For our older residents Anzac Day is a reminder when Cairns was a very different place during World War II, particularly when the Battle of the Coral Sea was waged in 1942 and the general Pacific offensive throughout 1943.
Squadrons (No 20 and No 11) supporting around 30 “flying boats” called Catalinas and Martin Mariner aircraft were based in the city, carrying out 3000 missions during their time here. The pilots were housed in local hotels or stayed at a camp set up at the site of the Catalina Memorial on the Cairns Esplanade.
Records show that by May 1944, a total of 113 decorations and awards were received by the men of both Squadrons. Of course, not all of the pilots returned to our shores – 320 pilots died during the Pacific operations and nearly all of those who lost their lives were temporary citizens of Cairns.
The memorial on the Esplanade was erected in 1976 as a recognition of the role of the Catalinas and their brave pilots.
In 2016, a memorial service was held and a commemorative plaque laid to mark the 11 crew who died when a RAAF Catalina crashed 56km off the coast of Cairns on 28 February 1943.
As a mark of respect, their remains were never recovered from the wreckage, which was discovered by a diver in 2013.