February 29th, 2012
Well I am just back from my first ever battlefield tour and I’m hooked – it’s like genealogy cruising, you get to travel and learn more about things you have an interest in. Plus I didn’t have to do housework for almost a week!
I was privileged to be a speaker on the Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours War Comes to Australia tour to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. As usual with my travels, I record my experiences in a daily diary (see Diary of an Australian Genealogist). The six days of the tour are all detailed in my online diary so I’m not going to repeat all that here in this overview.
Although I had no personal connection to the bombing of Darwin, I still found my participation in the tour a moving experience. Just sitting in the Jetstar terminal waiting for my plane (an hour late due to ‘paperwork’), let me observe the various old diggers gathering to make the trip too. It was great to see that they could still travel and that most had younger family members with them. A number were also part of various tour groups as well.
I found myself thinking it was really good to see the authorities making a big event of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin this year as I sadly don’t think that a lot of the old diggers will still be around for the 75th.
The tour was a combination of visits to places with military heritage including museums, old WW2 airstrips, gun emplacements and other significant war time buildings and ruins. As well there were a series of talks from military historians – local Dr Tom Lewis OAM and tour historian Brad Manera and myself as the family historian. The tour also participated in the official bombing of Darwin commemoration ceremony and a number of tour participants went to other official ceremonies as well.
There was a welcome dinner and before we knew it the farewell dinner, a sunset cruise on Darwin Harbour to see where the various ships were damaged or sunk and air-conditioned bus trips to the various sites around Darwin and also down at Adelaide River. Each day started with a hot and cold buffet breakfast and although I usually have cereal at home, for some strange reason I am always attracted to the hot breakfast when I am travelling!
I was pleased to see that I didn’t put on any weight despite all the temptation but perhaps it was the extra exercise getting on and off the buses and walking around the various places. Darwin was hot and steamy but it has been a dry wet season and we didn’t see much rain at all which was good for us but Darwin does need its rain before the dry season starts.
I know Darwin very well as I have been there lots of times over the last decade so for me the best part of the tour was the talks. I was interested to learn more about the bombing of Darwin and Tom Lewis gave us a good background talk and then followed up with the ongoing myths and perceptions relating to the bombing. Brad Manera provided a much broader backdrop by looking at Australia’s involvement in various wars including a special look at Gallipoli and the Western Front. On the home front, his talk on the Japanese submarines in Sydney Harbour was fascinating.
On the travel side I had not been to Snake Creek before and this was a surprise as I had not realised such a substantial military establishment had been there. The tropical bush is doing its best to reclaim the site and while some items are rusting very badly, the concrete walls and floors will be there for a long time. I came away wanting to find out more about Snake Creek and the people who worked there during WW2.
As I said at the beginning, I had a great time and would readily go on another battlefield tour especially if there was a personal connection for me. I have a newspaper clipping on my desk outlining a military tour to South Africa and Boer War battlefields but I haven’t looked up the website yet! I have a strong interest in my mother’s two uncles who went to the Boer War twice and one ended up staying there.
I can’t see myself doing the Kokoda Trail (I like my comfort a little too much) but Gallipoli and the Western Front have relevance and may be options. I’ve always been fascinated by the Crimean War and perhaps some of the battles in India – obviously the list could be long and open ended. Battlefield tours are a great way to combine travel and history and the War Comes to Australia tour won’t be my last!
Thanks again to Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours for inviting me to be part of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin.