Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

WILSON, Noel Charles

Neptuna exploding

The Neptuna exploding at Darwin Wharf.

Noel Charles Wilson was born in Townsville in 1913, the son of Charles and Louie Wilson. He had two sisters, named Olga and Eileen. In 1936 he married Ellen May Cooper, of Northbridge, New South Wales and they had a daughter named Penny.

Wilson joined the Merchant Navy on 6 August 1940 in Sydney and was the 8th Engineer on the Neptuna.

The MV Neptuna was crewed by eighteen Australian Officers, four Cadets, and over one hundred Chinese sailors. She arrived in Darwin Harbour loaded with two hundred depth charges and a very large quantity of anti-aircraft shells for the Navy and Army. 

When the Japanese air attack began the Neptuna was berthed alongside the main wharf awaiting maintenance. The first bomb hit the ship below the waterline and she began taking on water; she then received a direct hit causing her to catch on fire. When the fire entered No. 3 and No. 4 hatches, the Neptuna blew apart, creating a huge mushroom cloud caused by the explosion of the ammunition she was carrying.

Most of the surviving ship’s company were rescued from the wharf and the harbour and taken aboard HMAS Platypus, a depot ship being used as a casualty clearing station. Thirty-six of the ship’s crew were killed, including the Master, Captain William Michie.

George Boniface was the Neptuna’s 4th Engineer, and is now the only surviving Australian crew member. Boniface was informed that the three engineers, Wilson, Cross and Fowler, were in a part of the ship that received a direct hit and were killed instantly. He wrote in 1987 in his personal recollections that Noel Wilson was his watchmate and good friend.

Noel Wilson is commemorated at The Northern Territory Memorial, which stands in the Adelaide River War Cemetery.

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