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Jack Mulholland, a typical gunner of 19 February 1942

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In 1942, Gunner Jack Mullholland was just another young man stationed in Darwin. But over the seven and a half decades since, he has become a symbol of the young soldiers who defended the town on that fateful day.

Then 20-year-old Jack was stationed on the then Darwin Oval, now the Cenotaph area of the Esplanade. He was the Number Five crew member of a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun. The big guns had been scattered around the town and fired 1100 rounds during that first attack.

They hit nothing. This was not surprising, given that some of their ammunition dated from WWI and was labelled “Not to be used in the Tropics”. Add to this the fact that until then the crew had not been allowed to practice actually firing the gun, and it’s easy to see why Darwin seemed to be left underdefended. Despite the odds against them, Jack and his crew fought fiercely against the 188 aircraft of the first Japanese raid.

In subsequent raids the AA guns were more accurate. Jack told of these disasters and related many anecdotes about the raids in his book Darwin Bombed, which was published after the war. He was also filmed for a documentary. 

Although a very brave soldier, Jack always quietly described his times in action as doing no more than his duty. Post-war he worked in the banking industry, but retained a military connection as an Army Reservist, rising through the ranks to Captain. His death in 2012 reminds us that there are fewer and fewer veterans of the Territory war every year.

A 3.7-inch AA gun in a practice shoot. Gunner Jack Mulholland is at left. (Lewis Collection)