am then again at 12noon, 235 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the Darwin bombing. They were the first and largest two of 64 air raids which the Japanese would carry out on the city over the next 18 months.
“They bombed the hospital, the post office and they bombed the aerodrome, they just did as they liked,” Mr Scott said. “We were unlucky enough to be camped between the latter two.”
“About 180 bombs were dropped on that one day, and they they just kept coming in until we got reinforcements - the Yanks with their Kittyhawks - a few months later.”
Nine-hundred Wimmera and Southern Mallee men travelled to the Northern Territory to defend the city as part of of the battalion.
Today, Mr Scott is the last known survivor to have served at Darwin still living in the Wimmera, after Nhill’s Robert ‘Frank’ Fischer passed away following a short illness in June 2018.
Mr Scott said he hoped the lessons and failings of Darwin would carry to younger generations.
“I hope people acknowledge they’re lucky to be damn-well here,” he said.
“If Japan had landed instead of wasting all that money bombing, they could have walked straight through. We were sitting ducks.
“We had no ammunition; the guns were alright but there were no bullets. Some of us had only two or three rounds.
“We had Wirraways up there as our fighter planes and some of them couldn’t get off the ground.”
The next few months would see Mr Scott and his battalion dig their trenches deeper, and continue with their work in a constant, sleep-deprived state of heightened alert for the next air raid.
"We eventually got a bit organised and had a siren. If they were coming in there’d be a siren indicating they were a certain distance away (and) up would go the Kittyhawks,” he said.
“Then we had night raids later on and sirens going all night at times. They were worse than the day raids because you couldn’t see them.”
Mr Scott recalled his involvement in World War Two in a calm, measured tone. He spoke of his time in Darwin comfortably, as if he had moved on from his experiences productively while retaining his clear memory of them.
This resilience is something he has built up over time. When Mr Scott returned to work on his brother’s farm at Gymbowen after being discharged in 1944, the safety was a shock to the system.
“It took a bit of time to get back into normal civilisation,” he said.
“It might seem silly, but you seem to get used to the raids. I was disappointed at first when I didn’t have a couple of raids a day. I felt like I was in the wrong place.”
He was also surprised to learn how little people back home knew about what he had been through.
“A lot of people in the Wimmera didn’t realise what had happened - they only knew what they heard down in Melbourne,” he said.
“What they were told was a lot of crap, they were misled to what the damage was. They were saying everything was okay. I don’t know who was in parliament at the time but I guess they were trying not to get anybody to panic.”
The Darwin Defenders organisation continues to search for other army, navy and air force personnel living in the Wimmera. Their annual commemoration service at Horsham College on February 19 will be the first time a veteran from the bombing will not be in attendance, with Mr Scott not attending.
Mr Scott said as the number of Darwin veterans gradually diminished, so did the number of people attending commemorations.
“They used to have bus loads come down for the reunions,” Mr Scott said.
“The younger (generation) don’t seem to realise - even though they’re pretty good - how close Japan came to invading. That’s the idea of what Lynne (Wright, secretary for the Darwin Defenders’ Horsham Committee) does with the commemorations every year. I hope it never happens again.”
- The Darwin Defenders' 77th annual Horsham commemoration will be held at Ian Maroske Assembly Hall at Horsham College, Dimboola Road from 9.45am. Hall open from 9am. Guest Speaker: Horsham Rural City Councillor Pam Clarke.