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Peter Dunn p3

Historian Peter Dunn talks about people's memories of hearing the Battle of the Coral Sea, and visiting U.S. celebrities like Gary Cooper, Jack Benny and Una Merkel.

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you give a bit of a list of the sorts of people you’ve spoken to in your research and where you’ve travelled to talk to them?

PETER DUNN: I do most of my research sitting at home in front of my computer. Most of my information is from veterans or relatives of veterans who send me e-mails, photos and scans of diaries and other historical documents. Unfortunately the number of veterans still alive is reducing and I now receive most of my e-mails from family members.

RV: What are some surprising things people have told you about Australian military experiences?

PD: I’ve been told by a few people who were in Townsville during WWII that they could hear the sounds of bombs etc from the Battle of the Coral Sea. Seems extraordinary to me. Perhaps there were some other live firing training exercises near Townsville at the same time. Another disturbing incident is the riot at the Upper Ross outside of Townsville where apparently a number of Negroes were killed on the evening of 22 May 1942.

RV: If someone was in the CBD in Brisbane, standing on Queens St, which military locations could they visit within about two hours?

PD: GHQ, SWPA would be the most significant site that people should visit. It is located on the corner of Quuen Street and Edward Street and was General Douglas MacArthur’s General Headquarters Southwest Pacific Area for over two years. The General’s office has been recreated and there is a very interesteing museum now located on the 8th Floor of the old AMP Building. Another site to visit would be the intersection of Creek and Adelaide Streets where the Battle of Brisbane occurred outside of the American PX building (Primaries Building) which is still there today.

RV: Where did performers like Jack Benny and Gary Cooper travel to in Australia during WW2?

PD: Some famous Hollywood stars appeared at Helton Hall, the entertainment hall at the Townsville Air Depot, including Jack Benny, John Wayne and Joe E. Brown. On 12 December 1943, movie stars Gary Cooper, Una Merkel and Phyllis Brooks put on a show for the ‘boys’ living at the base of Mount Louisa.

Woody Herman’s orchestra’s also performed at Helton Hall. They played their famous No. 1 hit, “Woodchopper’s Ball” which nearly brought down the roof!

RV: If you could travel in time to visit locations in WW2 in Australia, which would you like to see in operation?

PD: If I could go back in time, I would love to see the Townsville Air Depot and the US Army Air Command Bunker in Townsville in operation. And I guess spending a few days in GHQ, SWPA would be very interesting as well.

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