Ministering Angels, the Camden District Red Cross, 1914-1945.
Author Ian Willis
Publisher: Camden Historical Society
Ministering Angels ‘is an example of innovative and groundbreaking work in local history, and succeeds in demonstrating a new way of linking detailed local studies to larger themes in Australian history’. Dr Emma Grahame (Editor, Australian Feminism: A Companion, OUP, 1998. Editor, Dictionary of Sydneyhttp://www.dictionaryofsydney.org, 2007-2012)
Ministering Angels is a peer-review publication that tells the story of conservative country women doing their patriotic duty in an outpost of the British Empire. From 1914 Camden district women joined local Red Cross branches and their affiliates in the towns and villages around the colonial estate of the Macarthur family at Camden Park.
They sewed, knitted and cooked for God, King and Country throughout the First and Second World Wars, and during the years in-between. They ran stalls and raffles, and received considerable community support through cash donations from individuals and community organisations for Red Cross activities.
Using the themes of soldier and civilian welfare, patriotism, duty, sacrifice, motherhood, class and religion, the narrative explores how the placed-based nature of the Red Cross branch network provided an opportunity for the organisation to harness parochialism and localism for national patriotic purposes.
The work shows how a local study links the Camden district Red Cross with the broader issues within Australian history and debates involving local history, philanthropy, feminism, conservatism, religion and other areas, while at the same time illustrating the multi-layered nature of the issues that shape global, national and regional history that can impact rural volunteering.
The book delves into the story of how Camden’s Edwardian women, the Macarthur Onslows and others of their ilk, provided leadership at a local, state and national level and created ground-breaking opportunities that empowered women to exercise their agency by undertaking patriotic activities for the first time.
In their wake Camden women created the most important voluntary organisation in district history, a small part of the narrative of the Australian Red Cross, arguably the country’s most important not-for-profit organisation. Their stories were the essence of place, and the success of the district branches meant that over time homefront volunteering became synonymous with the Red Cross.
Ministering Angels is a local Red Cross study of volunteering in war and peace that provides a small window into the national and transnational perspectives of one of the world’s most important humanitarian organisations.
The Camden story is an ongoing project that aims to tell the untold stories of the Camden, Cowpastures and Macarthur districts. There is the telling, the learning and the showing of the story.
The project is constantly evolving and changing direction. It is centred around the construction of place and the meaning of landscape. These are culturally derived concepts from both Indigenous and European experiences.
There are the natural ecologies that make up the environment as well as atmospheric and geological elements. The natural elements are just as important as the cultural.
Complexities of the Camden story
The Camden story has its own complexities. There is no one single dominant narrative. There are many voices in the story and each has a right to be heard.
There are many threads to the Camden story and when woven together make a coherent story with many voices. The weave of the cloth represents the warp and weft of the daily lives of the actors on the stage. Together they create a vibrant design that can capture the imagination of many and inspire others.
There are many actors in the constantly evolving narrative, each with their own agenda. The story is played on a stage that is located on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe, a dynamic movable frontier on the city’s edge. It is a constantly changing and evolving cultural landscape.
There are many layers to the Camden story each with its own particularities. As each layer is peeled back it reveals memories and meanings from the past that influence the present. Those who are interested can dive into the many layers and help unravel the entangled threads of the web and give some clarity to their meaning within the story.
The Camden story is a journey that is constantly evolving with many signposts along the way. There are a lot of fellow travellers who have their own stories. There are many pathways and laneways to go down, each with its own meaning and memories to the travellers who come along for the journey.
The Camden story has its own road map of sorts with signposts and markers of significant places along the journey for those who want to look. There are many opportunities for those who want embark on this journey and uncover many of the undiscovered mysteries of the Camden story.
It is in the interests of those who want to tell the story that they walk the ground in which the story is embedded. The landscape speaks to those who want to listen. The experience is enriching and fulfilling and shapes the telling of the story.
Some parts of the Camden story
The Camden story has many parts and some are listed below:
This is a short history of the town, which is situated on the floodplain of the Nepean River, on the traditional land of the Dharawal people in an area known as the Cowpastures. The Camden area’s distinctive landscape has moulded the community’s identity and sense of place. From the earliest days of European settlement class and social networks ordered daily life in the village with the local gentry at the top of the social hierarchy.
The Camden district ran from the Main Southern Railway around the estate village of Menangleinto the gorges of the Burragorang Valley in the west. It was a concept created by the links between peoples’ social, economic and cultural lives across the area. The district became the centre of people’s daily lives for well over a century and the basis of their sense of place and community identity.
This short historiography is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. It is an attempt to examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of the Camden community’s history.
Movie makers have always had an eye on the Camden district’s large country houses, rustic farm buildings, quaint villages and picturesque countryside for film locations. From the 1920s the area has been used by a series of film makers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers.
The Camden bibliography is an attempt to highlight some of the research that addresses the notion of Camden as a country town and the subsequent urbanisation of the local government area. The sources listed in the bibliography cover the geographic area of the Camden district.
The Cowpastures emerged as a regional concept in the late 18th century starting with the story of the cattle of the First Fleet that escaped their captivity at the Sydney settlement. The region was a culturally constructed landscape that ebbed and flowed with European activity. It grew around the government reserve established by Governors Hunter and King. It then developed into a generally used locality name centred on the gentry estates in the area.
The story of European settlement in the Cowpastures is intimately connected to the story of the convicts and their masters. This story has not been told and there is little understanding of the role of the convicts in the Cowpastures district before 1840. Who were they? What did they do? Did they stay in the district?
Kirkham is a picturesque, semi-rural locality on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe between the historic township of Camden, with its inter-war and colonial heritage and the bustling commercial centre of Narellan. The arrival of the rural-urban fringe at Kirkham in recent decades has created a contested site of tension and constant change, resulting in an ever-evolving landscape. This is an example of a short locality history within the local area published by the Dictionary of Sydney.
Early European settlers were the key actors in a place-making exercise that constructed an English-style landscape aesthetic on the colonial stage in the Cowpastures district of New South Wales. The aesthetic became part of the settler colonial project and the settlers’ aim of taking possession of territory involving the construction of a cultural ideal from familiar elements of home in the ‘Old Country’. The new continent, and particulaly the bush, had the elements of the Gothic with its grotesque and the demonic, and the landscape aesthetic was one attempt to counter these forces. Settlers used the aesthetic to assist the creation of a new narrative on an apparenty blank slate and in the process dispossessed and displaced the Indigenous occupants. The new colonial landscape was characterised by English place-names, English farming methods and English settlement patterns, with only cursory acknowledgement of Indigenous occupation.
The rural-urban fringe is a dynamic frontier, an ever expanding zone of transition on the edges of Australia’s major cities and regional centres. This paper examines the proposition that Sydney’s urban growth has pushed the city’s rural-urban fringe into the countryside and unleashed the contested nature of place-making in and around the
country town of Camden. It will be maintained that the dynamic forces that characterise the rural-urban frontier have resulted a collision between the desires and aspirations of ‘locals’ and ‘outsiders’ and prompted a crisis in the identity of place. Community icons
and rituals have become metaphors for the continuity of values and traditions that are embedded in the landscapes of place. The actors have used history and heritage, assisted by geography and aesthetics, to produce a narrative that aims to preserve landscape identity, and has created a cultural myth based on a romantic notion of an idealised
country town drawn from the past, ‘a country town idyll’.
What’s in a name? Quite a lot if you live in the fringe urban communities of Campbelltown, Camden or Picton in the Macarthur district on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. In the past these communities have been fiercely parochial country towns with clearly identifiable differences based on history, heritage, traditions, mythology, rituals, demographics, local government and a host of other factors. With the encroachment of Sydney’s urban sprawl they have been wrapped up by the tentacles of the metropolitan octopus and faced challenges on a variety of fronts. The questions that this article raises concern Macarthur regionalism. Is it authentic? How representative is it of the former country towns that are now incorporated within it?
