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Collegian Brian Winspear AM (’38), now
aged 97, is the last surviving Royal Australian
Air Force veteran to witness the bombing of
Darwin in World War II.
On the morning of 19 February, 1942, 188
Japanese planes bombed Darwin in two raids,
killing at least 235 people and injuring 400.
Mr Winspear, a wireless airgunner at
the time, was a special guest at the 75th
anniversary commemorations of the bombing
in Darwin last year.
His memories of the raids are as clear now
as if they had just happened.
Mr Winspear had arrived in the Northern
Territory the previous December as the war
moved ever closer to Australian shores.
At the time of the first raid, he had just
landed back in Darwin from a reconnaissance
flight looking for the Japanese fleet.
“W ithout any warning, the first Japanese raid
started. Their Zeros and Dive bombers wiped
out all the hangars and the hospital and most
of the buildings on the aerodrome.
“We jumped in the trenches and were told to
put corks in our mouths to stop concussion.
“We could see the Dive bombers’ pilots in
the cockpits. They were just whizzing around
and they were so close we could see some of
them were smiling. That went on for about half
The second raid began a short time later.
“We were back on the [air] strip and we saw
this formation of bombers coming at about
12,000 feet from the south and we thought
hurrah, it’s the American squadron coming to
“But as I looked up, the sun reflected off all
the bombs, falling like confetti directly overhead.
So once again we were in the bottom of the
trench and bombs landed all around us within a
couple of metres of our trench.
“Their bombing was deadly accurate. Hardly
a bomb landed outside the airport fence.”
Mr Winspear suffered shrapnel injuries to the
eye and hand. A month later an RAAF doctor
was to use a needle to dig out the bomb
splinter from his eye.
RAAF casualties in Darwin at that time were
about 75 per cent due to enemy action, pilot
inexperience, malfunctioning equipment,
difficult terrain, long flights and tropical weather
conditions, Mr Winspear said.
Of his intake of four wireless airgunners sent
to Darwin, he was the only survivor.
“I was no hero. I never shot any enemy down
or anything. My only achievement was to
come back alive.”
Born in Burnie in 1920, Mr Winspear was the
middle child of Roger and Olive Winspear. His
sisters, Rae and Beverley, attended Methodist
He had a few ‘valuable’ years at Scotch
College where he says he was hopeless at
sport but learned a lot.
“I liked [headmaster] W. W. V. Briggs and I
passed all the final exams.”
He worked at Repco in Launceston until he
joined the RAAF as a 19 year-old in 1939 for
the adventure and in the hope that the blue
uniform would impress the girls.
After the war, he left the airforce with
700 pounds in deferred pay and moved to
Bicheno where he was involved in a number
of ventures including the opening of a service
station, country store, bowls club, progress
association, wholesale fish business and the
Silver Sands motel.
He went on to design and build 10 motels in
Tasmania and helped to form the Innkeepers
group, with 20 motels in five states.
He was on Glamorgan Council for about 12
years and was awarded an Order of Australia
(AM) in 1993 for service to the community and
tourism. He has written two books about his
Mr Winspear has 27 descendants.
He has been married for more than 50 years
to artist Shirley (née Sandberg), 91, a former
MLC student (’43). They live in Hobart and
Bowen, Queensland. He still drives and plays
He wants people to remember the huge toll
“Sooner or later politicians will sit around a
table and decide to have another war. They
forget the millions who are dead because of
war and we are bloody slow learners. Don’t
forget to remember.”
Meanwhile, he is hoping to return to Darwin
in 2022 for the 80th anniversary of the raids.
“I will be 102 then so that is what I am aiming
for,” he said.
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