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Camden Airfield and No 32 Squadron RAAF

32 Squadron RAAF, Camden Airfield, 1942-1944

Camden has hosted 32 Squadron RAAF since the time of the Second World War. The members of the squadron have developed a special relationship with the local community that has been marked by tragedy and celebrations. This is their story.

Camden Airfield Tiger Mother 1942 LG Fromm
RAAF Training Squadron at Camden Airfield with one of the main aircraft used for training at the time a Tiger Moth in 1942. The control tower is shown to the left of the image and the Bellman hangars behind.  (LG Fromm)

Formation

The members of  32 Squadron arrived in Camden 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.1  Large scale air attacks on Rabaul in January 1942 had resulted in the virtual elimination of the 24 Squadron,  and this was followed by the invasion of New Britain by the Japanese forces (23 January 1942). The war was not going particularly well for the Allied Forces. There was the loss of Singapore (15 February), the commencement of an air campaign against Darwin, the country’s major northern port city (19 February) and the Japanese invasion of Timor (20-23 February).2

These events led to the formation of  32 Squadron. It  was drawn from the survivors of 24 Squadron, who had reformed at Port Moresby with a flight of Hudson bombers. Two more flights of Hudsons, one from 6 Squadron, Richmond (New South Wales) and 23 Squadron, Archerfield (Queensland) were flown in to add to the strength. At this point the squadron had a strength of 12 Hudsons and crews and 124 maintenance staff.3   The duties of the squadron included bombing and reconnaissance against Japanese bases at Rabaul and Gasmata bases, landings at Lae and Salamaua, the Gona-Buna and Milne Bay campaigns, the Coral Sea battle, as well as anti-submarine and convoy patrols and supply drops to ground forces. During the eight months of combat operations the squadron flew over 400 missions lost 10 aircraft, with 54 killed in action.4    Lyle Abraham claims that  32 Squadron was the  only Australian squadron to be formed ‘in the field’.5

Tour of Duty in New Guinea

After their tour of duty in New Guinea the squadron was initially posted to Pokolbin, New South Wales, but were then moved to Camden in late 1942.6  DK Saxelby, an electrician from the Camden base maintenance group, recalled on their  arrival that the squadron were

 ‘a much battered battered band of men.  Their clothes were the worst for wear having literally rotted off their backs from the humid climate and replacements destroyed by the enemy. Their footwear was falling to pieces’.7

 

On their arrival the squadron was equipped with 4 Lockheed Hudsons and 6 Avro Ansons under the command of DW Kingwell. The  Hudsons were a 5-crew medium bomber. They were the main Australian bomber in New Guinea until 1943. The aircraft were considered slow with a top speed of 246mph. They were a ‘relatively easy’ target for Japanese gunners and Zero fighters, but they were the only aircraft available at the time.8

 

Commanding Officers 32 Squadron RAAF

 

Date

Name

21 February  1942 W/C DW Kingwell
4 February  1943 W/C JF Lush
10 May 1943 W/C PA Parker
30 August 1943 W/C IH Smith
9 December  1943 S/L CA Loneragan (Temporary)
30 May 1944 S/L OF Barton
28 August 1944 W/C R Homes
28 February 1945 W/C DW Campbell
29 August 1945 F/L LG Brown

Source: WA Paull, 60th Anniverary 32 Squadron

Camden Airfield 1940s WW2[1]
Aerial view of the RAAF Base Camden at Camden Airfield during the  Second World War. The runways are shown on the Nepean River floodplain with the base buildings at the bottom of the image. (NAA)

Operational Duties at Camden Airfield

The squadron’s operational duties at Camden included reconnaissance and sea patrols off the east coast of Australia. The squadron did night patrols covering the east coast of Australia from Bundaberg to Mallacootta, Queensland. The Bristol Beauforts, which the squadron was using from March 1943, were fitted with radar and was a ‘very closely guarded at the time’. There were also detached flights at Coffs Harbour and Bundaberg.9   PJ Squires recalls that during his time at Camden between May and December 1943 the role of the squadron was anti-submarine protection for coastal convoys using depth charges.  Air cover was given from Bega to Bundaberg by moving aircraft.10   Harry Simpson recalls that his Beaufort crew undertook anti-submarine  patrols at night  using radar protecting convoys sailing off the east coast. The crew escorted convoys off the east coast.   His crew also took part in general training  including ‘fighter cooperative attacks’ and high and low level bombing practice.11   The crews were constantly flying between Camden, Mascot, Bundaberg, Coffs Harbour, Amberly, Richmond, Williamtown, Evan’s Head and  Moruya12  as well as Nabiac, Southport, Hervey Bay, Archerfield, Tocumwal and Canberra.13