The Nepean River is one of the most important waterways in the Sydney basin and has particular significance for Sydney’s southwestern rural-urban fringe. The Nepean River catchment extends south and east of the Sydney Basin to take in areas near Robertson and Goulburn. West of Wollongong the tributaries includng Cataract Creek, Avon River, Cordeaux River that flow north-west and then into the deep gorges of Pheasants Nest and Douglas Park. The river opens up into a floodplain and flows past Menangle and crosses the Cowpastures and southern Cumberland Plain past Camden and Cobbitty. The river then flows north through the gorge adjacent to Wallacia and enters Bents Basin before it is joined by the Warragamba River and changes its name to the Hawkesbury River.
Camden is a country town whose history and development has been influenced by war. The town was part of Australia’s homefront war effort, and from the time of the Boer War the most important part of this for Camden was volunteering. The Second World War was no exception, and the most influential voluntary organisation that contributed to the town’s war effort was the Womens Voluntary Services [WVS]. The Camden WVS was part of a strong tradition of Victorian female philanthropy in the town, which attracted, and depended on, middle class women socialised in Victorian notions of service, ideals of dependence, a separatedness of spheres, patriarchy, the status quo, and by the inter-war period, modernity.
On 21 October 2004 the former Member for Camden, Dr Elizabeth (Liz) Kernohan, died after suffering a heart attack. She was sixty- five. Thousands of people lined Argyle Street in Camden to see the cortege and pay their last respects, I and compliments flowed from both sides of New South Wales politics. There were over 1850 column centimetres devoted to her death and subsequent funeral in the local press. Kernohan was a popular, larger than life figure in Camden. She held the seat of Camden for the Liberal party for over 11 years in an area that some have claimed is the key to the success of the Howard Government. How was Kernohan able to gain this type of support? This paper will try to address this question, although initially it is useful to give a brief overview of the electorate.
A notable part of Camden modernism that has disappeared is the drive-in movie theatre. The Narellan Gayline Drive-in Movie Theatre was one of the notable attractions in the local area between the 1960s and 1980s located on Morshead Road, Narellan (now Narellan Vale). Along with rock ‘n roll, transistor radios, the bikini, the mini-skirt, it marked the lifestyle of the baby boomers. Always popular with teenagers and young families. The drive-in movie theatre was a defining moment in the district for a 20th century culture that was based around the icons of the period: cars and movies.
Catherine Fields once boasted a national tourist facility which attracted thousands of visitors a year to the local area, the El Caballo Blanco entertainment complex. The El Caballo Blanco complex opened in April 1979 at Catherine Fields. The main attraction was a theatrical horse show presented with Andalusian horses, which was held daily in the large 800-seat indoor arena.
The Camden Country Women’s Association made camouflage nets during the Second World War and was the largest netting centre in the area. The Camden CWA camouflage netting centre was assisted by sub-branches at Campbelltown and Narellan, which were established after the joint CWA-WVS meeting in December 1941.
One of the most popular memories of the Camden area by locals and visitors alike is the Camden branch line and its famous locomotive Pansy. It has a truly dedicated and enthusiastic bunch of supporters who positively drool about it and overlook its foibles. Old timers tell and retell stories to anyone who wants to listen, all laced with a pinch of exaggeration and the romantic. A part of local nostalgia. The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963.
Oran Park Raceway was doomed in 2008 to be part of history when it was covered with houses in a new suburb with the same name. It was also the name of a former pastoral property that was part of the story of the settler society within the Cowpastures. The locality is the site of hope and loss for both locals and new arrivals. The Oran Park Motor Racing Circuit was located in the south-western and western part of the original Oran Park pastoral estate. The main grand prix circuit was 2.6 km long with a mixture of slow, technical and fast sweeping corners as well as changes in elevation around the track.
This post was prompted by an item in the Oran Park Gazette, an A4 newsletter newspaper. Gazette journalist Lisa Finn-Powell asked: What is the future of the community newspaper? The local ‘rag’ in our suburb is a free tabloid newspaper thrown onto our front driveway each week. Actually there are two of them, the Camden Narellan Advertiser and the Macarthur Chronicle. Where I live some of these newspapers stay on the neighbour’s driveway for weeks and disintegrate into a mess. Other neighbours just put them in the bin. So not everyone is a fan of the local ‘rag’ in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.
The members of 32 Squadron arrived in Camden Airfield in September 1942 after seven months of hazardous operational duties supporting Allied Forces in New Guinea and the surrounding area, including New Britain. The squadron had been ‘hastily formed in the field’ in February 1942 with personnel drawn from other units. The squadron’s operational duties at Camden Airfield included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia.
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.
Supermarkets are one of the ultimate expressions of modernism. The township of Camden was not isolated from these global forces of consumerism that originated in the USA. The Camden community was bombarded daily with American cultural influences in the form of movies, motor cars, drive-in, motels, TV, and radio. Now consumerism was expressed by the appearance of self-service retailing and the development of the supermarket.
The local milk bar is a largely unrecognized part of Camden modernism where the latest trends in American food culture made their way into the small country town by Australian-Greek immigrants. The design, equipment and fit-out of local cafes and milk bars was at the cutting edge of Interwar fashion. The cafes were a touch of the exotic with their Art Deco style interiors, where fantasy met food without the social barriers of daily life of the Interwar period. Camden milk bars rarely just sold milk shakes unlike their counterparts in the city. To make a living and ensure that their businesses paid their way the cafes and milk bars also sold fruit and vegetables, meals, sandwiches, lollies, sweets and chocolates.
The interwar period in Camden was a time of economic development and material progress. The prosperity of the period was driven by the local dairy industry and the emerging coal industry. During the interwar period one of the most important economic arteries of the town was the Hume Highway (until 1928 the Great South Road). For a country town of its size the town had modern facilities and was up-to-date with the latest technology. The interwar years were a period of transition and increasingly the motor car replaced the horse in town, and on the farm the horse was replaced by the tractor, all of which supported the growing number of garages in the town.
The Anzac story has been a central part of the Australian cultural identity for over a century and the contradictions that emerged around it have shown no sign of going away. Historians have been unpacking the meaning of Anzac for decades and seem to no closer to any definitive meaning.
Yet for one old gentlemen at the inaugural lecture in Knowledge Series of the University of Wollongong Alumni Dr Jen Roberts was ‘a brave lady’ to ‘present the truth’ about the Anzac story in her evocative lecture ‘Men, myth and memory’. The Alumni audience was a mix of ages, and interests and included past military personnel.
Robert’s powerful presentation left none of the alumnus present in any doubt about the contested nature of Anzac and that there is far from just one truth. Anzac is a fusion of cultural processes over many decades and it has been grown into something bigger than itself.
The Anzac acronym, meaning Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, was first used by General Sir William Birdwood and its legal status was confirmed by the Australian Government in 1916. Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations, the 1960s social movements and its supporters have successfully broadened its meaning to embrace all Australian conflicts, including peace missions. Some argue that this has created a dark legacy for current serving military personnel, while others choose to take cheap pot shots at those who question the orthodoxy. The Anzac story needs to be inclusive and not exclusive, and while the current service personnel are the custodians of the Anzac story it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.
The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia and is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country, especially in the first half of the 20th century. Yet within this narrative there are contradictions and tensions and one of those is related to modernism. The war that spawned Anzac was a product on industrial modernism, yet at the same time causing the catastrophic destruction. Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance are a product of Interwar modernism, particularly the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists were supporters of Sydney bohemianism with its anti-war sentiments, complicated by tensions created by other forms of global modernism particularly in Europe. Other contradictions range across issues related to gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, homophobia, and a host of other areas.
Roberts makes the point that the Anzac mythology and iconography points to Australian exceptionalism and then neatly outlined how this is not the situation. She analysed the horrors of war and how this is played out within the Anzac story.
The tension within the meaning of Anzac, according to Roberts, is represented by the official state driven narrative stressing the honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity, while on the hand there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology. The digger is not a professional soldier, he is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – a good all-round Aussie bloke.
