Cobbitty · Heritage · Local History · Narellan · Narellan Military Camp · Second World War

Life, horses and the Army at Narellan in WW2

Tents in the bush Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey
Tents in the bush Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey

Narellan Military Camp occupies an important place in Narellan Military Heritage although in the overall picture of the Second World War the Camp was not of great military importance.  In the national story it does not appear in Gavin Long’s Official History of the Second World War and there are very few references to the camp were found in the various unit histories.Yet the story of local men and women are very important and they add to the colour of the area’s military history.

Horse transport

In the early months of the camp’s operation the most common form of transport were horses. Horses have a long and glorious role in Australian military forces. There were mounted troops dating back to 1804 in colonial New South Wales with the New South Wales Corps. The Crimean War prompted the formation of mounted infantry troops in the colonies. Mounted ‘bush’ troops were sent by the colonies to support the British military in the opening months of the Boer War. Then there is the formation of the Australian Light Horse in 1902 and their service in the First World War.

At Narellan Military Camp the delivery of provisions, and firewood for cooking, from the central quartermasters’ store, near the Camp Headquarters, was carried out to all areas of the camp by horse transport. The four wheeled wagon pull by two horses was a very common site in most army camps of the period, partly because of the shortage of petroleum fuel. These wagons were apparently some of the transport equipment that had been mothballed from World War One.[1] A lot of the firewood for the Camp, which was used in the cooking stoves, was cut in the scrub at the back of Cobbitty and Wallgrove.[2]

Soldiers using horse drawn water wagon of the type that would have been used at Narellan Military Camp around 1941. This is a WW1 scene from Egypt.
Soldiers using horse drawn water wagon of the type that would have been used at Narellan Military Camp around 1941. This is a WW1 scene from Egypt.

The army is good for business

The presence of military in the local area benefitted many local businesses. Soldiers, and airmen from Camden Airfield, spent money in the local area. A number of local businesses won contracts to supply the army and air force with supplies and equipment.

Out at Cobbitty Fred Small owned the general store/newsagency with paper run/post office agency. He  reported that his turnover rose from £30 per month to £300 per month in 1939, with mainly local sales. He would go to Narellan to pick up papers and mail and deliver to the military camp on his way back to Cobbitty in the afternoon. He used a small A Model Ford Utility for deliveries. On weekdays he would sell 500 – 1000 papers, with local sales only being 200 papers. On Sundays he would sell 1200 – 1500 papers at the camp.

For a shop the monthly tobacco and cigarette issue was 3 cartons of cigarettes and 2lb of tobacco. Mr Small reports that within 18 months he was selling 85lb of paper and tobacco – `an enormous amount of cigarettes’ – he had a `good’ business with the military camp. He maintains that Camden shops would have had a similarly good business from the military.

Mr Small reports that if the soldiers were on a route march through Cobbitty they would send a runner ahead and he would open up his shop. One such occasion he opened up at 11:00pm and sold lots of soft drinks and cigarettes. There would be up to 2 – 3 marches through Cobbitty per week and most would have break at the shop.

The Cobbitty General Store operated by Mr Small during the WW2. This image is 1995 John Kooyman (Camden Images)
The Cobbitty General Store operated by Mr Small during the WW2. This image is 1995 John Kooyman (Camden Images)

Mr Small reported that in late 1943 all the men moved out of the camp one night and he was left with 1000 newspapers and Section C owed him £300 for meat and food.[3]

Soldiers also came into Camden. Arthur Colman reports that quite a few from the camp would go for an evenings leave across country to Camden for a few beers. Steak and eggs occasionally and be back in camp by midnight. He goes on that the local people made AIF personnel feel that they were made very welcome. [4]

Entertaining the troops

Many soldiers came into Camden to the movies and hotels in their spare time. At the camp entertainment was provided at the Camp a mobile cinema unit operated by the Woods Bros, from Manila. They travelled to the camps in the area (Narellan, Ingleburn, Wallgrove) and had an open air picture show once a week at Narellan. Newspapers were sold outside the canteen. A recreation room in the CENEF Hut, near the Camp Headquarters, was used for playing ping pong, writing letters, reading and lectures and listening a radio organised by Captain Webb, the Camp Adjutant. He made arrangements with Radio Rentals for the hire of a small mantle radio, from a special fund which he organised at the Canteen. Bailey reports that it was great to be able to listen to the ABC News at 7:00pm, as well as Dad and Dave, Martins Corner and other radio shows. [5]

The Salvation Army, which initially used the CENEF Hut, had a welfare unit staffed by a Captain who was a World War One veteran. As they became established the pastor established a marque in the south-eastern corner of the Camp on Cobbitty Road. Reports indicate that the service was greatly appreciated and it was a wonderful organisation for the troops.[6]

Local troops in camp for training

The Camden News reported that local Camden men were in camp at Narellan undergoing three months training in the 1st Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment Reserve. They included:

Lieut. John Downes.

