WORLD WAR TWO veteran Ken Walsh saw action in Papua New Guinea and New Britain during World War Two but one war time action that he’ll never forgot did not happen in the South Pacific but in Australia itself.
Ken was in Darwin on February 19, 1942 when waves of Japanese planes devastated the city in a surprise attack often compared to the attack on Peal Harbour.
He was guarding a petrol depot when he saw the first Japanese planes dive in to strafe the shocked city and bomb key targets.
“We saw the Japanese come in and I could clearly see the Jap pilot in the plane firing his machine gun at us,” he said.
“I saw one of our planes shot down right over the top of me, it was badly hit and was on fire.”
Ken Walsh recalls the Japanese had planned the operation well, hitting Darwin’s military and communications targets with precision bombing.
He also remembers that warnings from an Australian Coastwatcher on Melville Island and a Catholic Priest on Bathurst Island were ignored and that the incoming planes were first thought to be a flight of P-40E Kittyhawk fighters.
“We were expecting the Kittyhawks, due to arrive at that very moment, ” he said.
“Even when we first realised they were Japanese we thought they were only dropping propaganda leaflets and it was only when we heard the explosions and saw the flames did we realise this was an attack and a big attack.”
“I guess you could say it did have a strong propaganda effect on us because there we a lot of blokes who wanted to fight the Japanese, just to hit back for what they did to Darwin.”
Ken was one of Darwin evacuees.
“There was little we could do stop the attack at the time and we evacuated to the Adelaide River, out of danger, except for the crocodiles.”
An infantry private with the 2nd 19th Infantry, Ken remembers the horror of jungle warfare but never saw an enemy soldier.
“You wouldn’t see them, they were well dug in, firing from from hidden man holes in the ground,” he said.
“I do remember bullets flying around me and our blokes copping bullets, one close to me was shot in the stomach and killed.”
A world away from the horrors of the Pacific war, Ken’s brother Alan got a closer look at the enemy in the North African theatre of operations.
“Alan was one of the Rats of Tobruk and we was badly wounded in the shoulder and captured by the Germans.
“He was treated by the German surgeons and managed to escaped.”
A Bowral resident who turns 96 this December 31, Ken Walsh can’t recall where he was the day the end of the war was announced.
“On that particular day, no, but I do remember Australia was celebrating for weeks and those who served were remembering some great mates who didn’t return.”
Ninety six year old Ken Walsh of Clermont Aged Care in North Ryde was in Darwin in 1942 during the Japanese attack.