Thursday, 11 January 2018

Shelling of Rose Bay

This was the final essay in the Oral History unit (my final subject) for the University of Tasmania Family History Diploma. The essay was restricted to 800 words (give or take 10%) and ended up being 819 words. Working to a word limit restricts providing some of the information on the topic but I will be linking additional posts to this one providing additional information on on the Flying Boat Base at Rose Bay and the presence of the Japanese off the coast plus incursions into the harbour. Photos not in original.]

Shortly after midnight, the residents of Rose Bay, a Sydney suburb, awoke to the sound of shells soaring over their homes. It was 8 June 1942. The previous week midget submarines had shelled targets in parts of Sydney Harbour, but now war had come to their suburb. [1]

1939 was a year of change for Rosemary as she moved from the family sheep station in south-western Queensland to Rose Bay to live with her aunt and attend secondary school. Her new home was Kooyong, a brick house on the corner of Hamilton Street and Carlisle Street. Rosemary described Kooyong’s location: “It was built up on a bit of a rise … and we looked down towards the Rose Bay Golf Club. We couldn’t see the harbour, but if you walked up to the next corner, and turned around the next street, you had a lovely view.” Rosemary also noted, “It was walking distance to school.”[2] 
Kooyong 1940s
School was Kambala in nearby Vaucluse. School days were happy days. Rosemary enjoyed playing sport, particularly tennis and netball and her favourite subject was drama. Her best friend, Jill, lived a few streets away. Rosemary described the school as being “in a beautiful position overlooking the harbour by the flying boat base.” She added, “For a couple of years I was in classrooms that overlooked the base and it was hard to concentrate.”

The flying boat base at Rose Bay opened in 1938 and was used by Qantas to take mail and passengers to England, plus other countries closer to Australia.[3] It was a busy centre with planes frequently arriving or leaving the base. However, by 1942, the RAAF had requisitioned most of the flying boats. The Rose Bay base then closed until the end of the war.

On 3 September, 1939, when Mr Menzies announced that Australia was at war with Germany, [4] Rosemary was holidaying with her mother and aunt in the Blue Mountains. They listened to the declaration of war on the radio. Almost three years later, shells from a Japanese submarine landed near her home. [5]

Initially war seemed far from Australia but fear of Japanese aggression grew, particularly in 1941. Japanese troops advanced towards Malaya and Singapore and then, in December, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. [6]

At the beginning of the 1942 school year, students discovered air raid shelters built during the holidays. Rosemary described the precautions taken at Kambala: “At school we had air raid shelters which were a couple of classrooms strengthened up with beams and sandbags.” Students also learned what to do in the event of an air raid warning. “We used to have air raid practice, racing across and trying to remember what to do.” Rosemary added, “I hate to think what would have happened if there had been a raid.”

Precautions were not just restricted to schools. At night all buildings, including houses, observed blackout conditions. “At Rose Bay we had to blackout all the windows. We weren’t allowed to show any lights of course,” said Rosemary.

Owners of private houses also constructed air raid shelters for protection should enemy planes approach. Rosemary described how precautions were made at Kooyong. “We had our air raid shelter under Aunt’s room. There was a trapdoor that led down to the room though we could get to it from the outside as well. That was our shelter and we kept provisions there.”

When the Japanese submarine attacked, the sleepy residents of Kooyong hurriedly tried to follow their instructions: “…we had to rush to turn off the gas, fill the bath with water and make sure we had water below.” Rosemary then added, “I am afraid that if it had really been serious we would have been dead before we got ourselves organised.”

The shells that landed on Rose Bay came from the Japanese submarine, I-24, located fourteen kilometres out to sea.[7] Residents wondered what was happening. “We didn’t realise at the time how serious it was” Rosemary observed. “Part of Rose Bay was shelled including the beach. At New South Head Road some flats were hit, not badly but windows were broken.”

Few shells exploded though there was damage to a number of buildings, including houses, and roads.[8] Fortunately no-one was seriously injured. Two shells also landed on the golf course, located near the flying boat base.[9] Accounts of the shelling appeared in the newspapers.[10] Rosemary and her friends later visited some of the sites.

It is now believed that the Japanese attack on June 8 was planned to scare the population, rather than to create significant damage.[11] Not surprisingly some panic and uncertainty occurred after the attack. There was also a fall in house and rental prices in coastal areas and some families relocated to the safety of the country.[12] However most residents, including Rosemary (the girl from the country) and her aunt, remained in Rose Bay and continued their normal routine for the duration of the war.

Click image for a clearer view or use this link
The above image is from the website of Artius Real Estate and provides a view of Rose Bay overlooking the harbour taken in 2011. Kambala is to the left and the golf courses are to the right. Catalina Restaurant is built on the site of the buildings used by the sea plane base.

[1] David Jenkins, Battle Surface! Japan’s Submarine War Against Australia 1942-1944, Sydney, Random House, 1992, pp. 201-237; Bob Wurth, 1942: Australia’s Greatest Peril, Sydney, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2008, pp. 221-255
[2] In 1994 Rosemary Moses recalled memories of living in Rose Bay during the Second World War. [3] Kim Hanna, ‘Rose Bay Airport’, Dictionary of Sydney, 2014. accessed 1 December 2017
[4] Michael McKernan, Australians at Home: World War II, Scoresby, Victoria, Five Mile Press, 2014, p. 3; Bob Wurth, The Battle for Australia: A Nation and its Leader Under Siege, Sydney, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2013, p. 18.
[5] On the same night the Japanese submarine, I-21, shelled parts of Newcastle.
[6] McKernan, Australians at home, p. 96.
[7]Jenkins, Battle Surface!  pp. 247-251; Wurth, 1942l,  p. 261.
[8] Terry Jones and Steven Carruthers, A Parting Shot: Shelling of Australia by Japanese Submarines 1942, Narabeen, NSW, Casper Publications, 2013, pp. 44-53; Wurth, The Battle for Australia, p. 308. [9] Jones and Carruthers, A Parting Shot, pp. 87-97.
[10] ‘Sea Raiders Shell Sydney and Newcastle’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June 1942, p. 5.
[11] Jones and Carruthers, A Parting Shot, pp. 257-259.
[12] Jones and Carruthers, A Parting Shot, pp. 275-276.

Dean, Peter J (editor), Australia 1942: In the Shadow of War, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Hanna, Kim, ‘Rose Bay Airport’, Dictionary of Sydney, accessed 1 December 2017
Jenkins, David, Battle Surface! Japan’s Submarine War against Australia 1942-1944, Sydney, Random House, 1992.
Jones, Terry and Carruthers, Steven, A Parting Shot: Shelling of Australia by Japanese Submarines 1942, Narabeen, NSW, Casper Publications, 2013.
McKernan, Michael, Australians at Home: World War II, Scoresby, Victoria, Five Mile Press, 2014.
Moses, Rosemary, Interview by author, Audiotape recording, Melbourne, Australia, 10 May, 1994, in author’s possession.
Sydney Morning Herald.
Wurth, Bob, 1942: Australia’s Greatest Peril, Sydney, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2008.
Wurth, Bob, The Battle for Australia: A Nation and its Leader under Siege, Sydney, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2013.

For more information about the above books see my blog, Reading and Other Pursuits, for the post Sydney during the Second World War.

The post, Japanese submarines off Sydney contains a brief summary of events at the beginning of June.

Additional information about Kambala and Rosemary's experience of school in Sydney during the war can be found in another post in this blog - Kambala.
The post Rose Bay Flying Boat Base provides additional information about the flying boats.

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