The Darwin bombing – A survivor's story

Kylie Hatfield 25 January 2019
  • History & commemoration

94-year-old Sunshine Coast veteran Basil Stahl was in Darwin when the first bombs hit on 19 February 1942.

As a 19-year-old, Basil was tasked with surveying the area around the coastal town when it suddenly became a war zone. On the oval of the Larrakeyah Barracks when the first raids hit, Basil recalled:

“It landed 500 yards from us and I had a camera so I have a picture of one of my friends in the hole,” said Basil.

“There were 188 planes including Zero fighters flying over and they bombed everywhere – they did what they wanted to do and we had no defence except an old .303 Rifle and a Lewis Gun.

Bombing of Darwin


Barracks still standing after 60 air raids

“We still can’t figure out how the old barracks is still standing after 60-odd air raids. [During one of the raids] they were also dropping things called daisy cutters which were smashing the hospital windows,” said Basil.

Basil watched events unfold during the anticipated attack, which enabled military forces to evacuate civilians to places like Alice Springs.

“We knew they were going to bomb and were putting trenches and sandbags around,” said Basil.

“They previously bombed Pearl Harbour and Singapore had fallen; there were only 1,600 troops in Darwin at the time.

Bombing of Darwin


BombING at the Post Office and harbour

“They bombed the Post Office and killed nine people and many people died at the wharf, and in the harbour. I have a map of where all the boats were attacked. The USS Peary went down which killed at least 80 people,” said Basil.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin, the Darwin City Council established a Civilian Memorial Wall in Bicentennial Park to honour and remember those who lost their lives or were impacted by the bombings.

Travelling to Darwin each year as a tribute to those who lost their lives and fought in the raids, Basil attends the commemorative service where, at 9:58am a World War II Air Raid Siren sounds to mark the precise time of the first attack.

Bombing of Darwin


THE last known survivor

“It’s part of our history. I first went to the 50th anniversary and have been going ever since, but there are not many of us left. We had 62 in my unit at the time and I am the last known survivor,” said Basil.

“All wars shouldn’t be there but that is human nature, they are still going on everywhere and they never stop – it goes on through history.”

After the bombing of Darwin, Basil helped map the north and worked on surveying the bush track that is now the Stuart Highway, running from Darwin in the north, via Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, to Port Augusta in South Australia. 

He left Darwin in April 1943 and went to Dutch New Guinea before joining General MacArthur and going to Borneo where he was attached to the American Army survey unit.