Brisbane rejoices as the US Navy comes to town (March 1941)
On 25 March 1941, a US Naval squadron visited Brisbane on a three-day goodwill visit. The United States had not yet entered the Second World War – Rear-Admiral Newton stating, "We just dropped in to show that we are not so far away from Australia after all. We are on a training cruise and a visit of goodwill.”
Sightseers started gathering along the Brisbane River at dawn to welcome the US Naval squadron. The fleet consisted of the cruisers, Chicago and Portland and the destroyers, Clark, Cassin, Conyingham, Reid and Downes. The destroyers berthed at New Farm and Bulimba and the cruisers docked at Hamilton.
At midday the American sailors and marines marched from Fortitude Valley to the City Hall, with approximately 250,000 people attempting to line the 2 mile parade route; 90,000 more than was predicted. Also marching were about “100 men of the Royal Australian Navy, 400 soldiers of the AIF and 130 RAAF men”.
People cheered, clapped, sang and threw confetti as the servicemen passed. Others climbed buildings and onto window ledges and awnings to get a better view. During the parade eight RAAF fighter bombers flew overhead. At the end of the parade Council workers had the unenviable job of cleaning the streets, salvaging 60 truck loads of paper.
An official welcome was given by the Lord Mayor at the City Hall as well as a civic luncheon. At the reception Rear-Admiral Newton expressed his appreciation - "Please accept our sincere thanks for the fine reception your city has given us. It is beyond what we had imagined possible.”
That night a dance was held at the City Hall, arranged by the State Government. The dance was invitation only. According to the Courier Mail – “Groups of girls from voluntary war work organisations and business houses were specially invited to partner the visitors. Sailors were not allowed to take uninvited girls into the ball, and many refused to enter without these girls”. Even members of parliament were not allowed in unless on the guest list. The crowd outside the City Hall grew to around 2,000, to the point where extra police were required.
The US servicemen described Brisbane girls as "excellent dancers, but not too accustomed to jitterbugging".
Next day there were a number of excursions offered to the American visitors including visits to Maleny, Coolangatta and Ipswich. Some visited Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to cuddle assorted Australian fauna. Others went souvenir shopping. Several stationers had to request emergency supplies of picture postcards of Brisbane as they were selling out. Furry koala toys and Queensland polished hardwood desk ornaments were also very popular.
So what did our American cousins think of our fair city?
“The girls here are terrible friendly. Brisbane is the most popular liberty port of the US Navy” - Quarter Master Winslow Goodwin
“Everything about Brisbane is fine. I come from Fort Worth, Texas, where everybody is friendly and this makes me feel I’m back there” - Marine Glyn Cannon
“Brisbane? I like it a million. As for the girls, speaking as an expert, they’d knock spots off Hollywood stars” - Seaman Leslie Williams
“Brisbane is the best port of call ever. Reminds me of home. Better beer than USA ever brewed” - Seaman Ralph Wleklinski
Many of the American sailors and marines loved to dance. On March 26, a dance at the Trocadero in South Brisbane saw 800 American petty officers and ratings jitterbugging “to their heart’s content for more than 3 hours”. The bandleader of the Trocadero dance band cut out all the slow paced pieces – “I'm playing the quick tempo numbers like 'Tiger Rag', 'Twelfth Street Rag', 'Bugle Call' and 'Roll out the Barrell'."
On March 27, a concert was held at City Hall in honour of the men of the visiting American Naval Squadron. State Library is fortunate to have a copy of the program of this concert in its collection.
The goodwill visit reached its end on the morning of March 28, as the ships weighed anchor and departed. The U.S.S. Chicago gave five blasts of her siren in farewell and her band played 'Auld Lang Syne'. One commentator wrote the optimistic words - "We hope it will not be long before these visitors return again!". As it turned out, Brisbane did not have long to wait.
State Library of Queensland holds a 10 page booklet published by the Australian Red Cross Society called Brisbane's souvenir of the American fleet. This booklet contains photographs and detailed information about the US goodwill visit to Brisbane.
Myles Sinnamon - Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland
(Updated March 24, 2016)