The official/digger binary highlights the contradictions with the Anzac tradition and its meaning for the military personnel, past and present. In 1941 an 18 year old country lad called Bruce Guppy from the New South Wales South Coast volunteered for service with the 7th Australian Light Horse. Guppy volunteered because his brothers had joined up and the military looked to have better prospects than working as a dairy hand. Gunner BW Guppy had little time for jingoism or nationalism as a laconic sort of fellow and stated ‘life is what you make it’. He was a yarn-spinning non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling larrikin, who saw action in the 1942 Gona-Buna Campaign in New Guinea and later trained as a paratrooper. His anti-war views in later years never stopped him from attending every Sydney Anzac Day March with his unit, 2/1 Mountain Battery, and the camaraderie they provided. A lifetime member of the RSL he never discussed his wartime service with his family, until I married his daughter.
Guppy had five brothers who saw active service in the Pacific conflict, with one brother’s service in BCOF in Japan cited in Gerster’s Travels in Atomic Sunshine. Guppy would not call himself a hero, yet willing participated in Huskisson’s Community Heroes History Project in 2007. Guppy was something of a bush poet and in 1995 wrote in a poem called ‘An Old Soldier Remembers’, which in part says:
‘Memories of those dark days
Come floating back through the haze.
My memory goes back to my mother’s face
Saddened, yes – but filled with grace.
The heartache for mothers – we will never know
For it was for them we had to go.’
So it surprised no-one when Bruce Guppy made the national media in 2013 when he handed Alice Guppy’s Mother’s Badge and Bar to the Australian War Memorial. Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson was moved on his death in 2014 and personally thanked the family for his ‘wonderful’ contribution to the nation.
For Guppy Anzac Day embraced both meanings expressed by Roberts: The official commemorative remembering; and the larrikin enjoying the company of his mates. The meaning of the Anzac story has changed during Bruce Guppy’s lifetime and the experiences of his digger mates who served in the Second World War.
While many lay claim ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac, Roberts contends that the organic growth of the Dawn Service is an example of the natural growth of Anzac and its sensibilities for different parts of Australian society.
Roberts examined the two aspects of the Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that many lay claim ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac and pondered the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogles song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys. This contrasted with the opening statement by an Alumni organiser, who was ex-military, that the outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF which are celebrated in military training in Australia are: the withdrawl at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba. While recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources has shown a different side of the story of the conflict.
The Gallipoli peninsula is a site of pilgrimages from Australia, while being the only locality in modern Turkey with an English name. Roberts compared the small group who went to the 1965 50th anniversary with the lavish all expenses tour of the 1990 75th anniversary sponsored by the Hawke Labor Federal Government. She maintains this was the start of the contemporary pilgrimage industry. Roberts drew on personal experience and related anecdotes from her five visits to Gallipoli peninsular with UOW students who took the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, with her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (recently retired).
Gallipoli pilgrimages have grown as popular interest in the First World War increased as family historians started searching for own digger-relative, hopefully finding the cache derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign. The Howard Government promoted soft patriotism, and this was followed by later conservative governments which promoted official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac. The official involvement of government has increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire for the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site, to the point where the Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to do civil engineering roadworks at Gallipoli.
Brand Anzac, which Roberts dislikes, has been used to solidify national identity and spawned Anzacary and the commodification of the Anzac spirit, with souvenirs and other ephemera, as well as jingoism and Australian exceptionalism from the national to the local community level. Anzac mythology and memory tends to forget the grotesque side of war and its effects. First World War servicemen suffered shell shock (PTSD), and took to alcohol, gambling, domestic violence, divorce and suicide, and became the responsibility of those on the homefront.
The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people, it is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while offering hope, glory and answers for others. The Guppy brothers and their comrades felt they understood the meaning of Anzac. Roberts maintains that the ideas around the Anzac story belong to everyone and, while offering contradictions for some and realities for others, it is these members of the Australian community who need to make a choice about the meaning of Anzac.
By 1918 the war had been dragging on into its fourth year. Soldier casualties were large and still growing. Patriotic fundraising was a major focus for those at home and the Australia Day fundraisers had been important since their establishment in 1915.
