The day war came home
This week it is 75 years since a bomb fell on Miallo. Here
Never was it more evident how close Far North Queensland was to the theatre of war than at 3.30am on 31 July, 1942 when Miallo and surrounds were bombed by a Japanese plane.
The area had been witness to various war plane activities, predominately undertaken by the US Air Force who had several bases within the region.
It was not unusual for planes to have difficulty identifying locations at night along the Cairns and Cassowary coasts. There was a black-out and navigators struggled at times to find Cairns, mistaking Snapper Island for Double Island, the Daintree River for the Barron River and thus Mossman for Cairns.
One night a few months prior to the Japanese bombing at Miallo, there was a plane circling above Mossman township and a local youth of 16 years, Noel Voysey heard it and identified it by the sound of its engine as an American plane, no doubt looking for the Cairns airfield.
According to local Del Richards who has researched some Douglas Shire history, Noel jumped on his bike, rode down to the sugar mill, got them to turn on some lights and he sent a Morse Code message to the plane, telling them Cairns was 50 miles south.
It is also reported that the next day, an impressive US military car visited young Master Voysey and rewarded him handsomely crew’s lives.
So, with the background of mistaken identity, the Japanese bomber, it has been surmised, thought he was flying over Cairns when he dropped his bombs in the Douglas area.
An air-raid siren had been activated in Mossman when the bomber was detected however most residents in Miallo were asleep at 3.30am when the bomb was dropped.
The bomb fell into a canefield and rocked surrounding buildings. The closest dwelling was the family home of the Zullos which was showered with shrapnel, one piece piercing the wall into the bedroom of 2½ year-old Carmel Zullo. for saving the The
reported on 3 August 1942 that the shrapnel had caused “a severe gash, fracturing her skull” and Carmel apparently spent three months in Mossman Hospital recovering.
Other damage to the house included “one fragment pierced the wall near where Zullo and his wife were sleeping. Another tore the leg off a duchess chest and smashed a strut supporting a wall”.
Neighbours reported a shattered window and houses being “severely shaken”.
A witness said the plane flew off in a northerly direction after it had jettisoned the bomb.
Another bomb was dropped close to the junction of the Mossman-Daintree Road and the Cape Tribulation Road near a slaughter yard.
The accounts of how many bombs were dropped are conflicting. The World War II monument at Miallo, commemorating this event, states there were eight bombs in total dropped within the vicinity whereas newspaper reports at the time mention four bombs by the Townsville Daily Bulletin and a single bomb by the Cairns Post.
What is evident is that had the bomb or bombs fallen on Mossman township, it could have been a human tragedy of significant proportions. It was noted in the
that a catastrophe was avoided due to the “efficient manner in which the sugar mill was blacked out”.
The Japanese pilot, Sub Lieutenant Kiyoshi Mizukura, in an Emily flying boat, had undertaken at least two sorties in Far North Queensland from his base airport of Rabaul. Two nights prior to his bombing Miallo, he dropped bombs in the vicinity of Townsville, causing no damage as his payload landed mostly at sea.
Meanwhile in Bangkok, Mr Doug Rex, who ran a tin dredging company in Malaya, had been taken as a Prisoner of War. Upon his return to Australia in 1945, he reported that on 2 August 1942, the headlines in a Bangkok newspaper had said “Mossman and Townsville were left in flames, reduced to rubble, and a goods train, believed to be carrying enormous supplies of meat, had been bombed”.
Fifty years later, Mrs Carmel Emmi nee Zullo, unveiled a plaque on Bamboo Creek Road’s War Memorial. She was reported in the Sunday Mail as saying that her mother had said to her that “…it was a bright moonlit night and very cold… and she saw I was covered in blood and she thought I had been killed”.
Mrs Emmi also said she knew she was a unique part of Queensland history but it was something she “could have done without”. She was the only civilian casualty along the eastern Australian mainland during the war.
Far North Queensland does have a distinctive place in Australia’s World War II history. Locals including Freddie Bell and John White talk of finding burnt out planes in remote spots in the ranges behind Douglas Shire.
The monument on Bamboo Creek Road is a solemn reminder that the 1942 bombing of the area could have had a very different and tragic outcome but fortunately a fading scar on a former Miallo resident is the only real evidence of a botched attack.
The monument on Bamboo Creek Road today, commemorating the bombing incident at Miallo in 1942. Inset: Japanese pilot of an emily sea plane, reputed to be the aircraft in question