Untold Australian War Stories – The Darwin Region

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Last Updated on November 14, 2023

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Foreword by Don McKenzie

Joyce Davis (Joy Drysdale) was born in 1934. Through her work, Joyce has become renowned for preserving the memories of Darwin's past and ensuring that Australians never forget the sacrifices made by those who lived through the bombings of Darwin that first took place on 19th February 1942. 

She is a passionate advocate for remembering the past, and her collection of photographs and stories serves to inform, inspire and educate the people of Darwin about this momentous event in their history. Joyce, blessed with her computer savvy, is able to articulate her thoughts and feelings through the written word in an intriguing and captivating way.

However, Joyce feels that she is the only one with the courage to tell the stories publicly of the Australian soldiers who looted and vandalised the property of families who had been evacuated south due to the bombings.

Perhaps Joyce is one of the few that has first hand knowledge of these events and can express her knowledge, but there are many others that these stories have been handed down from their parents and grandparents.

This story is not about casting blame on individuals or military units. Instead, it is about preserving the stories that have been passed down through the generations, stories that have never been documented before. While there is no tangible evidence to support these accounts, they remain an important part of our shared history.

I am grateful to Joyce and others for providing insight into the events that took place after the war in Darwin. I had a search around, and this is the best summary of "officially" what took place, that I could find:

In the aftermath of the bombings, some Australian soldiers stationed in Darwin engaged in looting and other criminal activities. These soldiers were not caught and punished for their actions, as the Australian government chose to overlook their misconduct in the face of the larger conflict.

Many of the looted items were sold to civilians, while some were kept as souvenirs by the soldiers.

Here, then, are some of those stories.

Joyce Davis Known as Joy Drysdale in her younger days.

Linda Haskins

Joyce feels that she is the only one with the courage to tell the stories of the Australian soldiers who looted and vandalised the property of families who had been evacuated south due to the bombings.

Stewart Drysdale

Joyce Davis 27-January-2023

There is a book published that is titled, "The Awkward Truth" by Peter Grose. This is a very good book and Peter has done his research. The only thing I don't agree with is when he says the people panicked and fled,

My father, Stewart Drysdale told me that after the bombing, drunken MPs with revolvers drawn and shooting into the air, went from house to house shouting "Martial Law has been proclaimed, all civilians out".

When my father was aged 24 with a horse team and dray from Darwin to Katherine with only one Aboriginal with him. This Aboriginal would not go past Katherine because it was out of his tribal country, and he would be killed if he entered another. So my father travelled alone to Wyndham and the Kimberleys delivering supplies to the various Stations that had ordered them.

The Aboriginals of the Jasper Gorge region were very fierce and had killed many people. At night, my father would make his swag up near his camp fire with a dummy in it. He'd then go into the bush covering his tracks as he went, and would sleep there. On occasion, he would return to his campsite in the morning to find a spear lodged in the dummy in his swag.  

Because of this, I did not believe that he panicked and fled Darwin. I do know that he couldn't drive out because the army had commandeered the civilian vehicles prior to this. Dad owned 2 trucks, 2 taxis, his private car and mum's private car, as well as the hearse, but he had to go overland any way he could.

I agree some people may have panicked but not to the extent that was bandied about. I have heard the story of a Chinese man riding his bike all the way to Adelaide River without a chain on it. Now, I ask you to try that!!!


Francesca Bleeser's Shop, Smith Street Darwin - Circa 1930's

Image Source and Description: Joyce Davis.

Joyce Davis 27-January-2023

Mrs Bleesers Shop was like an Aladins cave as it was in packed with Sparkling Jewellery, Teddy Bears, Dolls, Scarves of every color covered with sequins or sprinkles, nick nacks, Etc. At the front behind a closed door her husband kept his specimens of rocks, animals Etc which he colloborated with others all over the world,

As I was well behaved he would let me in to see them as he knew I would not touch anything. All his years of work was destroyed by the soldiers who carried out looting and vandalism when he died many said it was of a broken heart because his lifes work was gone. 


Alec Drysdale

Joyce Davis

My brother, Alec Drysdale was in he Defence Force went home to get a change of clothes and found everything gone and china smashed on the floor. The only thing left was a picture of my two sisters hanging on the wall.

