DARWIN, Australia – The northern Australian city of Darwin on Tuesday marked the 77th anniversary of a Japanese air raid that killed hundreds during World War II.
The Bombing of Darwin, which occurred on Feb. 19, 1942, was the first attack by Japanese forces on the Australian mainland and is estimated to have killed about 250 people, as well as destroying 30 aircraft and nine ships.
Administrator of the Northern Territory Vicki O’Halloran said in remarks at a service that the arrival of the war in Darwin was responsible for “fundamentally changing Australia.”
Darwin’s close proximity to present-day Indonesia and its build-up of military infrastructure made the port city a prime target for Japan. In addition to Australian ships, there were a number of U.S. Navy vessels in the harbor at the time of the attack.
At 9:58 a.m. an air raid siren sounded and members of the Australian Defence Force re-enacted the exact moment 188 Japanese aircraft flew over Darwin Harbour.
As the siren blared, fighter aircraft flew over the site of the service and army personnel simulated the Australian response to the bombing, using ceremonial howitzers to return fire using blanks.
Brian Winspear, a former flight lieutenant in the Royal Australian Air Force, was in Darwin the day Japan’s forces attacked and was involved in the defense of the city.
The 99-year-old said that during the war “we were supposed to hate the Japanese,” but his feelings toward the former wartime enemy have long since changed.
“We’ve got enough problems in the world without hating anyone,” he said, proudly pointing out that he has owned 15 Japanese-made cars in his lifetime.
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory Michael Gunner, the top elected official of the territory’s government, said in his remarks that with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Darwin in November, the city and its people “are now symbols of peace.”
Abe’s visit, which included laying a wreath at a memorial to victims of the bombing together with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, marked the first visit to the city by a Japanese prime minister.
Representatives from Japan also participated in Tuesday’s memorial service, including Shichiro Chiba, 65, whose uncle was killed when the Japanese submarine I-124 was sunk roughly 80 kilometers off the Darwin coast on Jan. 20, 1942, less than one month before the air raid.
The submarine was hit by an Australian warship as it tried to torpedo a U.S. Navy fleet oiler.
Also in attendance was Japanese Ambassador Reiichiro Takahashi and members of the Australian Japanese Association of the Northern Territory (AJANT).
At a separate memorial ceremony held Monday in Darwin, Chiba and other relatives of Imperial Japanese Navy officers planted a birch tree to commemorate the 80 souls lost on board the submarine and to promote peace between Japan and Australia.
Chiba and his wife, Tazuko, have traveled from Fukui Prefecture to Australia three times since a memorial plaque for the sunken submarine was unveiled in 2017.
Chiba’s uncle, Chief Warrant Officer Toraichi Inoue, was 27 years old when he died. All crew onboard were killed when an Australian warship came to defend the U.S. ship under attack by the Japanese submarine, and they remain entombed in the vessel.
“The plaque and tree in this place will be a memorial, not only for the descendant families, but for all of us and future generations, to show the history and connections between Australia and Japan,” Chiba said in a speech at the memorial service.
The birch tree, a variety found in both Japan and Australia, was chosen by AJANT as a symbol of the strong bonds of reconciliation between the two former wartime enemy countries.
“A tree is something in nature that represents growth resilience and beauty,” said AJANT President Yumiko Shaw, noting that the tree is also known for its healing and medicinal properties.