Brisbane’s first air raid alert : 70th anniversary

Air raid shelters in Elizabeth Street, 1942. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 157654

Air raid shelters in Elizabeth Street, 1942

Brisbane’s first air raid alert occurred on 20 August 1942 – 70 years ago this month. Townsville, Mossman and Horn Island had recently been targeted by the Imperial Japanese Air Force, so the prospect of bombs raining down on Brisbane was a real possibility. The alert turned out to be a false alarm, sparked by an unidentified American aircraft approaching the city from the sea. 

Sirens began sounding late in the morning . Air raid wardens were quickly on the job with their steel helmets on and blowing whistles. They began clearing streets and directing people to shelters. Initially many ignored the sirens but were quickly informed that it was a genuine alert. According to the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper, “The public showed no signs of panic when the alert sounded. If anything they took the situation too casually“.

Air raid warden and members of the W.A.A.F in a Brisbane air raid shelter, 1942. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 102818

Air raid warden and members of the W.A.A.F in a Brisbane air raid shelter, 1942

 The Prime Minister John Curtin and his wife were in Brisbane at the time of the air-raid alert waiting for a Sydney-bound train at the Roma Street Railway Station.  All passengers, including the Curtins, were directed to the shelters in the subways. After the all clear Curtin was heard to remark to a little girl,  “I’m glad it wasn’t fair dinkum dear“. Mr Curtin praised the calmness of the people in his shelter.

It was also reported that about a dozen people had fainted in the Brisbane suburbs at the sound of the sirens . The alarm was raised in coastal areas between Noosa to Tweed Heads as well.

Comfortable air raid shelter, Nundah, ca. 1942. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 112035

Comfortable air raid shelter, Nundah, ca. 1942

The State Library of Queensland holds a number of photographs documenting Brisbane’s many air raid shelters.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland