Attack on the Dureenbee, 80 years on

Extracted from War? What War? by Shirley Jurmann
Published in the MDHS Journal, Sept 2020

On 3rd August the people of Moruya were awoken in the early hours of the morning by the sounds of gunfire at sea and flashes of light could be seen from higher points in the town. The gunfire was coming from a Japanese submarine which was attacking the fishing trawler the “Dureenbee”, captained by William Reid.

Dureenbee with her funnel blown off, aground on the Richmond bombora north of Batemans Bay. Photo from Maritime Museum.

The fishermen were busy hauling in12 baskets of fish and had not noticed the submarine which had surfaced nearby. They only realised they were under attack when the first shell passed over the ship. Reid gave orders for a change of course while Radio Operator Wilson signalled for help which was a long time coming. Aircraft loaded with bombs sat of the tarmac at Moruya waiting for telephoned permission from Melbourne, to take to the air, while the phone operator waited at the Court House for instructions.

The Japanese submarine used the trawler as target practice for another 45 minutes before it headed out to sea when it heard the planes take off from the airport. One crew member of the “Dureenbee” was dead, two seriously injured and some other crew members had minor injuries.

Meanwhile back in Moruya, Police Sergeant H.A.Miller and Constable Bailey secured the services of Raynor and Harry McDiarmid and Cecil Williams and their boat the “Mirrabooka” to attempt to rescue the survivors and dead from the doomed “Dureenbee”.

The “Mirrabooka” was the fastest and biggest vessel available. Miller, Bailey and Allen Innes followed in a smaller pleasure craft. It was nearly 7 am, four hours after they were attacked that the men saw with great relief, the “Mirrabooka” approaching. A plane had guided it to its objective.

The “Mirrabooka” dropped a dinghy and rescued the men. Retrieving the body of the dead man Arthur Scroble, the cook, was the most difficult part of the operation. He was a very large man, 22 stone, and it was impossible to get him into the dinghy. They had to attach a line, tow him through heavy swell to the rescue ship and winch him aboard.

The three Durenbee crewmen who lost their lives in the attack are buried with Merchant Navy markers in Moruya cemetery.

Archibald McPherson who was badly wounded, died on the journey back to Moruya while Alexander Reid died several days later in Moruya Hospital. All three men are buried in Moruya Cemetery under Merchant Navy headstones.

The vessel drifted for 45k, running aground a on the Richmond Bombora, off North Head, Batemans Bay. The McDiarmid brothers and Cec Williams later returned to the “Dureenbee” in an attempt to salvage her but her back was broken and they were driven off by heavy seas. The ship would later break up.

The Dureenbee‘s whistle was salvaged and became the factory whistle at Perry’s Timber Mill at Batemans Bay. Echoing across the township, it was the Bay’s default timekeeper for 50 years, and is now part of the Bateman’s Bay Old Courthouse Museum collection.

Police Sergeant Miller, Constable Bailey, Allen Innes, Raynor and Harry McDiarmid and Cec Williams would receive Royal Humane and Shipwreck Society Awards for their courage and tireless efforts shown throughout the whole incident.

The attacked rocked the town. There had been several sightings of submarines off the coast, and visits for aircraft on anti-submarine patrol were more frequent. In July 1942, the US Army Transport ship William Dawes was torpedoed and sunk near Tathra, with five lives lost.

But this was much closer to home, the dead and wounded coming ashore at the jetty were locals. The war had reached the quiet New South Wales town of Moruya.

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