The log book of John Murphy shows that on 26 February 1943 the squadron did anti-submarine patrol while convoying the Queen Mary, the Acquatania and the Ile de France.14  Another member of the squadron recalled that the squadron did convoy duty for the Queen Elizabeth  when it brought he 6th Division back from Africa.15    Leo Reid recalls one mission undertaken by his crew that took place on 16 May 1943 (two nights after the Centaur hospital ship was sunk off Brisbane) when their  Beaufort made contact with a submarine five miles off Coffs Harbour. The plane dropped 6 bombs on and around the submarine. They were credited with a ‘D’ assessment (damaged and possibly unable to reach base). The Beaufort was crewed by pilot F/S G Liddell, Navigator F Westphalen, WAGs E Shipley & L Reid.16  Jock Sharpe’s Beaufort crew was: F/O Harry Kemp, F/S Peter Bowers, F/S Colin Sinclair, F/O JM (Jock) Sharpe (WAG).17   Harry Simpson’s Beaufort crew was: F/L WJ (Bill) Hoddinott, Pilot, F/O Peter King, Navigator, F/O HB (Bill) Simpson, Gunnery Leader, Wireless and Radar Operator, F/O CJ (Chuck) Owens, Wireless Airgunner, Tail Gunner.18

While a part of B Flight at Coffs Harbour,  Bill Paull  recalls that the crew of a Beaufort, pilotted by F/L Harrison, while on night patrol disabled a Japanese submarine with depth charges. The crew returned to Coffs Harbour and asked for a 250lb anti-submarine bomb to sink the disabled submarine. They tried to skip the bomb into the submarine as they did in the Bay of Biscay. On inspection of the area the next morning they found the submarine had disappeared but there was an oil slick 1/2 mile wide and 3 miles long and the crew was credited with a possible sinking.19

Training Exercises

Alan Wailes recalls training exercise with military units. One exercise with a searchlight company involved flying over Port Kembla at around 5000 feet so that the searchlight crews could practice homing in on an approaching aircraft. ‘We went back and forth for almost 2 hours with the searchlight beams tracking all over the sky but nowhere near us’. In the end the crew had to turn on their landing lights so that the searchlights could find them. Another exercise involved flying over Dover Heights and giving the ack-ack units some practice. ‘We spent 3 hours flying in from all directions to really keep these chaps on their toes’. Wailes claims that after a pre-dawn patrol ‘there was nothing more relaxing than to be coming in right over Sydney Harbour just on sunrise and to be able to take in the scenic wonders’.20

Camden Airfield Hut No 72
The base accommodation at the RAAF Base Camden was quite rudimentary as this image of Camden Airfield Hut No 72 shows. The timber building was unlined and was reportedly very cold on a frosty morning in winter. Heating was provided by a single wood chip stove for the hut. This is the sole surviving RAAF Base building still on Camden Airfield. (I Willis)

Re-equipment

By the end of May 1943 the squadron was re-equipped with  a total of seven Beaufort.21    PJ Squires recalls that eventually the squadron had 12 aircraft. The Beauforts were used for night cover using radar, while day cover was given by Avro Ansons.22     Lindsay Fromm notes that he wrote in his diary that an Airacobra landed at Camden in April 1943, and in May the CO (Lush) took the Boomerang out for a flight. A Spitfire squadron arrived at Camden in May 1943 and later in the month flew to out Darwin.23   By late 1943 Jock Sharpe recalls there were 24 Beaufort aircraft on the base.24

