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Brand Anzac – meaning and myth

Historian grapples with the meaning of Anzac?

University of Wollongong Public Lecture 

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. The contradictions that have 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 absolute sense.

Yet for one old gentleman at the inaugural lecture in the 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 compelling 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.

Shifts in meaning

The term Anzac has survived its 1914 imperial connotations and the 1960s social movements. 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 currently serving military personnel, while others have chosen to take cheap potshots 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 mythology, it can sometimes be a heavy responsibility.

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

 

Tensions and contradictions

The Anzac story is ubiquitous across Australia. It is embedded in the heart and soul of every community in the country. Within this narrative, there are contradictions and tensions.

The war that spawned the notion of Anzac was a product on industrial modernism. While the Anzac shrines of commemoration and remembrance across Australia were a product of Interwar modernism, some the work of Rayner Hoff. Yet these same artists and sculptors were supporters of  Sydney bohemianism and its anti-war sentiments.

There are a host of other contradictions that range across issues that include gender, militarism, nationalism, racism, violence, trauma, and homophobia.

Jen Roberts argued in her lecture that the Anzac mythology and iconography point to Australian exceptionalism. She then detailed how this was 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)

 

According to Roberts, the tension within the meaning of Anzac is represented by the official state-driven narrative that stressed honour, duty and sacrifice through commemoration, remembrance and solemnity.

On the hand, there is the unofficial story of the digger mythology about a man who is not a professional soldier, who is egalitarian, loyal to mates and a larrikin – an excellent 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.

Gunner Bruce Guppy

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’.

Bruce Guppy 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 for him. 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 purpose 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 claims 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.

The site and the myth

Roberts examined the two aspects of Anzac mythology – the site and the myth. She maintained that there are many claims to the ownership of the cultural meaning of Anzac. Roberts then pondered about the meaning of the slaughter on the Western Front. She asked the audience to reflect on the words of Eric Bogle’s song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda covered by an American Celtic band the Dropkick Murphys.

These comments contrasted with the opening address by an ex-military Alumni organiser. He maintained that the outstanding achievements of the 1/AIF celebrated in military training in Australia today are: the withdrawal of troops at Gallipoli; and the last mounted cavalry charge at Beersheba.

These views contrast with recent research about Gallipoli POWs from Turkish sources that have shown a different side of the story of the conflict.

Camden Airfield has 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.

Pilgrims and memory

Roberts contrasted the small group of military pilgrims 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. These young people undertook the UOW Gallipoli Study Tour, which was organised by her mentor, friend and sage UOW Associate-Professor John McQuilton (recently retired).

Widespread interest in Gallipoli pilgrimages has grown in recent times. Family historians have started searching for their own digger-relative from the First World War. They are seeking the kudos derived from finding a connection with the Gallipoli campaign and its mythology.

The Howard Federal Government started by promoting soft patriotism, and this was followed by the Abbott Government promoting official celebrations of the Centenary of Anzac.

Official government involvement has unfortunately increased the jingoism of these anniversaries and the noise around the desire by some to acquire the cultural ownership of the Gallipoli site.

For example, the Australian Howard Government attempted to direct the Turkish Government how to carry out the civil engineering roadworks on the Gallipoli peninsular.

RAAF CFS Camden 1941
RAAF Camden and the Central Flying School at Camden Airfield in 1941 (RAAF Historical)

 

Brand Anzac

Roberts dislikes the Brand Anzac, which has been used to solidify the Australian national identity. Anzacary, the commodification of the Anzac spirit, has been an area of marketing growth, with the sale of souvenirs and other ephemera. Jingoism and flag-flapping have proliferated with the rise of Australian exceptionalism from the national level to local communities.

 

Anzac mythology and memory tend 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. They became the responsibility of those on the homefront.

The Anzac mythology disempowers and marginalises people. The legend is about nationalism, jingoism, racism, and stereotypes, while at the same time 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 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.

 

Updated 27 April 2020. Originally posted 24 April 2017 at ‘Anzac Contradictions’

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Movie making Camden style

Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover
Smilie Gets A Gun Movie Cover

Moviemakers 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 filmmakers as a setting for their movies. It coincided was an increasing interest in the area’s Englishness from poets, journalists and travel writers. They wrote stories of quaint English style villages with a church on the hill, charming gentry estates down hedge-lined lanes, where the patriarch kept contented cows in ordered fields and virile stallions in magnificent stables.  This did not go unnoticed in the film industry.

Camden Park Publicity

One of the first was the 1921 silent film Silks and Saddles shot at Arthur Macarthur Onslow’s Macquarie Grove by American director John K Wells about the world of horse racing. The film was set on the race track on Macquarie Grove. The script called for a race between and aeroplane and racehorse. The movie showed a host good looking racing blood-stock. There was much excitement, according to Annette Onslow, when an aeroplane piloted by Edgar Percival his Avro landed on the race course used in the film and flew the heroine to Randwick to win the day. Arthur’s son Edward swung a flight in Percival’s plane and was hooked on flying for life, and later developed Camden Airfield at Macquarie Grove.

