This is a true story describing how a quilt came to link Northern Australia's wartime experiences with today's generation.
Australia's Northern Territory Library is part of the modern Parliament House Complex in Darwin. It is a light and airy building with large windows and high ceilings but one of the few solid walls acts as a backdrop to a huge five by three meter commemorative quilt.
On the 19th February 1942 Darwin experienced its own 'Pearl Harbour' when the Japanese attacked the city from the skies. 250 people were killed and 400 injured, most of the civilian population left the city and travelled south. Some returned after the war others made their homes in other places but in 1992 many of these survivors came together to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin.
Left: Jenny Armour, Right: Flying Boat Terminus
Those who had spent time in the Northern Territory during the war signed simple cloth patches that were later stitched into a quilt by Jenny Armour, a former librarian in the NT library. The quilt has approximately 1600 patches recording almost 2000 names as well as illustrations of the wartime buildings in Darwin. It is designed along the lines of a traditional porcellanite stonewall typical of the many wartime buildings in and around the city.
On a recent trip to Darwin we visited the library to view and photograph the quilt and amongst the other visitors were a small group of secondary school students. One student in particular was very excited when she finally found her grandfather's signature amongst the hundreds of others on the quilt.
Her name was Alex and she had promised her grandmother back in Brisbane that she would take a picture of the quilt and the precious signature of “Pop”. The patch was high up on the top row almost impossible to photograph! All was not lost since we discovered that the NT Library has a full record of the signatures on their web page. We were able to photograph Alex in front of the quilt especially for her grandmother.
We were pleasantly surprised to see so many of the students showing a keen interest in the quilt for both its historical and artistic significance.
After returning home Alex filled in some of the details about her grandfather and here is her (unedited) story:
Harold duMoulin Conolly, or Pop as I knew him, was just 18 years and 2 months when he enlisted.
Nicknamed 'Junior' by his fellow crew members and part of the amazing Australian 'Black Cat' Catalina flying boat Squadrons this quiet, steadfast gentle man’s Logbook shows he flew a total of 1,034 hours with 668 hours 'operational', many out of Darwin and Cairns and then later further north from Catalina Tenders in amongst the islands.
Rising to the rank of Leading Aircraftman, Harold flew the bulk of his missions as an armourer in the flying boat A24-57 'Shady Lady', part of No11 Squadron. The Catalina, whilst slow had an amazing endurance, making it suitable for very long-range missions (17-20 hours in the air), deep within the enemy controlled areas. These missions included the mining of harbours and shipping channels, bombing of enemy facilities and even the torpedoing of supply ships. Being slow, the 'Cat's'best defence was not being seen and hence most missions were timed for night over enemy territory with the 'Cat' painted matt black to blend into the darkness. The 'Cats' also provided essential supply drops to our troops and coast watches and rescued many a downed aircrew or stranded allied serviceman.
Pop was part of a group of very brave young men who flew in slow, almost defenceless aircraft to carry the war to the enemy at a time when Australia was very much on the back foot. We are very proud of this humble man who was slow to talk about war and we continue to honour his memory marching in his place on ANZAC Day with the Air-force contingent, carrying a photograph of Pops and wearing his medals.
We love and miss him a great deal so I could not forgo the opportunity, whilst on a school concert tour from Brisbane, to see his name and signature on the memorial quilt here in Darwin.
'Coming in on wing and a prayer' – one of Pops favourite songs from the old days.
Alexandra Chick (Grand daughter)
Left: Alex Signature, Middle: Block, Right: Leading Aircraftman Harold duMoulin Conolly
A big thank you for the NT Library staff who helped us to clear away obstacles to enable us to get interference free photographs and the NT Government http://www.nretas.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/115045/quilt_factsheet.pdf for providing the facilities.
More of Brenda's work can be found at http://www.quiltersinternational.co.uk Copyright .... Brenda Dean and Peter Dean
|Bridging the Gap|
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