Accommodation at Camden Airfield

While stationed at Camden the squadron’s accommodation consisted of  eight huts that were located on the rise on the eastern side of the current carpark, which was then the parade ground. There was also an operations rooms in the same area of the airfield. At the same time the Macarhur Onslow family, who lived in Hassall Cottage, had their small plane in a hanger located slightly north of the Bellman hangars.  The squadron’s officer’s mess was in Macquarie Grove house, while the sergeant’s mess was located in a building on the rise east of the officer’s mess.  The airfield tower was located west of the Bellman hangars on the grass verge adjacent to the taxi-ing areas.25  The huts were standard arrangements for RAAF personnel. The officers had individual rooms and the ranks were accommodated ‘barrack style’. There was a small hospital staffed by several male orderlies. Jock Sharpe does not recall any female personnel on the base during his posting at the airfield in 1943.26   Not everyone lived on the base, particularly the married men, and Leo Reid recalls that he and his wife lived in a flat in John opposite Dr Crookston’ house.27 (Letter, Reid, 30/12/86) Harry Simpson recalls  that after his marriage to wife Marjorie that lived off the station when he was not flying. They lived in flat supplied by Matron Berry of Camden Hospital and then for many months with Mrs Dickenson, who lived at 10 Chellaston Street. His wife, Marjorie, worked with Yvonne Dickenson at the local dentist, Campbell Graham.28

Free Time and Recreation

Recreation provided a release from the constant stress of operations. Shortly after their arrival in Camden the squadron held a dinner in the big hanger and entertainment was provided by Chips Rafferty and a magician. Everyone enjoyed themselves and ‘a lot of beer was drunk’.  In late in 1942 a number of the squadron assembled a Gypsy Minor, (FROMM, PHOTOGRAPH) while the Christmas dinner was held in camp. The officers and sergeants waited on the lower ranks and ‘helped us drink our Christmas cheer’.29   The men usually went to Sydney when they were given leave traivelling by train and staying at Air Force House in Sydney. Allan Diprose recalls that he went with other airmen to local dances and he attended the Presbyterian Church and the local Masonic Lodge.30   PJ Squires maintains that 70% of the squadron’s time was away from Camden consquently the men had little or no interaction with the local community. Any leave they were given they spent in Sydney.31   DK Saxelby recalls that he was given the duty of looking after the base switchboard at night. He slept beside the board and took messages that came in at night. He remembers that ‘this was good’ because in quiet periods he was to have a chat the girls at the telephone exchange in Camden.32  Harry Simpson recalls that he and his wife spent most of Harry’s leave in Sydney and on one occasion spent several weeks with Mrs King at Thirroul.33   Alan Wailes recalls that while he was at Camden he flew a Tiger Moth aircraft and had ‘an enjoyable time skithering around the sky’. (he was a WAG). They played golf, which according to Wailes, was ‘ a great way to relax as the course bordered the bushland countryside of the Macarthur-Onslow sheep property’. He took part in ‘organised clay pigeon shooting which, apart from being a sporting outing, enabled us gunners to keep our eye in with moving targets. Then when we felt a need to vary the Base menu we would venture into Camden town to enjoy a good steak followed by a dessert of honeydew melon, which they thought were green ‘rockies’.34

Many members of the squadron made friends with local people during the war years.35   Lyle Abraham claimed that Camden people  ‘were so warm and friendly that we felt like being back at home’.36 Most airmen who corresponded with the author do  not recall  a great level of interaction with the local community. Alan Wailes maintains that this was not really the fault of the aircrews. Most airmen had little contact with local  residents because of the varying flying times that most crews had to put up with, especially when undertaking night patrols.37

Flood at Camden 

The weather always played an influential role in the conduct of operations. On 20 May 1943 the airfield was flooded and cut-off from the town for a week and no-one could get in or out of the camp.38  Reid remembered that their Beaufort became  bogged after leaving the runway when taxi-ing to the hangers.39   Photographs of the flooded airfield show floodwater stretching from the bottom of Exeter Street across the river to the lower part of the airfield adjacent to the fuel dumps. The flood water also came up to the sentry boxes on the gravel entrance road to the airfield, which the constant rain had made almost impassible. (PHOTO, CHS)  Bill Paul remembers the 1943 flood and how their way along Kirkham Lane to the station at Elderslie. They had to put their clothes over their heads and hold onto the fence wire to get to the station.40

Camden Airfield 1943 Flood Macquarie Grove168 [2]
The RAAF Base Camden was located on the Nepean River floodplain. One of the hazards was flooding as shown here in 1943. The town of Camden is shown on the far side of the flooded river. (Camden Museum)

The ‘peaceful and beautiful surroundings  of the cowpasture country [sic]’ contrasted with the ‘grim’ days of aerial combat in New Guinea, and while at Camden a member of the squadron recalled  that

it took a long time flying in the near serenity of Camden to diminish or erase in the squadron’s memory the desparation and frustration of those grim eight months in New Guinea – if ever they will be erased.41

But the tranquility ‘of this lovely area’  of rural countryside surrounding the town could be deceptive, and flying out of Camden airfield was not without its own risks.42   Three crews were lost in accidents while on operations at Camden and ten of the airmen were buried in the Camden war cemetery.

