iii for Inscriptions


Inscriptions in the Japanese Cemetery at Broome look cryptic to us non-Japanese speakers, but they are actually very simple. Just the name, age and date of death. I have photos of many gravestones, mostly associated with family history, but I thought you might enjoy this one best. In Broome the Chinese, Japanese, Islamic and English/Christian cemeteries are adjacent to each other, reflecting the multi-cultural population.

Headstone inscription, Japanese Cemetery

Headstone inscription, Japanese Cemetery

Almost one thousand Japanese pearl divers were buried here during the height of the pearl industry boom. Although pearling attracted men from many nations, Japanese were particularly skilled and in demand. Conditions were very dangerous, but men were often indentured to pay off the cost of their journey, so there was little choice but to work. Mortality amongst divers was as high as 50%, as men were taken by sharks, succumbed to the ‘bends’ or were killed in wild weather. Here they were laid to rest, peace at last, the fleeting years of human life extinguished in a constant cycle of life and death.

The first recorded interment in this cemetery is 1896. Literally hundreds of young Japanese divers died either from the bends (divers paralysis) or from drowning. A large stone obelisk in the cemetery recalls those who were drowned at sea in the 1908 cyclone. The cyclones of 1887 and 1935 each caused the deaths of at least 140 men.

To give some idea of the scale of deaths resulting from the bends it is worth noting that the cemetery has the graves of 33 men who died of divers paralysis in 1914. There are 707 graves (919 people) with most of them having unusual headstones of coloured beach rocks. The cemetery which has been immaculately restored is on Port Drive on the way out to Cable Beach.

Plaque commemorating the Japanese Air Raids on Broome during WWII

Plaque commemorating the Japanese Air Raids on Broome during WWII

Strangely,  Broome was attacked by Japanese aircraft during the Second World War. Many Flying Boats evacuating people from the Dutch East Indies as Japanese troops advanced, were resting in Roebuck Bay, refuelling to fly further south. They did not get the chance to depart, with Zero fighters hard on their tail. The fighters arrived early in the morning and strafed the planes in the Bay and at the airstrip for about an hour. Twenty two Allied Aircraft and 15 Flying Boats at anchorage were destroyed,  with at least 80 casualties. Because the Flying Boats were filled with Dutch refugees the number of dead was unable to be accurately ascertained. The only successful hit back at the Japanese planes came from a Dutch pilot Gus Winckel who used his machine gun, removed from his plane and balanced on his shoulder, to shoot and kill one Zero pilot.

First Lieutenant Gus Winckel also landed in our town, Moruya, during WW2, and is remembered with a sculpture outside the Air Raid Hotel. He died a week ago, aged 100! The ABC radio report (linked to his name above) says Following the Broome air raid Mr Winckel was based out of Moruya in New South Wales from where he flew patrols of eastern Australia. It was on one of these patrols that Gus Winckel is credited with sinking a Japanese submarine. Today a statue of Gus Winckel stands in Moruya to remember his bravery and that of the other airmen who fought in WWII.

So that is it for Inscriptions, pop over to Frizz to see more entries for iii challenge …. perhaps one day I will show you the statue of Mr Winckel in our home town.

19 thoughts on “iii for Inscriptions

  1. We missed the cemeteries when we were in Broome… I’m not sure why, we had time, and it would be interesting as evidenced by your pics. I enjoyed the connection for Gus Winckel between Broome & Moruya.

  2. I always try to visit local cemeteries wherever we are travelling. There are always fascinating tales to learn about people’s lives, and gravestones from different cultures are always interesting.

  3. pearl fishers – sounds so romantic but these inscriptions tell a different tale. Intriguing and informative!

  4. I never traveled to your half of the world. Thank you for this history, giving me a glimpse into both ordinary, and extraordinary, lives. A lovely headstone, and the memorial for those who died in the air raids is beautiful — the pink of the stone makes it special.

  5. There’s a nice article about Gus Winckel on the Australian War Memorial website.

    I am always copying links incorrectly, so here’s a couple of lines from the story on the site:

    After his fight at Broome, Winckel was promoted and served with No. 18 (NEI) Squadron on coastal patrols off eastern Australia. After the war he returned to the NEI to find that his girlfriend, who he feared had died as a prisoner of the Japanese, was still alive. They married shortly after.

    • thanks for that cheery excerpt Peter, so glad to hear he married his girlfriend after that horrible war was over … I did not meet him when he was in Moruya … but he seems to have been an exceptional man!

  6. Sad to read about the many deaths in the pearl fishing trade. I’m tempted to ask and for what! An item whose main use is purely fashion 😦

    Fascinating info about the Japanese attack on Broome and Gus Winckel 🙂

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