Territory Stories

The life and death of William Scully



The life and death of William Scully,


Forrest, Peter, 1941-,


Territory Times Gone By, StoryNT,






The life and death of William Scully - a Territory story. This tribute was written by Peter Forrest and subsequently published as "What might have been for Scullys" as part of his "The way we were: looking at our history" series in The Northern Territory News Tuesday June 19th, pages 30-31. There can be few family names with deeper roots in the Territory than Scully, a clan which is a vital part of our historical tapestry. Tomorrow, the thoughts of present day Scully family members will be with a relative most of them didn't know. They will be thinking about William Jack Scully, and wondering what might have been if he hadn't been killed by a Japanese bomb which fell at Winnellie on 20 June 1943. He was 24 years old. William Scully was the second of eight children born to James and Sarah Scully. James was a part-Aboriginal man, originally from the Townsville area, who had come to the Territory before the turn of the century. James followed station work, and in the Gulf area he met and later married Sarah, the daughter of a Chinese man and an Aboriginal woman, Josephine. James and Sarah worked on Willeroo and other Vesteys stations through the 1920s. At Willeroo they were given the care of a seven year old boy whose Aboriginal mother was ill and whose white father had abandoned him. The Scullys raised the child as one of their own. The child was Bill Muir, later a soldier and sportsman of distinction, whose life was tragically ended by Cyclone Tracy. The Scullys remained at Willeroo and nearby stations until the police dropped the hint that it would be a good idea to move to Darwin so the children could go to school. Otherwise, the children would have to be taken into the Kahlin Compound. So the family came to live in Daly Street, and young William Scully began to play very good football for the Vesteys team. The family was in Darwin for the first air raids on 19 February 1942. Evacuation by rail to Pine Creek followed, but en route William Scully joined the Australian Military Forces at Adelaide River, where a recruiting station had been set up after the first air raids. William Scully was sworn in on 28 February 1942, and given the Army number DX 945. Before long, William found himself in the 29th Employment Company, Australian Labour Service, working on the construction and maintenance of all the facilities needed for the massive military build up which was by then under way. Other family members kept going from Pine Creek, some to South Australia and some to Brisbane, where William's brothers Edward and James also joined the Army. At about 10 a.m. on the morning of 20 June 1943 William Scully was going about his duties at Shady Glen camp, in the Winnellie area. No doubt his mind was focused on the packing to be done in readiness for his movement to Melbourne which had been ordered to begin the next day. About one hundred miles to the north west, 42 Japanese air crews had very different thoughts. They were flying 21 Betty bombers and 21 escorting fighter aircraft toward Darwin, for their 55th raid on the area. Radar units, by now operating very effectively in and around Darwin, gave the first warning of the approaching enemy. By 9.50 a.m. anti-aircraft crews had been ordered to their posts, and, a few minutes later, 46 Spitfire fighters took off to meet the enemy. The enemy flew over Bathurst Island at tree top height to try to elude radar detection, but Father John McGrath reported the aircraft as they passed over his mission. The enemy flew on toward Hope Inlet, north east of Darwin, climbing again, toward their operational height of 20,000 feet. By now the attackers were being harried by the defending Spitfires. Over Hope Inlet the Japanese aircraft turned south westerly for the final run to their target. Furious anti-aircraft fire from batteries at McMillans and Berrimah, then from the Oval and Fannie Bay batteries, began at about 10.40 a.m., but the Japanese flew the fire toward Winnellie, and bombs began to fall at 10.43 a.m. Bombs fell among American motor transport lines north of the railway line, and in Winnellie camp, south of what is now the Stuart Highway. Other bombs fell at Fort Hill, while the RAAF base was intensively strafed and bombed. Damage was severe at Winnellie - two huts were completely destroyed, others were badly damaged. A railway truck loaded with fuel drums was hit and burned out, vehicles were destroyed or damaged, and two buildings were badly damaged at the RAAF base. Power lines were severed and water supply lines were perforated by bullets. The enemy didn't have it all their own way - they lost three fighters and six bombers (possibly more), while the defenders lost two Spitfires. There were 15 casualties on the ground. William Scully was killed by an anti-personnel "daisy cutter" bomb. These fearful small bombs featured a prong projecting from the nose. The prong struck the ground first and caused the bomb to explode while still in the air, so as to hurl shrapnel in all directions, a few feet above the ground. Scully and another man died of their wounds, and on the morning of 21 June 1943 Scully was buried at Berrimah cemetery, with full military honours. The grave was marked with a temporary memorial; Scully's mother was advised that "permanent memorials will not be erected until the cessation of hostilities." On 8 September 1945 Scully's remains were removed from Berrimah and taken to the Adelaide River war Cemetery for reburial. Sarah Scully was advised by the Director of War Graves "you may be assured that it (the grave) will be maintained in a manner befitting one who has given his life for his country. I trust that this knowledge is some consolation in your sad loss." All deaths in war are sad, but Scully's was especially poignant because it was one of the last during the air aids over the Darwin area. Darwin itself was only attacked twice after Scully's death. On 28 June 1943 18 enemy aircraft bombed the Vesteys barracks area (now Darwin High School). Then there were seven raids "down the track", mainly on Fenton airfield, before the Japanese said "sayonara" to the Top End with an ineffective final raid on the Parap area, on 12 November 1943. William Scully's brothers James and Edward saw active service in Borneo and other areas, but survived the war. After the war the Scully clan returned to Darwin, but later went back to Brisbane where Edward's son Boyd Scully joined the Paddington Police Boys Club. Under the tutelage of trainer Reg Layton, Boyd became a champion amateur boxer during a golden age for the ring. Boyd was unlucky not to be chosen to fight for Australia at the 1956 Olympics. Then, he fought successfully as a professional before returning to Darwin in 1962. Boyd has been better known in recent years for his outstanding public service career with the "Works and Jerks" and later the Power and Water Authority. Anyone who knows Boyd would agree that he is an ornament to the Territory. Its impossible not to wonder "what might have been" but for that daisy cutter bomb which took way Boyd's uncle William, 58 years ago tomorrow. Peter Forrest gave his approval to publish this story in StoryNT on 22 April 2013.,

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