Sergeants C. Parker and Arundel.

Corporals K. C. Smart, I. Hum phries, Steele and Stoves.

Troopers C. Dengate, H. Dunk, W. I Driscoll, Coveney, R. Dudgeon, J. Mc Intyre, F. Clifton, A. Porter, W. Sweeney; McCoy, G. Moles, L. Small, R, Small, F. Byrne, E. Richardson, E. Reynods, A. Biddle, S. Crane, L. Fitzpatrick, K. Crisp, Kirkpatrick, Smith, Hull, McDonald, Burgan, Budgeon, Rutter, Darling, Dowel, Mitcherson, Barrett, O’Neil, Wilson, Darel.[7]

[1].  Alan Bailey, Interview, 1 November 1992

[2]. Alan Bailey, Letter to ICW, 11 August 1988

[3]. Fred Small, Interview, 13 January 1987

[4]. Arthur Colman, Letter to ICW, 15 January 1987

[5]. Alan Bailey, Letter to ICW, 11 August 1988; Interview, 1 November 1992;

[6]. Alan Bailey, Letter to ICW, 11 August 1988; Interview, 1 November 1992;

[7] Camden News, 6 February 1941.

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Local History · Narellan · Narellan Military Camp · Second World War

The army in camp at Narellan in WW2

Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)
Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)

Once the army moved into Narellan Military Camp it commenced operation and became part of the wartime scene during WW2. Men were seen marching all over the district, there were mock raids and the men practiced firing small arms.  The camp is an important part of the story of Narellan during war as thousands of men, and some women, moved through the camp on their way to somewhere in the theatre that was the Second World War.

Militia Units

Universal trainees appeared at the camp in December 1941. They were part of the militia as tensions increased with Japans entry into the war in December 1941 and uncertainty increased. In October 1939 Prime Minister Menzies introduced compulsory military service for duty within Australia. Unmarried men 21 years in the year ending 30 June were called up for three months’ training with the militia. Menzies wanted the militia to maintain a strength of 75,000 to meet the demands of the 2nd AIF and withdrawal of men who were in reserved occupations. Menzies stated in November 1940:

there is, I believe, a growing recognition of the fact that military training for the defence of Australia should be a normal part of our civic life, and that if it is to be just and democratic, it should be made compulsory.[1]

Militia units were created and equipped and some were deployed to sensitive areas. According to Milsearch  in 1941  some units were deployed operationally to cover the likely Japanese landing beaches in the Newcastle – Sydney area. One unit established at the Camp at this time was the 2nd Australian Army Troops Company Royal Australian Engineers. This unit was almost solely involved in preparing route denial charges designed to frustrate enemy deployment inland following expected Japanese beach landings both north and south of Sydney. Narellan Camp also seems to have served as an assembly area at this time for units of the 8th and 9th Infantry Brigades.[2]

Tents in the bush Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey
Tents in the bush Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey

Training Ranges

There were three ranges for training purposes that Milsearch has identified – a grenade range, a 600 yard range, and a 30 yard small arms range.

The grenade range was located on a small hill adjacent to the old Oran Park Raceway and now covered with houses. The range was used for training hand grenade throwing and was constructed in late 1940.

The 600 yard range has been variously described as Narellan Rifle Range, Cobbitty Range or the rifle range Cutt Hill Cobbitty. The range was located north-west of the camp and is described as ‘being three and a half miles west along Cobbitty Road from the junction with Bringelly Road, then north along dirt roads to the range’. There were fifteen targets at 600 yards for small arms training and the range was constructed in July 1942. There are indications, according to Milsearch,  that there was another 30 yard range on the site in 1941.

The 30 yard small arms range was located in a ‘disused quarry at the foot of water tanks on the right of the road from Camden to Narellan’.

Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey

Training with a difference

In 1942, according to Arthur Colman, the  2/1st Light Tank Squadron attacked RAAF Camden Aerodrome in a night exercise, and it is reported that they frightened the wits out of some of the RAAF personnel by charging over them in their slits trenches. As well, there was similar exercise in daylight (they had the only 2 light tanks in NSW). In the 10 weeks this unit was at Narellan they had instruction in small arms, map reading, truck driving and maintenance. As well there were the long route marches over all sorts of terrain to keep the men physically fit. For instance exercises by `Shanks pony’ and truck to such places as Wallacia, Mittagong, Nowra and the Kangaroo Valley area.[3]

Jim McIntosh reports that the Army had exercises over the whole of his property of Denbigh but they would always ask could they come onto the farm. He remembers that the tanks always `tore up a lot of grass’ but they were pretty careful not to disturb cultivated areas. In addition he recalls the Camp had trenches in the hills on the northern and north-western side of the camp adjacent to Denbigh.[4]

At Cobbitty Fred Small  reported that the soldiers would frequently have marches through the village. A short march would be from the camp to Cobbitty Bridge over the Nepean River with groups of 40-50 troops. Larger groups of between 300-400 men would march through the village 2-3 times per day.[5]

Diary of a soldier

The diary of Andrew Heyward[6] of the 2/1 Independent Light Tank Regiment gives some of the character of activities at the camp.

Date Activity
31 December  1941 Arrived at Narellan from Tamworth by bus and train – last camp in tents along Narellan Road
4 January 1942 Route march through Camden
5 January 1942 Major-General Northcote told the unit was not going to Malaya – anticipated what was going to happen to Singapore
6 January 1942 – 22 miles route march to Menangle
8 January 1942 Left camp with full packs marched through Cobbitty, Camden ended up at The Oaks Public School
12 January 1942 0330 – Reveille – full packs marched towards Penrith and ended up at a large waterhole – Warragamba
16 January 1942 Full pack march to Stanwell Park – storm about 1800 – came back in trucks
21 January 1942 up 0430 – exercise with trucks at Wallacia
23 January 1942 Rifle range – Narellan
3 February 1942 Unit ground attack exercise on RAAF Camden drome- I went right around river bank to enter up through vegetable garden and buildings nearby
11 February 1942 Anzac Range – Moorebank
16 February 1942 4 days exercise to Moss Vale, Jervis Bay, Nowra, Kiama, Bulli, Picton, Bowral
20 Feb, 1942 Used first 10 Owen guns on Narellan range
26 Feb, 1942 Driving exercise to Valley Heights
2 Mar, 1942 4 day stint in Blitz wagons – Wallgrove, Penrith, Windsor, Richmond, Rossmore – did a night march through Campbelltown to Wedderburn then marched to Menangle and Blitzs back to camp – at Narellan we did lot of Morse vehicle maintenance, gunnery training in camp
16 Mar, 1942 Left Narellan camp for exercises on way to Singleton camp via Menangle, Richmond, Wilberforce

 

[1] http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs162.aspx

[2] Oran Park Precinct: (Narellan Military Camp), Historical Review and Preliminary Investigations for Munitions Contamination, Milsearch/Growth Centres Commission UXO Study, 12 February 2007.

[3].  Arthur Colman, Letter to ICW, 14 November 1986, 15 January 1987; Mort Maiden, Letter to ICW, 6 June 1987;

[4]. Jim McIntosh, Interview, 10 November 1987

[5]. Fred Small, Interview, 13 January 1987

[6]. Andy Heyward, Letter to ICW, 6 January 1987,  7 May 1987;

Narellan · Narellan Military Camp · Second World War

The army arrives at Narellan

Tented Narellan Military Camp 1941 (AB)
Tented Narellan Military Camp 1941 (AB)

An often forgotten piece of Narellan’s military heritage is the Narellan Military Camp. It lasted for around seven years during and after the Second World War. Thousands of troops passed through it on their way to somewhere else as the lives of these young men, and some young women, were changed forever.

The camp was part of the defence arrangements for the eastern part of Australia. There were many military camps in the Sydney area, as well as a range of defence installations for the navy and air force. There were several camps and training areas used by the military and Narellan was only one of them. Other included Ingleburn, Liverpool, Wallgrove, and elsewhere.

There were number of defence installations in the local area apart from Narellan Military Camp and the others included Camden Airfield which catered form RAAF and RAF squadrons, Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park at Narellan, the military at Camden Showground, The Oaks Airfield, Menangle Race Course used by the military then the RAAF and a range of subsidiary sites across the district that included emergency runways.

The Narellan Military Camp was used from about 1940 to 1946, with the main camp completed for occupation by April 1941. The camp was located on the corner of the Northern Road formerly Bringelly Road, Cobbitty Road and Oran Park Road now Dan Cleary Drive in an area that was known as Greens Corner. The camp site was given back to civilian use in October 1946.

