Memories flowed at the Darwin Defenders ceremony in Bendigo on Wednesday.
Bill Hosking, 91, was a teenager when Darwin was bombed on February 19, 1942.
It gives us a little bit of pride to think we were there
He was an instrument maker in the RAAF and based at Pell Airfield, about 100km south of Darwin.
“We didn’t know what happened on the day but our [commanding officer] told us at lunchtime,” Mr Hosking says.
“The next day we had to go to Darwin and take anything out of aircraft that was crashed and burnt … anything reusable that we could reuse.
“We were told it was most secret and we weren’t to talk about it.
“If we had talked about it we could have been charged under the secrecy act and jailed.”
Darwin, which was of strategic importance in Australia’s fight in World War II, was attacked by 242 Japanese aircraft, sinking eight Australian naval ships and 23 aircraft.
It was the first time Australia had ever been attacked and it is estimated that about 900 people were killed and hundreds more injured.
But strict censorship was imposed on all information regarding air raids and official documents were stamped “Not to be released until 1995”.
Today the Darwin Defenders, as they have become known, are allowed to speak about their experiences publicly.
Ron Hamley, 91 and Stan Phillips, 92, were in the 8th Brigade and were stationed about 32km south of Darwin at the time of the attack.
“We’d just arrived [in the Northern Territory] and the Japs flew right over the top of us on the way to their bombing,” Mr Hamley says.
“We thought they were the Americans arriving to help, but we soon realised they weren’t. We were stunned.”
“There was planes everywhere, dozens of them, and a few minutes later we heard the bombs going off," Mr Phillips says.
Ceremony honours gallant Defenders
All three all agree that yesterday’s commemorative ceremony was fitting.
“It gives us a bit of pride to think we were there,” Mr Hamley says.