Australia’s first World War II dead on native shores commemorated 80 years later


Today marks the 80th anniversary of a tragic event that resulted in the deaths of two Australian navy men, shocking the nation and suddenly bringing the nation’s involvement in World War II closer.

The grim anniversary recalls July 14, 1941, when Second Class Seamen Thomas Todd and William Danswan died after a marine mine exploded on a limestone coast beach.

Two fishermen were returning from a crayfish fishing trip in Rivoli Bay – off the coast of the small South Australian town of Beachport in the southeast of the state – when they saw something other than a cool take in water.

It was a floating, studded metallic sphere. With a diameter of over a meter, the sphere contained up to 300 kilograms of explosives called hexanite.

A WWII marine mine like this was responsible for the first two wartime deaths on Australian soil.(

ABC Country Time: Warwick Long

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They were only a few miles from shore, so the fishermen immediately sounded the alarm and a team from Rendering Mines Safe made the trip from Adelaide.

This team included Mr. Todd and Mr. Danswan.

Black and white photo of a naval seaman
Leading Seaman Thomas Todd, who died at Beachport in 1941.(

Provided: Australian War Memorial (POO805.003)

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As a crowd gathered to watch, the couple towed the mine to a remote beach.

Shortly after an image was taken of the team standing next to the mine, a rogue wave lifted the mine onto the beach – where it fell on its detonators and exploded.

Impact felt for miles

The shock wave from the explosion was reportedly felt 30 kilometers away at Millicent.

Military historian Peter Wyschnja said it was an important piece of history to remember and preserve.

The dead are believed to be the first casualties of WWII on Australian soil due to enemy action.

Newspaper article reporting deaths of two navy men trying to secure WWII marine mine
Mount Gambier’s newspaper, The Border Watch, reported the tragic loss in 1941.(

Provided: Trove

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“According to German records, there were around 60 mines laid in the Bass Strait and the Spencer Gulf,” Wyschnja said.

“There might still be a couple sitting in the back somewhere. [But] the likelihood that they will exploit is very minimal.

“Because they have explosive content, if they are found they must be immediately reported to the authorities.”

In the months following the deaths, six more mines ran aground on the south-eastern coasts of South Australia, between Sleaford and Port MacDonnell.

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Remember the lives lost

A memorial honoring the devastating incident was later erected in Beachport and families across South Australia still mourn the loss of the navy.

memorial on the beach
The Beachport Memorial where two men were killed by a marine mine explosion in 1941.(

ABC Sud-Est SA: Kate Hill

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RSL Millicent Sub-Branch President Chris Mathias said today’s service – 80 years to the day since the explosion – took place at the Millicent RSL, in partnership with RSL Robe.

“The Todd family, of whom there are still grandchildren, have requested some kind of service to commemorate the 80th anniversary,” Mr. Mathias said.

“Members of the Todd family [came] all over the state for that. “

The memorial began just at 2 p.m., with 2:03 p.m. marking the time the two sailors died in the tragic explosion of July 14, 1941.