- Thomson, Max
- RAN operations, WWII operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Thursday Island and nearby Horn Island in the Torres Strait were always welcome stopovers for fuel or water for so many WWII Fairmile patrol vessels as they ‘went north’ to join the fray.
Spearheading them was ML 813 as the first assigned to the Darwin Base then ML 817 as the first Fairmile to go into service around the New Guinea coastline. Both were followed in time by so many others.
These days the supply ship Trinity Bay from Cairns carries a couple of thousand tonnes of general cargo plus 30 or more passengers on regular service to those islands and other northern outposts.
Passengers stepping ashore at Horn Island each receive a coveted informative brochure which outlines in detail and in photographs a remarkable story that even to this day is little-known by Australians generally.
It is the wartime story of Horn Island where 5000 troops were once stationed.
A promotional piece for the Torres Strait Heritage Museum, the whole project is a tribute to a third-generation Thursday Island man Mr. Richard See Kee and his family. Without any government help, they financed the Torres Strait Heritage Museum at Horn Island themselves. His daughter-in-law Vanessa See Kee is today the curator, historian and author of ‘The Forgotten Isle’ brochure and island tour projects, with Liberty See Kee contributing the fascinating collection of historic photographs.
Amid the dramatic plunge southward of the Japanese forces, March 1942 stands as Horn Island’s worst day when 12 Zero fighters and eight Nell bombers strafed and bombed the island to inflict as much damage as possible to disrupt its air strip facilities
As Vanessa See Kee records so dramatically ‘Today the silent remnants of the heroic stand against the Japanese lie in the surrounding scrub on Horn Island. Those same wartime air strips are used to this day – with upgradings – and their taxiways spread like paths through the bush. Anti-aircraft pits are still there – silent as they have been for 65 years or so. Many aircraft now lie in scrubland or concealed in watery tombs at nine different sites’.
Tours arranged by the Heritage Museum, as well as the brochures, now are eagerly sought by veterans returning to Horn island to view remnants of their wartime service there.
Navy veterans, like this journalist, deeply appreciate what the See Kee Family has achieved in preserving so much Torres Strait Heritage.
Though we saw Horn Island, ML 817 took on fuel and water at nearby Thursday Island and crew members recall vividly what was the lifestyle on those outposts in those grim years. No-one went ashore without side arms, webbing and a tin helmet, for air raid warnings punctuated the scene by day or night. Those same Fairmilers recall so well the delight of enjoying the screening of an old black and white movie sitting in a canvas deckchair out in the open made memorable by the sheer discomfort of those side arms, webbing and tin helmets plus the interruptions from wailing air raid sirens.
A debt of gratitude is due to all the See Kee Family members for preserving so much of those grim far-off days when Thursday Island and Horn Island figured so importantly in the saga of the Fairmile patrol vessels destined to serve out of the Darwin base or in New Guinea waters.