The details of the properties resumed by the Department of the Army included:

  • 260 acres of HH Robbins of Oran Park (2200 acres) compensation for disturbance £2210 and rental value of 8/6 per acre pa;
  • 40 acres of Thomas Funnell (241½ acres), which included the provision of a dam and a quarry for a miniature rifle range, compensation for disturbance £360 and a rental value of 9/- per acre pa;
  • 80 acres of CS McIntosh (100 acres), part of No 2 Dairy Farm (246 acres), of McIntosh Bros of Denbigh, compensation for disturbance £800 and rental value 15/- per acre pa;
  • 77 acres of McIntosh Bros Ltd, part of No2 Dairy Farm (246 acres) of Denbigh (2598 3/4 acres) compensation for disturbance £870 and a rental value of 15/- per acre pa, as well as 24 acres for a sullage area for which no compensation was paid as there was continued grazing;
  • 100 acres of AD & EGH Swan (1764 acres) compensation for disturbance £1000 and a rental value of 10/- per acre pa, as well as a pipeline easement of £10pa.[i]
Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)
Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)

Official documents describe the site as mainly gently undulating formerly timbered with gum, box some apple and ironbark but had all been improved for grazing and in some cases cleared for cultivation. The soil was of a red clayey nature overlying Wianamatta shales. The valuation report stated that the required area was about 557 acres plus a sullage area of 24 acres and easements over land occupied by the reservoirs, a quarry and pipelines. This effected 5 holdings including a property owned by the McIntosh Bros, Denbigh, (first class grazing land), which was a stud for breeding dairy cattle as well as a functioning dairy farm. [ii]

Leased area at Narellan Military Camp NAA
Leased area at Narellan Military Camp NAA

The camp was planned to accommodate around 3,500 troops under canvas, while it has been reported that for short periods it held many times this many troops. While built as a tented facility wooden huts were erected for administration, storage, messing and recreation purposes with ablution and latrine facilities.

The site was pegged out in November 1940, and was officially acquired in May 1941. The camp was built by Commonwealth Construction Corps and only took a short time. [iii] According to some reports the camp turned into the largest tented camp in Australia.

The NSW DMR supplied the gravel for the camp roads, the Camden Municipal Council supplied the electricity,[iv] and an horse drawn mower for keeping the grass down to reduce the risk of fire and provided drainage works.[v] Eventually there were three firing ranges built in and around the camp for basic “all arms” weapons training was conducted by units transiting through the Camp, comprising rifle and other side arm live firing practices and live grenade throwing.[vi]

According to Alan Bailey, who was attached to the Headquarters Unit as a transport driver, there was camp headquarters, cook houses, showers, latrines, quartermasters’ store, hospital buildings and the canteen. All the buildings were made of timber, with the exterior being stained cypress pine weatherboard. There was miniature rifle range near the water tower, on Harrington Park, (mounds are still visible today).[vii]

One former soldier described the camp as just `one big paddock’ while another had memories sitting in the rear lounge of the `Old Pub’ (the Narellan Hotel). According to him the land rose gradually in the west to finish in a small ridge with an old water tower on top and the camp the other side. [viii]

In 1942 it is reported that there was tented accommodation for troops on the southern side on Camden Road between Narellan and Kenny Hill, in the vicinity of Curran’s Hill.[ix]  Arthur Colman always recalls the mournful call of curlews night after night at the camp,[x] while Sir Eric Willis (former Premier of New South Wales) stated that for the few days he was at the Camp it was not a very exciting place. [xi]

 Notes

[i].  AA:SP857/53 B534, Letter from Land Valuation Committee to DAD Hirings, Eastern Command, 14 October 1941

[ii].  Australian Archives (NSW): Dept of Army; SP857/53 B534, Correspondence relating to property matters of the Dept of Army – Narellan Camp Site, 1941-1946, Valuation Report, 3 October 1941

[iii].  AA:SP857/53 B534, Letter from Major Martin, AMF to the Secretary, Land Valuation Committee, 7 May 1941

[iv]  Camden News, 5 December 1940; Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 13 January 1941, 24 February 1941, 12 May 1941

[v].  Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 22 September 1941; Camden News,2 October 1941

[vi] Oran Park Precinct: (Narellan Military Camp), Historical Review and Preliminary Investigations for Munitions Contamination, Milsearch/Growth Centres Commission UXO Study, 12 February 2007.

[vii]. Alan Bailey, Letter to ICW, 11 August 1988

[viii].  Peter Geoghegan, Interview, 14 January 1987; Ron Cox, Letter to ICW, 7 January 1987;

[ix].  Alan Bailey, Interview, 1 November 1992

[x]. Arthur Colman, Letter to ICW, 14 November 1986

[xi]. Sir Eric Willis, Phone Conversation, 4 January 1988