He went outside to see the rest of the buildings which also had been ransacked. On his way out he went to get the photo on the wall and found it had been taken while he was out the back.

My cousin Teddy Brown was also in the Defence Force and when he went home found all gone and when he went out the back found all the chooks with their necks wrung hanging from the clothes line. Quite a silly thing to do as later Darwin was short of food and the chooks would have laid eggs and also could have been eaten then.

My brother in law in the permanent army went into an officers tent and found his golf clubs that had his initials on them and was left at my parents home. He took them back to his tent and when he returned from duties the next day found them gone.

My cousin was in the defence force and was helping load a plane going south. He was helping carry a camphor wood box and wondered why it was familiar. When the plane took off he realized it was my father Stewart Drysdale's box. I could go on with other stories but have taken up to much spaced as it is.



 Bert and Eunice Pierssené

This story is share by Karen Smith. It is the story of her grandparents, Bert and Eunice Pierssené.


My Grandparents, Bert and Eunice Pierssené, lived in Darwin before World War II. They lived in a house Pa (Bert) had recently built on McMinn Street near the Daly Street bridge and the railway line. The incomplete house is pictured above.

My grandfather constructed their home along McMinn Street, as indicated by the red circle on the map. Prior to this, they resided in a rental property situated on Smith Street, denoted by the pink mark.

The Nakashibas' residence was located at the intersection of Daly Street and Mitchell Street, illustrated by the green mark on the map.

Just a week after settling in, Nana (Eunice), along with my mother Marie and siblings Rae, Lex, Kevin, and Veronica (ranging from 11 to 3 years old), were evacuated on the notorious "Hell Ship," S.S. Zealandia.

Despite the youngest child's illness and my grandfather's inability to leave, Nana (Eunice) was eventually persuaded to leave after being informed of the evacuation orders while out shopping for Christmas presents at Blessers.

The family was given only 48 hours to pack and were limited to 35lbs (15.87kgs) of clothing for the entire group, with personal belongings and toys (excluding Christmas gifts for 1941) being left behind. Women and children were to be evacuated via ship or train, while men and boys aged 18 or older were required to remain behind to protect and maintain the town's operations.

My grandfather (Pa Bert), who worked as a PMG linesman, assisted with essential services and post-bombing cleanup efforts.


Amidst the war, Pa (Bert) returned home one day to discover that not only his house but all the other houses had been burgled by Australian Army soldiers, resulting in the theft of valuable possessions, including furniture. The soldiers went to the extent of vandalizing anything they couldn't steal.

Although my grandfather was on leave when the initial bombing happened, he had been serving the Navy at the Victualling Yards, and thus, had a firsthand view of the bombing of Darwin. My grandmother had previously informed me that the incident took place at Vesteys on Bullocky Point.


Pa (Bert) continued to live in their house until upon returning home one day in 1943, was confronted with its total destruction by a Daisy Cutter.

He later reunited with his family in Sydney, where they had another son Ron. In 1947, the family returned to Darwin, but their friends, the Nakashiba family, never returned though they did maintain contact.


Karen: My mother (Marie) told me that her 11-year-old self, on learning that the Nakashibas had been arrested and detained at the police station, walked from her house to the police station and demanded an explanation for why they had been arrested and when they would be released. She was totally confused by the Nakashibas arrest but never received a satisfactory explanation.

My mum described the scene at the wharf as "Much crying and sadness when saying goodbye to our father when forced to board the ship."

She also mentioned the S.S. Zealandia. Packed into the ship were 800 evacuees, 450 wounded soldiers and airmen from Singapore, 400 Japanese POW's and the normal crew. My family spent the trip in the crew quarters. Crew and wounded slept on the deck, and prisoners were in the hold. It was extremely hot as it was the wet season in the north and summer in the south. They were allowed to visit with the Nakashibas a few times and she said the hold was like a furnace. The Administrator would not sign or approve fresh water being taken on board for the trip, so salt water was condensed and used for bathing and drinking.