Loss of Aircraft

The first accident occurred on 3 November 1942 and resulted in the loss of all five crew.  Two Hudsons had been despatched from Camden airfield to investigate a report of a Japanese submarine 480 km east of Sydney around 5pm. At the time there were atrocious weather conditions and the pilot of one aircraft abandoned the mission after a short search and landed safely at Mascot. The pilot of the second  Hudson became disoriented and crossed the coastline near Port Kembla. It was sighted by personnel on duty at the Windang searchlight battery. They estimated the height of the aircraft at 250-300 metres. The aircraft proceeded across the Lake, and was spotted again, this time by the searchlight battery at Koonawarra Bay. The aircraft flew on and then crashed in to Bong Bong Mountain west of Dapto around 9.15pm. A number of local residents in the area heard the plane pass overhead and then heard the explosion of the crash. Local residents reached the crash site aroung midnight and found no survivors.43  Lindsay Fromm recalled that duty personnel from Camden left the base the following day and arrived early the next morning to Dapto and made their way to the crash sight after a long climb through through the rainforest. The bodies were removed that afternoon. The wings of the aircraft were slide down the mountain to be taken away by truck. ‘The rest of the place was piled on the four bombs and the army detonated them after notifying the wide area’. The loss of the crew was a ‘sad event’ for the squadron.44   An inquest was held in Wollongong four weeks later. The squadron’s commanding officer suggested at the inquest that in the bad weather the pilot may have become lost and confused Lake Illawarra with Botany Bay and hence not realised that he was headed toward the Illawarra Enscarpment at a low altitude.45

Camden Airfield Lockheed_A-29_Hudson_USAAF_in_flight_c1941
This aircraft is similar to the Lockheed Hudsons flown by 32 Squadron in 1942 out of RAAF Base Camden at Camden Airfield. This aircraft a Lockheed-A-29 Hudson USAAF in flight c1941 (Wikimedia)

The second accident occurred on 26 January 1943 at Camden airfield.  It involved the crash of a Hudson and the loss of all five crew members. The accident report stated that the aircraft crashed shortly after take off in wooded country south-west of Camden around the middle of the day. The aircraft was apparently in ‘an inverted position when it struck the ground’. The third accident occurred on 17 November 1943 with the crash of a Beaufort the death of all five crew members. The aircraft had crashed into the side of Saddleback Mountain, west of Kiama, around midnight while on a night cross-country training exercise.46

Other minor incidents also kept ground crews busy. A Hudson overshot the runway on 8 January 1943 hitting the bank and collapsing the undercarriage, another crashed on take off and was moved into the hangar by the Rescue and Salvage Unit, while another crashed into a gutter and was taken away by road. On 13 May 1943 a Beaufort crashed on take-off and hit a number of stumps on the hill at the end of the runway. The plane was a complete write-off, but the crew were able to walk away with minor scratches  after getting out through a hole torn in the fuselage.47

Anxious Night Patrols 

Alan Wailes remembers some anxious moments on a night patrol off the coast in bad weather. ‘We were making our way back to the coast at the conclusion of a patrol when we ran into an extremely heavy sea fog – perhaps we would be through it in a short while. I was on wireless/radar watch at the time and ‘glued’ myself to the radar screen hoping for a landfall recording at any time – the screen was blank, was it working alright? (In those early days the equipment was barely adequate and with limited range.) My thought momentarily wanded to a week or so earlier when one of our aircraft returning under similar circumstances, slammed into the coastal mountain range at Foxground near Gerrigong. Military secrecy  at the time kept the public unaware of the crash until a timber cutter stumbled on the wreck days later. I was one of the pall bearers at the funeral of the crew of four’. Wailes laconically recalls  that there was ‘a strange thing about many mainland bases we used (including Camden) there always seemed to be a cemetery just over the fence at the end of the runway’. He stated that ‘we didn’t really need a reminder of our ‘precarious occupation’.48

