In February 1942, Broome in Western Australia was used as the Australian end of an air shuttle service from Java. Hundreds of evacuees were ferried to Broome in Dutch, American and Australian military and civil aircraft, including flying boats of Qantas Empire Airways.
By the end of that month, the town was overflowing with military personnel and refugees. People slept wherever they could while waiting for a flight to continue their journey south. During the last weeks of February 1942 over 7000 people, including the former commander of the 8th Australian Division, Major-General H Gordon Bennett, who had escaped from Singapore, passed through Broome. On one single day, 57 aircraft landed there.
On 3 March 1942, without warning, Japanese fighters attacked. The attack lasted no more than 20 minutes, during which time 24 Allied aircraft were destroyed and dozens of people were killed or wounded. Many victims were Dutch women and children packed into flying boats on the harbour either waiting to be unloaded and ferried ashore or waiting to depart for the southern states. Another 30 crew and passengers, mostly military personnel, were lost when an American Liberator bomber was shot down shortly after taking off. Precisely how many people died in the raid, and who they were, will never be known.