In the late 1990s, I had the enormous privilege and pleasure to curate the Australian War Memorial’s Second World War gallery. My favourite object in the entire gallery was without doubt a small, oddly-shaped—hexagonal—aluminium saucepan. It also had a large, ragged gash across its base: a reminder of the events that Steven Carruthers and Terry Jones bring to life in this book, A Parting Shot. This humble saucepan, recovered from one of the houses struck by the shells that the authors discuss, symbolised that this was as close as southeastern Australia came to attack by Japan in 1942.
The 1942 submarine raid on Sydney Harbour has been the subject of several books: not the least of which is Steven Carruthers’s own 1982 book, Australia Under Siege. The various works discussing this raid—the shocking penetration of the harbour defences, the tragic sinking of the Kuttabul and the loss of the raiders—has always over-shadowed the events of a week later, when Japanese submarines shelled Sydney’s eastern suburbs and Newcastle. This episode, and its context—the Japanese east-coast submarine campaign of 1942—is the subject of this detailed and illuminating book.
Steven Carruthers and Terry Jones have finally given this bombardment the attention it deserves. While militarily insignificant, the shelling of Australian cities was exactly the fate dreaded by generations fearful of attack on Australia for a century before 1942. Through painstaking and wide-ranging research—drawing on everything from war diaries to municipal rate books—they have clarified ambiguities, corrected mistaken reports and exposed hitherto unrealised aspects of the bombardments. They point out that more Australian lives were lost to Japanese submarines off Australia’s east coast than in the raids on Darwin. It is indeed time to seek to understand how this occurred, and to appreciate it as part of Australia’s experience of the Second World War.
A Parting Shot demonstrates how, for all the attention focused on the so-called ‘Battle for Australia’ since the revisionist re-discovery of that wartime propaganda term almost 20 years ago, so much remains to be known and discovered about Australia’s experience of war in 1942. Terry Jones and Steven Carruthers have done an admirable service in investigating the episode with the diligence and determination they have shown. All those interested in Australia’s Second World War are in their debt.
Dr Peter Stanley Head—Research Centre, National Museum of Australia