On another occasion their aircraft had a hydraulic failure. Their undercarriage would not come down, the wing flaps would not operate and there were no wheel brakes. After circling Camden airfield for an hour and trying a number of attempts to lower the undercarriage the pilot successfully put the aircraft on the runway, just clearing the fence and cruising to a stop at the end of the runway.49

In January 1944 Harry Simpson recalls that the squadron was relocated to Menangle Park,  where they were involved in extensive training,  before moving to Gould Airfield in the Northern Territory in February.50    By May   the remainder of the squadron was transferred to Lowood, Queensland  where the squadron was eventually disbanded in November 1945.51

Camden Airfield 1940
The aerial view of the RAAF Base Camden shows the base buildings and runway. The view was taken in 1940 when RAAF Training Squadrons occupied the based and changed little throughout the rest of the war. (NAA)

Squadron Reunions at Camden

In the postwar period many airmen from the squadron got together for regular reunions, with a number were held in Camden. Postwar reunions have had an important social and theraputic event for members of the squadron. They would  rekindled the camaraderie and ‘strong bonds forged by ordeal and comradeship’ between the men that made up the squadron.52

The reunions allowed the men to relive the glory days of the war. They also provided a theraputic role in that the veterans understood each other and did not have to explain or justify themselves to others. The war played a pivotal role in the lives of these airmen and its played an important focus for their memories which are played in their reunions. The reunsion allows the veterans to relive their unique experiences amongst who were there. They relived times and events in their lives that they often have not even spoken about to their families. Stephen Garton has maintained in The Cost of War  that

 the traditional war narrative of men is one of self-realisation. War represented the attainment of an ideal of manliness – in physical action, bravery, self-control, courage, and, more importantly for many, male comradeship.’53

According to Garten this ideal was fostered at school, in sport and in the boy scouts and as the homefront was constructed as ‘a feminised space’   the reunion allowed the airmen to relive their warrior days. Many veterans found that return to civilian life created feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction, where they missed the ‘vibrancy of war’. They felt that those on the homefront did not ‘comprehend the enormity of their experiences’  and they craved the company of their former colleagues.54  The reunion provided this experience and rekindled bonds. For the airmen  of the 32 Squadron their annual get together and five yearly reunions fulfilled these requirements.55  Keith Nelson felt that there was always ‘a lot to talk about’.56

The squadron held their 45th anniversary reunion  in Camden in May 1987. Their program included a welcome by the Mayor, Dr Elizabeth Kernohan, on the Saturday, followed by a tour of Camden Airfield, a tour of the Camden Museum of Aviation at Narellan and a visit to Gledswood. On the Sunday there was a remembrance address at the Camden Cenotaph and an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church. The organisers of the reunion stated that the Sunday program had been arranged as a special ‘thank you’ to Camden townsfolk.57

Around 70 squadron members and their families attended the 50th anniversary in Camden in February 1992. This was the largest and most successful reunion held in Camden.  Reunion organiser Colin Butterworth stated that the celebrations commenced on the Friday with a civic reception followed by the reunion dinner. On Saturday the veterans marched along Argyle Street and took part in a flag-raising ceremony at the John Street intersection, with a fly-over by the RAAF Roulettes. Mayor Theresa Testoni granted the squadron membership of the muncipality and presented the squadron with a citation. Led by the Campbelltown-Camden band playing ‘The 32 Squadron March’ the party moved onto the Camden RSL Bowling Club for the squadron luncheon. Celebrations on Sunday commenced with an address at the Camden Cenotaph with a fly-over by four Hawker Siddley aircraft from the new No.32 Squadron (based at Sale, Victoria) and a tree planting. This was followed by an ecumenical service at St John’s Anglican Church.  An editorial in the Camden Crier maintained that the squadron’s choice of Camden for its reunion was a ‘high compliment’.  Colin Butterworth felt that members of squadron regarded themselves at the unofficial ‘City of Camden’ Squadron because of the close affiliation between the townsfolk and the squadron.

The squadron held its 55th anniversary in Camden in 1997 and was attended by 20 members. On the Sunday a remembrance ceremony was held at the Camden cenotaph in Macarthur Park. In 2002 the 60th anniversary of the squadron was remembered with a tree planting ceremony in Macarthur Park.58  It was the last anniversary to be held in Camden.

