Day 12 and 13 - Horn Island and Cairns

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June 26th 2021
Published: June 26th 2022
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A breezy and sunny day. Breakfast at 7 and then we left the motel to catch the ferry to Horn Island. The posse gets were a mix of tourists, locals and some nursing staff who were to conduct a vaccination clinic. We had seen one in Thursday Island in an old church.

We were met by Vanessa of Torres Strait Island tours for a tour of the island.

Vanessa as a teacher decided to raise money to retrieve the WWII sites and try to gain recognition for the troops who served here. 5000 were stationed here. Allies knew that if they held Horn Island they could hold off the Japanese. It was bombed on 14 March 1942.

Both RAAF and USAAF aircraft used the airfield as a stopover for fighters flying to Port Moresby, and as a staging strip for refuelling and rearming in preparation for raids on targets further north. Some squadrons were based at Horn Island, while others flew in, stayed overnight and then flew out the next day to complete their mission. The Consolidated Catalina flying boats of RAAF 11 and 20 Squadrons also used Horn Island for refuelling and repairs. The strategic importance of Horn Island was emphasised in January 1942 when the Japanese captured Rabaul and made it their main South West Pacific base. On 14 March 1942 Horn Island Airfield received its first Japanese air raid; from March 1942 until June 1943 eight bombing raids were made on Horn Island Airfield, which became the only military installation in Queensland to be regularly targeted by the Japanese. One soldier was killed during the third air raid on 30 April 1942. As a result of the raids a dispersal field for Horn Island was cleared on the tip of Cape York at Jacky Jacky Creek in late 1942, and was later named Higgins Airfield.

The island was very strategic to the defences of Australia during WWII. Many soldiers were stationed here. They were sent from Victoria in October and had to clear scrub, make roads and an airstrip. 9 nurses also set up a hospital. We visited the site of the B17 which crash landed at Horn Island on 16 July 1942. The pilot attempted a go-around at low level. Its wing tip dug into the ground and the B-17 cart wheeled into the nearby scrub. "<small
On Thursday IslandOn Thursday IslandOn Thursday Island

Looking towards Torres Strait
style="caret-color:� color:�">It was a windy and dark night. It would appear that 17 servicemen died in this crash though one reference suggests there may have been 19 killed. This was the worst aircraft crash at Horn Island during WWII"

880 Torres Strait Islanders enlisted. They were paid poorly and not considered Australian citizens. 10 of these men are still alive.

Water storage remained critical on Horn Island and a dam was high on the list of works to be completed. The first successful bore was sunk on Horn Island during July 1943. A second successful bore was sunk during November 1943 and a 13 million gallon dam was finally completed by the 17th Field Company in late 1943. Although recently supplemented by a much larger dam, the wartime Army Dam still provides water for Horn Island residents. Horn Island also supplies water to Thursday Island. TI sends its rubbish to Horn Island as well.

By August 1945 Horn Island Airfield was being used by the RAAF for the aerial survey of Cape York. The airfield was taken over by the Department of Transport and maintained as the gateway to Thursday Island and the Torres Strait. Terminal facilities were upgraded during the early 1990s and in June 1995 the Torres Shire Council took over ownership of the facilities from the Commonwealth. The airfield is now known as Horn Island (Ngurapai) Airport.

After lunch we were taken to the airport for our flight to Cairns. An easy flight and I was lucky to have a window seat and took a photo of the Tip from the window.

Ron, the driver, does not come to Thursday or Horn Islands. He drives the bus back to Cairns with our luggage. It was there waiting for us when he collected us at the airport. We checked into Riley a hotel from the Crystalbrook Collection. Very modern and some aspects were difficult to figure to eg what button closed the blinds on the window. This was important after we realised that the bathroom window was not one way glass even though we were high up.

We went downstairs for a drink and then our farewell dinner. The pool, bar and restaurant area was heaving with people. Pandemic....what pandemic? We were heading south tomorrow with a looming Sydney lockdown.

Up the next morning for our flight home. After a delicious breakfast we were collected by Ron and taken to the airport for our direct flight home to Canberra.

Another great trip with Outback Spirit

Additional photos below
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