Woonona Bulli and the World War II British Pacific Fleet

These photos were taken during an outing for one of the visiting sailors Doug Jarrett who is in the centre.  Ron Evans is on his right. The four Bulli women in the photo from left to right are Mrs Alma Woods, Mrs May Evans (my mother), Mrs Wells and her daughter Gloria who were ticket sellers at the Royal Theatre.
Alma Woods, May Evans, Mrs Wells and her daughter Gloria who were ticket sellers at the Bulli Royal Theatre.

By Phil Evans *

A LITTLE known aspect of the Pacific War was the role that Bulli Woonona residents played in the welcoming of sailors from the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) in 1945.

The British Pacific Fleet arrived in Australia on 4 February 1945; it comprised two battleships, four fleet carriers, three cruisers and accompanying destroyers.  In June 1945 following the end of the war in Europe the Fleet comprised four battleships, 10 aircraft carriers, 16 cruisers, 40 destroyers and about 90 escorts in anticipation of the invasion of Japan.

Battleships and aircraft from the fleet subsequently participated in the Allied naval bombardments on Japanese home islands between May and 24 August 1945.

The people of Sydney were delighted to see the British sailors. They raised £200,000 by public subscription to build the British Centre which was staffed by over 4000 volunteers and which provided 1200 beds and up to 6000 meals each day. Young Australian women attended dances each night as hostesses, while some 12,500 homes in New South Wales offered hospitality to British sailors.

The Bulli Shire Council had earlier established the Bulli Shire Patriotic and War Fund. Its first honorary secretary was Mr WH Mitchell the Shire Clerk and when Mr Mitchell joined the RAAF, Miss Rose McDonnell assumed the role.  Mr Mitchell became the first Town Clerk of the City of Wollongong following amalgamation of the Illawarra Shires in 1947 and for many years Miss McDonnell was secretary to the Wollongong City Council Town Clerk. The Fund subsequently became involved in the billeting of visiting sailors with the assistance of the management and staff of the Royal Theatre Woonona.

A letter written from the Fund to the Manager of the Royal Theatre, my father Mr Ron Evans, in July 1945, acknowledges the assistance provided with the billeting of the sailors.

The photos [above] were taken during an outing for one of the visiting sailors Doug Jarrett who is in the centre of one of the photos.  Ron Evans is on his right. The four Bulli women in the photo from left to right are Mrs Alma Woods, Mrs May Evans (my mother), Mrs Wells and her daughter Gloria who were ticket sellers at the Royal Theatre.

One of the sailors who visited Bulli was Freddie Brooks. Freddie returned after the War and married one of our neighbours (we were living in Stokes Lane behind the Bulli family Hotel at the time), Marion Price. Another visiting sailor was Alf Stovie.  Alf also returned and married a local girl, Olga, and they lived in Corrimal for many years.

* Philip Evans lived in Bulli from 1945 until 1979 before moving to Perth. He attended Woonona and Waniora Primary Schools, Bulli High School and Wollongong University. From 1960 to 1979 he worked at Wollongong City Council as a draughtsman and later a civil engineer.


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