References

1 ’32 Squadron’, Online at   here, Accessed on 28 October 2005.
2 Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought, The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, St Leonards: Allen & Unwin,1998, pp. 199, 202-207.
3 Camden Crier, 13 May 1987.
4 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987; Camden Crier  12 February 1992; Camden-Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002.
5 LJ Abraham, Correspondence, 22 June 1999
6 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
7 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999
8 Peter Dennis, Jeffrey Grey, Evan Morris, Robin Prior & John Connor, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 297.
9 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986; J Sharpe, Corresponence, 23 June 1999.
10 PJ Squires, Corresponence, 23 September 1999.
11 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
12 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20 July 1999.
13 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 21 March 2002.
14 J Murphy, Correspondence, 30 September 1992.
15 Camden Crier 13 May 1987
16 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
17 J Sharpe, Correspondece, 23 June 1999.
18 HB Simpson, Correspondece,  20 July 1999.
19 W Paull, Correspondece, 20 September 1999.
20 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002.
21 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 26 February 1992; F Ellem, Correspondence, 14 November 1986; LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
22 PJ Squires, Correspondence,  23 September 1999.
23 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
24 J Sharpe, 23 June 1999.
25 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
26 J Sharpe, Correspondence, 23 June 1999.
27 L Reid, Correspondence, 30 December 1986.
28 HB Simpson, 20 July 1999.
29 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999.
30 AR Diprose, Correspondence,  21 June 1999.
31 PJ Squires, Correspondence, 23 September 1999.
32 DK Saxelby, Correspondence, 5 May 1999.
33 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 20July 1999.
34 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
35 Camden Crier 12 February 1992.
36 Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
37AF Wailes, Correspondence, 26 Septembe 1999.
38 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
39 L Reid, 30 December 1986.
40 WA Paull, Correspondence, 20 September 1999
41 Camden Crier  13 May 1987
42 Camden Crier  13 May 1987, 12 February 1992
43 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
44 LG Fromm, 10 August 1999
45 B Tate, ‘Fire on the Mountain, Illawarra Mercury, 30 December 1995.
46 RAAF Historical, Canberra.
47 LG Fromm, Correspondence, 10 August 1999
48 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
49 AF Wailes, Correspondence, 3 March 2002
50 HB Simpson, Correspondence, 23 July 1999
51 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
52 Camden Crier  13 May 1987
53 Stephen Garton, The Cost of War, Australians Return, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 20
54 Ibid
55 Camden Crier 12 February 1992
56 Macarthur Chronicle 18 February 1992
57 Macarthur Advertiser 13 May 1987
58 Camden Crier 12 February 1992, 19 February 1992, 26 February 1992, 19 February 1997; Camden – Wollondilly Advertiser 26 February 2002
First published in Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, September 2009
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Convalescent hospital · Edwardian · First World War · Historical consciousness · history · Interwar · Local History · Medical history · Red Cross · Second World War

Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord NSW

Out at Concord, located in Sydney’s inner west, is the magnificent building of the former Thomas Walker Memorial Hospital for Convalescents, that is now the school Rivendell. It was recently open for inspection by the City of Canada Bay Heritage Society.

Imposing entrance at the main building of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord facing the Parramatta River 2017 Open Day(I Willis)

The heritage society organises regular open days to continually raise public awareness of this heritage icon.

The Heritage Council of NSW states:

The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital is situated in the Municipality of Concord on the Parramatta River bounded by Brays Bay and Yaralla Bay. It is a large complex on a large park-like riverside estate, with extensive and prominent landscape plantings, making it a landmark along the river.

Opened in 1893 patients were taken from Circular Quay to the Watergate at the front of the complex on the Parramatta River. The landing stage was a pontoon that went up and down with the tide. A bridge connected the pontoon to the Watergate.

 

Watergate at the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

 

The convalescent hospital was constructed from a bequest of 100,000 pounds from the will of businessman and politician Thomas Walker who died in 1886. Walker was a philanthropist, member of the legislative council and director of the Bank of New South Wales.

The executors of Walker’s will announced a design competition in 1888 for a convalescent hospital. Architect John Kirkpatrick won the design competition although criticized for being overly expensive.

In 1889 architectural commission was given to Sydney architects Sulman and Power. The building cost 150,000 pounds with additional funds coming from other family members and supporters.

Between 1943 and 1946 the hospital was managed by the Red Cross with control then passing to Perpetual Trustees.