By the way, the rental my grandparents lived in before they moved into their own home, was on the corner of Smith and Daly Streets. When they returned after the war, they stayed with my grandmothers cousin, Ada Gaden and her husband Hazel in their house at Salonica. Eventually they got a rental on the opposite corner of Smith and Daly Streets. The Wards (as in Dick Ward) lived next door also on Daly Street.


What is a Daisy Cutter?
A Daisy Cutter is a type of bomb that produces a massive pressure wave, capable of destroying buildings and infrastructure over a wide area. It is named after its circular pattern of destruction, resembling the flattened path left behind by a person walking through a field of daisies.

Mary Nakashiba and her family of Darwin were interned as Japanese POW's.

During World War II, Japanese civilians living in Australia, including those in Darwin, were often subjected to internment, or forced relocation to detention camps. The internment of Japanese civilians in Australia was a controversial and divisive issue at the time, and its legacy continues to shape relations between Australia and Japan to this day. Many families, like the Nakashiba family, were separated and experienced hardship and loss as a result of their internment.

Mary Nakashiba and her family of Darwin were ecacuated on the S.S. Zealandia, which came to be known as "The Hell Ship". The so called prisoners of war, were good friends of Bert and Eunice Pierssené of Darwin, but were held in the bowels of the ship for the journey.

During her months of internment, Mary experienced a deep sense of loss and mourning for her Australian identity. She felt betrayed by her country, as she was deemed an "enemy alien" by both the Australian people and the Japanese, leaving her without a sense of belonging.

One of the hardest parts of her internment was living among the imperialistic Japanese internees in the camp. Mary refused to bow in the direction of the Emperor, and as a result, was forcibly pushed down by one of the compound leaders. This only compounded her frustration and anger, especially when she saw the internees celebrate after the bombing of Darwin in 1942.

The celebration filled Mary with rage and hatred, especially since she had lost close friends in the attack. Despite her mother's advice against hating, Mary felt that this intense emotion kept her going and gave her the strength to persevere through her internment.
Pictured below:

Both families at play, possibly Mindil Beach (See the Coconut Palms) Circa 1941
Rhoda, Mary, Lex, Marie and Rae standing.

I'm trying to imagine the scene. Sandy McNab, a policeman, lived with his family across the bridge near where Bridge Toyota is now. Your family rented in Daly St. before the house was built. I now know that the Nakashiba family lived nearby. Bert must have known Sandy and they may have even been close friends. I now have a visual of both houses and their locations. I wonder if it was someone like Sandy, or even Sandy himself, who had to escort the Nakashiba family to the police station. The thought of the events and emotions during that time is heartbreaking

Image Source: Lovedayproject.com

Mary Nakashiba's story can be found at:.

Miscellaneous  Stories from Facebook Comments.

Christine Isabel Hart 
Looting was not only in Darwin but down the Stuart Highway as well - Adelaide River, Pine Creek, Katherine.

Kerry Mark

Gosh a lot of looting must have went on…even if one takes into account stories grow over time. I have read my great grandfathers (Buscalls) letters describing the thief of his shops contents (Curio Cottage, Smith St) and stories of the aftermath of the bombings and it has never hit home how significant it was until I have just read all the other accounts. People did similar after Tracy. Just as well most people pull together.

 Joyce Davis 

The civilians did not mind the soldiers taking things like bed linen and chairs but the wanton destruction of smashing china tearing up photographs and cutting up shoes if they didn't fit was just too much. I believe they broke in got drunk on all the free alcohol and then raided everything.

Liz Chin-Seet
Wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing. I thought the soldiers only vandalised and stole from the Chinese owned stores. Didn’t realise it was others too.

Joyce Davis - Liz Chin-Seet
Yes everyone's homes were looted.

Kirsten Robb
My pop who was a Navy Man in Darwin during the bombings of Darwin used to mention the ‘craziness’ of the soldiers after the bombing and how disgusted he was by all the looting and destructive behaviour that he witnessed that some participated in.

The Temple Lion

The Handover of the Temple Lion before its journey back to the Northern Territory

Please share this story with your family and friends so that they can read about the Darwin stories, its history,  and what it has to offer tourists. 

Thank you very much, Don...

5/5 - (7 votes)

Last Updated on November 14, 2023

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