Ships ablaze in Darwin Harbour. Feb 19, 1942

Information from Australia’s Pearl Harbour by Douglas Lockwood.

John Waldie, was a twenty-five year old coxswain employed by the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) on its flying boat facilities near the Darwin wharf.

Waldie was working on the engine of launch C.A.22 near steps used by flying boat passengers. Above the noise of the engine he became aware that a mate, Percy Gordon, was shouting at him from the top of the steps. Waldie could not hear what Gordon was saying so he climbed up towards him. When half way to the top the first bombs landed in the sea and on the wharf.

Instead of seeking shelter, Waldie returned to C.A.22. Within minutes, he saw the need for a rescue vessel beneath the wharf, where men were dying and being threatened with incineration. With a DCA boathand, Ray Crocker, he went out to help them. Waldie estimates that thirty men immediately clambered into the launch, which was in danger of capsizing. He took them ashore while further bombs dropped and fighters strafed the area. His memory of how many trips he made is hazy but on April 15, 1942, William Wake made an official report to the Director-General of Civil Aviation in which he wrote: “Crocker remained with the launch for two trips and Waldie then carried on alone for at least another three. On each trip the launch carried more than thirty men, as well as towing in five crowded lifeboats”. When everyone had been evacuated from beneath the wharf Waldie took two Qantas pilots, Captain Crowther and Captain Hussey, to a flying boat which had survived the raid*.

An aeradio operator, C. W. Vincent, confirmed Waldie’s efforts in a report describing him as the leading spirit in rescue operations, and pointing out that he worked under bombing, machine-gunning, and in the vicinity of an ammunition ship that was on fire.

It is not possible to estimate the exact number of men who owe their lives to Waldie but he is known to have rescued more than 100 and the total is possibly closer to 200.

*The flying boat Camilla, although riddled with bullet holes was otherwise undamaged and the two pilots were able to get it away to Groote Eylandt. They flew out of the harbor just 3 minutes before the nearby Neptuna exploded. When they were sure the raid had ended, they flew back to Darwin and began evacuating casualties.

Enemy aircraft involved in the bombing of Darwin on Feb 19, 1942 numbered more than 260. The final 64th air raid occurred on November 12, 1943.

The Neptuna. Darwin Harbour. Photo from AWM