Brisbane Prepares for Air Raids

Brisbane’s first air raid casualty appears to have occurred in Highgate Hill and it was inflicted by a dog!

Dogs Cause only blackout casulaty Brisbane 1941

Courier-Mail 18th August 1941 (TROVE)

Preparing for Sunday night blackout tests at South Brisbane August 1941

Preparing for Sunday night black- out tests at South Brisbane August 1941. State Library of Queensland

Whilst a Brisbane air raid warning system had been in preparation since the beginning of the war in 1939, by August 1941 further preparations had begun. The situation in the Pacific had escalated to the point that it was felt necessary to prepare Australian cities for possible air raids. The necessity for blackouts had been seen in Britain during the blitz in 1940 and 1941. The first blackout test in Brisbane was held in August 1941, and involved the south side only.

Air Raid Warden testing new equipment in Brisbane October 1942
A Brisbane air raid warden with gas detection equipment in 1942 (State Library of Queensland)

A Civil Defence organisation was established in Australia with volunteer wardens. The National Security Act included provisions for prosecution of those flouting the blackout regulations.

The Pacific war commenced four months later in December of 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the invasion of Malaya by Japanese forces. The first air raid on mainland Australia took place at Darwin in February 1942.

Air raid shelters appeared around Brisbane. Some were designed to be used after the war as bus shelters and a number still serve that purpose.

air raid shelters ann street

Air raid shelters in Anne Street 1942 (State Library of Queensland)

Women in an air raid shelter in Brisbane 1942

Inside one of the Brisbane air raid shelters (State Library of Queensland)

Two hundred above ground shelters had been constructed by 1942. Many were demolished in early 1945.

air raid shelter dutton park

A surviving air raid shelter, Annerley Road, Dutton Park.

Other suitable locations such as prisoner cells at the old Supreme Court in George Street were converted into shelters.

Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 - 1954), Thursday 12 Febr

Townsville Daily Bulletin 12th February 1942. (TROVE)

Householders were encouraged to construct air raid shelters in their backyards and a recommended design was published late in 1941.

australian air raid shelter design 1941

The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 19th December 1941. (Trove)

My father told a story of how as a 13 year old schoolboy at Junction Park State School, he and his classmates were put to work at digging slit trenches. They far preferred this to sitting in a classroom!

Schoolboys digging a trench at Ascot State School in 1942

Schoolboys digging a trench at Ascot State School in 1942 (State Library of Queensland)

There were numerous reports of accidents with people digging their shelters having heart attacks, falls into open trenches and so on. One Ipswich family hit a coal seam and when a Parkes resident found gold, the digging of trenches in that town surged.

There were a number of surprise air raid drills held in 1942, with RAAF planes flying low over the city to add realism to the event.

By 1943, the hastily constructed air raid shelters in backyards and public spaces such as schoolyards all over Brisbane started to become a health concern. Even with corrugated iron roofing, they often had water in them after rain where mosquitos bred. Some collapsed altogether after heavy rain.

Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 - 1947), Thursday 18 November 1

The Telegraph (Brisbane) 18th November 1943. (Trove)

Brisbane’s first genuine air raid alert occurred on 20 August 1942. This was however a false alarm triggered by an unidentified American aircraft. Luckily Brisbane was never subjected to an aerial bombardment.

The closest enemy action to Brisbane was the sinking of the hospital ship AHS Centaur off Moreton Island by a Japanese submarine in May 1943 with the loss of 268 crew and members of the 2/12 Field Hospital.

centaur poster

A wartime poster recalling the sinking of the hospital ship Centaur (Australian War Museum)

For a description of how wars have impacted Highgate Hill, a microcosm of Australia, please see another of my posts, Lest We Forget – Highgate Hill

One thought on “Brisbane Prepares for Air Raids

  1. Pingback: Lest We Forget – Highgate Hill | Highgate Hill and Its History

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