The first Australia Day was held in 1915 on the 30 July as a fundraising for the Gallipoli casualties as they returned to Australia. January 26 was known as ‘Anniversary Day’, ‘Foundation Day’ and ‘Regatta Day’. Australia Day was not fixed on January 26 until 1935 when there was agreement of all states and territories and the imminent approach of the 1938 Sesquicentennial celebrations.
Australia Day in 1918 in Camden
In early 1918 Camden Red Cross workers supported the national Australia Day appeal, which aimed ‘to relieve the sufferings of Australia’s men who are suffering that Australia shall be free’. (Camden News 18 April 1918) Camden mayor George Furner called a public meeting on 23 March at a not so well attended meeting of the Camden Red Cross sewing circle. An organising committee was formed of the Camden Red Cross and council officers. The fundraising activities were to include the sale of badges and buttons, a Red Cross drive, a public subscription, a prayer service, a lecture and a door-knock of the town area.
The Australian Day activities started with the united prayer service (2 April) held at the Forester’s Hall in Camden run by the Protestant clergy. It started at 11.30am with Rev. Canon Allnutt from St Paul’s church at Cobbitty, Rev CJ King from St John’s church in Camden and Rev GC Percival from the Camden Methodist Church. All businesses in Camden were shut for the duration of the service and there was ‘an attentive and earnest gathering both town and country’. (Camden News, 4 April 1918)
A public lecture was presented by Senior Chaplain Colonel James Green (8 April) held at the Foresters’ Hall on his experiences on the Somme battlefield in France. The Red Cross ‘drive’ started the same week (9 April) and resulted in the sale of Red Cross badges to the value of £54 with only 200 left to be sold before the market day (23 April).
A Red Cross market day was held on 30 April and the Camden press maintained that ‘with so many gallant sons in the battlefields; her women folk have since the very outbreak of war have nobly done their part of war work’. Flags and bunting were draped around the bank corner and were supplemented with Allies’ flags and lines of Union Jacks in the ‘finest’ local display and music was provided by the Camden District Band. The displays were opened by Enid Macarthur Onslow and in her words touched a ‘solemn’ note when she spoke of the ‘sacrifices mothers and women’ towards the war effort and the responsibilities of those who stayed at home. The whole event was a huge success and raised £225, which made a cumulative total of £643 in the appeal to that point.
The Camden Red Cross branch then conducted a raffle, with first prize being an Australian Flag autographed by Earl Kitchener. The Camden press maintained
that if you haven’t got a ticket in the Kitchener Flag yet you will have one by the end of May unless you hide from the Red Cross ladies in town. They want to sell a lot and they are not going to let you go until they have extracted a two shilling piece from you. (Camden News, 9 May 1918)
And the reporter was not exaggerating. The total effort of the Camden Red Cross for the Australia Day appeal came to £748, which also included donations from Sibella Macarthur Onslow of £100, Mrs WH Faithfull Anderson of £25 and £100 from the Camden Red Cross. (Camden News, April and May 1918) [In todays worth that is about $100,000 from a population of around 1700]
Australia Day at Menangle and Narellan
The Menangle Red Cross decided that ‘a big effort’ was needed and a garden fete (18 May) was organised by Helen Macarthur Onslow, Enid’s daughter, at her home Gilbulla. The fete was opened in front of a large crowd by the wife of the New South Wales Governor, Lady Margaret Davidson. The New South Wales governor, Sir Walter Davidson, presented two engraved watches to two local returned soldiers. The fete raised a total of £85 and the total Menangle Red Cross collections were well over £100.
The Narellan Red Cross put on a concert at the Narellan Parish Hall (27 April) and tickets were 2/- and 1/- and raised £51. Together the sale of Red Cross Drive Badges and donations the branch raised £80. Out at the Douglas Park Red Cross the branch ran a social and raised £22. (Camden News, April and May 1918)
Learn more about local Red Cross activities during the First World War.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 
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. 
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Diary of a soldier
The diary of Andrew Heyward of the 2/1 Independent Light Tank Regiment gives some of the character of activities at the camp.
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
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]
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]
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]
[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.