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Robert Stobo, the youngest person to die on 19 February 1942

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The youngest person to die in the first air raid on Darwin in February 1942 was not a soldier or sailor but a civilian. 16-year-old Robert Henry Stobo was a deck cadet aboard the freighter Neputuna, which blew up at Darwin Wharf. 

Robert was following in the footsteps of his deceased father Captain Robert Stobo, who had served in the Royal Australian Navy and as a master in the Merchant Navy. 

As the war commenced Robert was attending North Sydney Chatswood Junior High School, where he did well. In 1941 he passed the Intermediate Certificate with three As and three Bs. He was equally proficient in sport, representing the school in athletics and first grade rugby league as well as being the school's heavyweight boxing champion.

Robert gained a cadetship with the famous shipping company Burns Philp and was elated to be placed on the Neptuna. He boarded in Sydney in January 1942.

Tied up at the Darwin wharf on 19 February, Neptuna was hit by bombs from the high-level “Kate” aircraft of the Japanese Navy. The ship caught fire, began sinking, and after burning fiercely for around 25 minutes, exploded, rolled and sank, although as a big vessel her side protruded from the sea’s surface.

The recollections of 19 February from fellow cadets Jack Knight and George Kent were that the badly injured Robert was located by ship doctor John Hyde. With help from cadets Kent and Rothery and others, Dr Hyde got vadets Knight and Stobo onto the wharf, into lifejackets and then into the water where he remained with them until they were picked up and taken to the naval depot ship HMAS Platypus. Robert died on deck not long afterwards.

For those and other acts on that day, Dr Hyde was awarded the MBE and the Lloyds War Medal for heroism, while cadets Kent and Rothery received the King's Commendation for Brave Conduct.

Robert is remembered by his sisters Dorothy, Margaret, and Shirley on the commemorative quilt in the Northern Territory Library. He also has a Park and a Crescent named after him in the Darwin suburb of Alawa. He is buried in Adelaide Rover War Cemetery.

Neptuna lies on her side near the shattered Darwin wharf (RAN)
Robert Stobo, in a school sports team picture. (Public domain)