The hospital complex

The main hospital building is Queen Anne Federation style  with a four-storey clock tower at the centre. There is classical ornamentation. On either side of the main building are two wings containing cloisters.

The hospital complex is based on a pavilion basis, with each pavilion to retain its functional integrity with the central block for administration and service blocks either side. There are 8 buildings in the complex.

 

Impressive entry vestibule in the main building at the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

 

The main building is two storey with a three storey tower over the main entrance, an impressive vestibule, and an entertainment hall for 300 people. There is sandstone detail throughout inside and out.

The Sulman buildings have elaborately shaped exposed rafter ends, Marseilles pattern terracotta roof tiles and crafted brickwork.

 

Covered walkway from main building at the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

 

The History of Sydney website states:

The building’s symmetrical design originally divided it into male and female sides. It includes two enclosed courtyards, a concert hall and a recreation hall which is supposed to be highly decorated. It is of the first known buildings to make use of “cavity walls” for insulation and protection against Sydney’s hot climate.

 

Complex roof line showing Marseilles pattern terracotta roof tiles of main building Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

Significance of hospital complex

The NSW heritage inventory states:

The hospital is important because it reflects Florence Nightingale’s influence on 19th century convalescent hospital design principles and their adoption into Australian architecture.

The Estate is a rare surviving late 19th century major institution of a private architect’s design in Australia and is John Sulman’s finest work in this country.

The grounds of the hospital are of national heritage signficance as an intact example of Victorian/Edwardian institutional gardens which have maintained an institution throughout their whole existence.

Some of the crowd in the reception entertainment hall at Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital Concord 2017 Open Day (I Willis)

 

Look out for the next visitor open day in mid 2018 (July) run by the Canada Bay Heritage Society as well as the associated house of Yaralla at Concord in April and October.

Learn more 

Canada Bay Heritage Society

Anzac · Camden · community identity · First World War · Historical consciousness · history · Memorials · Monuments · Second World War

Camden Reflects on Anzac Day 2017

Photo Essay of Camden Anzac Day 2017

IMG_7272[1]
Camden Anzac Day 2017 with sign of knitted poppies made by local folk (I Willis)
Camden Anzac Day 2017 window shopfront display in Argyle Street Camden (I Willis)

 

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Camden Bicentennial Park with wreaths (I Willis)

 

Camden Anzac Day 2017 wall of poppies at Camden RSL Memorial Rose Garden in Cawdor Road (I Willis)

 

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Camden RSL Memorial Rose Garden in Cawdor Road (I Willis)

 

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Macarthur Park Camden erected in 1922 by public subscription (I Willis)
Anzac · First World War · history · Interwar · Local History · Memorials · Modernism · Second World War · war

Anzac contradictions

Boer War Memorial in Belmore Park Goulburn 2017 (I Willis)

Public Lecture: UOW historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

 

Men, myth and memory | Dr Jen Roberts

UOW Alumni Knowledge Series | UOW | 20 April 2017

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.

The camp administration block  at the Narellan Military Camp in 1942 A Bailey

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 tented lines at the  Narellan Military Camp in 1941 (AB)

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.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park erected in 1922 and funded by public subscription with the cenotaph in the rear (Camden Remembers)

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.

Bruce Guppy and his unit at the 2003 Sydney Anzac Day March (I Willis)

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.

Red Cross poster used for fundraising purposes in 1918 (ARCS)

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.

Camden Airfield was used a training ground for the early years of the Empire Training Scheme and used  Tiger Moth aircraft  1942 LG Fromm

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.

Camden · Heritage · history · Local History · Narellan · Railway · Second World War · Transport · Uncategorized

The Camden Branch Railway Line

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
The Camden Branch Line Locomotive Crossing the Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images

The Camden Branch Line

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.

Steam engines and locomotives bring back memories of the glory days of industrialization and the great days of Australian nationalism in the late Victorian and early 20th century. Great monstrous engines that hissed, spat and groaned. They were mighty machines that were living beings. They had a life and soul of their own. They were responsible for creating the wealth of the British Empire. And Pansy is part of that story.

Local railway stations

The Camden branch line was operated by the New South Wales Railways from 1882 to its closure in 1963. The Camden tram was one of a number of standard gauge light rail lines in the Sydney area. The tank locomotive worked a mixed service that took freight and passengers. The branch line was thirteen kilometres and had eight stations after leaving Campbelltown station, where it joined the Main Southern Railway. The stations were Maryfields, Kenny Hill, Curran’s Hill, Narellan, Graham’s Hill, Kirkham, Elderslie and finally arriving at Camden.

Most of the stations were no more than a short rudimentary wooden platform with a shelter shed that were unmanned. Others like Camden had a longer platform and an associated goods handling facility. Pansy was a regular part of daily life for those who lived near the line. Locals in the Camden township would listen for the loco’s whistle and know that the morning papers had arrived from Sydney.

Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden Locomotive L Manny Camden Images

A host of daily passengers

Legend has it that the engine driver would hold the train for regulars who were running late for work on their way to the city, especially local lasses. Some of Camden’s better off families sent their children to high school at Parramatta and Homebush each morning on the train. Pansy would chug past the milk factory at the entry to Camden township as local dairy farmers were unloading their cans of milk from their horse and dray. Tourists from Sydney would be dropped off on Friday afternoon at Camden station to be bused to their holiday boarding houses in Burragorang Valley.

Wartime heroes in blue and khaki

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
The Royal Australian Air Force Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941 with a training aircraft (NAA)

The first passenger service left Camden station left at 5.47am to connect with the Sydney service on the Main Southern Line. On the return journey the last passenger service from Campbelltown left at 9.44pm. During the Second World War the train provided transport for many servicemen (Army, RAAF) who were based at local military establishments. Airmen from Camden airfield would catch the train to Sydney for weekend leave, and would be joined by soldiers from Narellan military base and Studley Park Eastern Command Training School.

Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden Train L Manny Camden Images

Goods and passengers

Camden station and good yards were located adjacent to Edward Street, with a siding to the Camden Vale milk factory. Coal from the Burragorang Valley mines was loaded at Camden yard from 1937, although this was transferred to Narellan in 1941 and eventually the Main Southern Line at Glenlee into the late 1950s. But even by the 1940s the limitations of the line for caring freight were showing cracks.

From its enthusiastic opening the the branch line never really lived up to its predictions. The mixed goods and passenger service was of limited value. Its light gauge restricted the loads and the grade of the line, particularly over Kenny Hill, severely limited its capabilities. Even in 1939 there were already signs of the eventual demise of the branch line with more coal leaving the district by road than rail.

Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images
Pansy Camden train crossing Hume Hwy L Manny Camden Images

The end is nigh

Its days were numbered and the writing was on the wall. Its death blow was delivered by the Heffron ALP Government in 1963 as a cost cutting exercise and a drive from modernization of the railway system across the state. Diesel was the new god.

For current enthusiasts with a keen eye there are remnants of the embankments and cuttings for the standard gauge line still visible in the area. As visitors leave the Camden township travelling north along Camden Valley Way (old Hume Highway) embankments, culverts and earthworks are still visible in the farm paddocks on the Nepean River floodplain.

What’s left to see?

You can make out the right of way as it crosses Kirkham Lane and heads towards Narellan before disappearing into a housing estate. For those with a sharp eye a cutting is still evident on the northern side of Narellan Road at Kenny Hill just as you take then entry ramp onto the freeway going to Sydney. It appears as a bench above the roadway and is evident for a short distance. (for details see Peter Mylrea, ‘Camden-Campbelltown Railway’, Camden History March 2009, p. 254-263).

A number of streets in Curran’s Hill are connected to the history of Pansy. Tramway Drive is close to the route of the train and a number of other streets are named after past railway employees, for example, Paddy Miller.

The music of the Camden branch line

The Camden Community Band has added the tune ‘The Camden Train’ to its repertoire. The lyrics tell an interesting story about Pansy, the locomotive. It was written by Camden local Buddy Williams about the time of the last run on of the train in 1963.

This story was originally published as The glory of steam, Pansy, the Camden tram  @ Heritage Tourism NSW

Trainworks Railway Museum, Thirlmere

Do you want to see the real deal for yourself? Go and inspect the one of the locomotives  on display at Trainworks Railway Museum, Barbour Rd Thirlmere NSW 2572 (02) 4681 8001.

Watch a DVD about the Camden Branch Line next time you call into the Camden Museum.

Read more on Wikipedia,

Watch a short DVD on the Camden Branch Line on British Pathe Films

Read more about the Camden Branch Line in

 

The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)  Rear cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History Camden & District
Front Cover of Ian Willis's Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
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.

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;