Camden film locations were sought in 1931 for director Ken G Hall’s 1932 Dad and Dave film On Our Selection based on the characters and writings of Steele Rudd. It stars Bert Bailey as Dan Rudd and was released in the UK as Down on the Farm. It was one the most popular Australian movies of all time but it was eventually shot at Castlereagh near Penrith. The movie is based on Dan’s selection in south-west Queensland and is about a murder mystery. Ken G Hall notes that of the 18 feature films he made between 1932 and 1946 his film company used the Camden area and the Nepean River valley and its beauty for location shooting. The films included On Our Selection (1936), Squatter’s Daughter (1933), Grandad Rudd (1934), Thoroughbred (1935), Orphan of the Wilderness (1936), It Isn’t Done (1936), Broken Melody (1938), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Mr Chedworth Steps Out (1938), Gone to the Dogs (1939), Come Up Smiling (1939), Dad Rudd MP (1940), and Smith, The Story of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1946).

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

The Camden district was the location of two wartime action movies, The Power and The Glory (1941) and The Rats of Tobruk (1944). The Rats of Tobruk was directed by Charles Chauvel and starred actors Chips Rafferty, Peter Finch and Pauline Garrick. The story is about three men from a variety of backgrounds who become mates during the siege at Tobruk during the Second World War. The movie was run at Camden’s Paramount movie palace in February 1945. The location for parts of the movie were the bare paddocks of Narellan Vale and Currans Hill where they were turned into a battleground to recreated the setting at Tobruk in November 1943. There were concerns at the time that the exploding ammunitions used in the movie would disturb the cows. Soldiers were supplied from the Narellan Military Camp and tanks were modified to make them look like German panzers and RAAF Camden supplied six Vultee Vengeance aircraft from Camden Airfield which was painted up to look like German Stuka bombers. The film location was later used for the Gayline Drive-In. Charles Chauvel’s daughter Susanne Carlsson who was 13 years old at the time reported that it was a ‘dramatic and interesting time’.

The second wartime movie was director Noel Monkman’s The Power and The Glory starring Peter Finch and Katrin Rosselle. The movie was made at RAAF Camden with the co-operation of the RAAF. It is a spy drama about a Czech scientist who discovers a new poison-gas and escapes to Australia rather than divulges the secret to the Nazis. Part of the plot was enemy infiltration of the coast near Bulli where an enemy aircraft was sighted and 5 Avro-Anson aircraft were directed to seek and bombed the submarine. The Wirraway aircraft from the RAAF Central Flying School acted as fighters and it was reported that the pilots were ‘good looking’ airmen from the base mess. There was a private screening at Camden’s Paramount movie theatre for the RAAF Central Flying School personnel.

Camden Park was used as a set for the internationally series of Smiley films, Smiley made in 1956 and in 1958 Smiley Gets a Gun in cinemascope. The story is about a nine-year-old boy who is a bit of rascal who grows up in a country town. They were based on books by Australian author Moore Raymond and filmed by Twentieth Century Fox and London Films. Raymond set his stories in a Queensland country town in the early 20th century and there are horse and buggies and motor cars. The town settings were constructed from scratch and shot at Camden Park, under the management of Edward Macarthur Onslow. The movies stars included Australian Chips Rafferty and English actors John McCallum and Ralph Richardson.  Many old-time locals have fond memories of being extras in the movies. Smiley was released in the United Kingdom and the United States.

In 1999 Camden airfield was used as a set for the television documentary  The Last Plane Out of Berlin which was the story of Sidney Cotton. Actor Geoff Morrell played the role of Cotton, who went to England in 1916 and became a pilot and served with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. He is regarded as the ‘father of aerial photography’ and in 1939 was requested to make flights over Nazi Germany in 1939. Camden Airfield was ‘perfect location’ according to producer Jeff Watson because of its ‘historic’ 1930s atmosphere.

In 2009 scenes from X-Men Origins: Wolverine was filmed at Camden and near Brownlow Hill.

In 2010 filmmaker Sandra Pyres of Why Documentaries produced several short films in association for the With The Best of Intentions exhibition at The Oaks Historical Society. The films were a montage of contemporary photographs, archival footage and re-enactments by drama students of the stories of child migrants. The only voices were those of the child migrants and there were many tears spilt as the films were screened at the launch of the exhibition.

In 2011 scenes from director Wayne Blair’s Vietnam wartime true story of The Sapphires were filmed at Brownlow Hill starring Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O’Dowd. This is the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who are discovered by a talent scout who organises a tour of American bases in Vietnam. On Brownlow Hill, a large stage was placed in the middle of cow paddock and draped with a sign that read ‘USC Show Committee presents the Sapphires’ and filming began around midnight. The cows were herded out of sight and the crew had to be careful that they did not stand of any cowpats. Apparently, Sudanese refugees played the role of African American servicemen of the 19th Infantry Division.

Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images
Camelot House early 1900s Camden Images

The romantic house of Camelot with its turrets, chimney stacks and gables, was built by racing identity James White and designed by Horbury Hunt was the scene of activity in 2006 and 2007 for the filming of scenes of Baz Luhrman’s Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The location shots were interior and exterior scenes which involved horse riding by Kidman and Jackman. The film is about an aristocratic woman who leaves England and follows her husband to Australia during the 1930s, and live through the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in the Second World War.

Camelot was a hive activity for the filming of the 1950s romantic television drama A Place to Call Home produced by Channel 7 in 2012. Set in rural Australia it is the story of a woman’s journey ‘to heal her soul’ and of a wealthy family facing changes in the fictional country town of Inverness in the Bligh family estate of Ash Park. Starring Marta Dusseldorp as the mysterious Sarah and Noni Hazlehurst as the family matriarch Elizabeth, who has several powerful independently wealthy women who paralleled her role in Camden in time past on their gentry estates.  The sweeping melodrama about hope and loss is set against the social changes in the 1950s and has close parallels to 1950s Camden. The ‘sumptuous’ 13 part drama series screened on television in 2013 and according to its creator Bevin Lee had a ‘large-scale narrative’ that had a ‘feature-film feel’. He maintained that is was ‘rural gothic’, set in a big house that had comparisons with British television drama Downton Abbey.

The 55-room fairytale-like mansion and its formal gardens were a ‘captivating’ setting for A Place to Call Home, according to the Property Observer in 2013. Its initial screening was watched by 1.7 million viewers in April 2013. The show used a host of local spots for film sets and one of the favourite points of conversation ‘around the water-cooler’ for locals was the game ‘pick-the-place’. By mid-2014 Channel 7 had decided to axe the series at the end of the second series. There was a strong local reaction and a petition was circulating which attracted 6000 signatures to keep the show on the air. In the end, Foxtel television produced a third series with the original caste which screened in 2015.

Camden airfield was in action again and used as a set for the Australian version of the British motoring television show Top Gear Australian in 2010.  Part of the show is power laps in a ‘Bog Standard Car’ were recorded on parts of the runways and taxiways used as a test track.

Camden Showground became the set for Angelina Jolie’s Second World War drama Unbroken in 2013. The main character Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, and Onslow Park were used as part of the story of his early life as a member of Torrance High School track team. The movie is about Zamperini’s story of survival after his plane was shot down during the Pacific campaign. The filming caused much excitement in the area and the local press gave the story extensive coverage, with the showground was chosen for its historic atmosphere. Camden mayor Lara Symkowiak hoped that the movie would boost local tourism and the council was supportive of the area being used as a film set. The council had appointed a film contact officer to encourage greater use of the area for film locations.

Edwina Macarthur Stanham writes that Camden Park has been the filming location for several movies, advertisements and fashion shoots since the 1950s.   They have included Smiley (1956), Smiley Gets a Gun (1958), Shadow of the Boomerang (1960) starring Jimmy Little, My Brilliant Career (1978) was filmed in Camden Park and its garden and surrounds, and The Empty Beach (1985) starring Bryan Brown, House Taken Over (1997) a short film was written and directed by Liz Hughes which used lots of scenes in the house. In the 21st century, there has been Preservation (2003) described a gothic horror movie starring Jacqueline Mackenzie, Jack Finsterer and Simon Bourke which used a lot of the scenes filmed in the house.

In 2005 Danny De Vito visited Camden Park scouting for a location for a movie based on the book “The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle”.  In Sleeping Beauty (2010) an Australian funded film was shot at Camden Park and the short film La Finca (2012). In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

In September 2014 Camden Park was used as a location in the film called “The Daughter” starring Geoffrey Rush. Extensive filming took place over 3 weeks and members of the family and friends and Camden locals played the role of extras.

The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham
The Daughter Movie Set Camden Park 2014 E Stanham

In 2015 the Camden Historical Society and filmmaker Wen Denaro have combined forces to telling the story of the Chinese market gardeners who settled in Camden in the early twentieth century. The project will produce a short documentary about the Chinese market gardeners who established vegetable gardens along the river in Camden and who supplied fresh product to the Macarthur and Sydney markets.

In 2015 an episode of the Network Ten TV show of The Bachelor Australia was filmed at Camden Park in August 2015. They showed scenes of the Bachelor Sam Wood taking one of the bachelorette Sarah on a romantic date to the colonial mansion Camden Park. There were scenes of the pair in a two-in-hand horse-drawn white carriage going up and down the driveway to the Camden Park cemetery on the hill overlooking the town. There were scenes in the soft afternoon sunlight of the couple having a romantic high-tea on the verandah of Camden Park house with champagne and scones and cupcakes. In the evening there were floodlit images of the front of Camden Park house from the front lawn then scenes of the couple in the sitting room sitting of the leather sofa sharing wine, cheese and biscuits in front on an open fire and candles. Sarah is gobsmacked with the house, its setting and is ‘amazed’ by the house’s colonial interior.

 

In 2018 a children’s film Peter Rabbit was been filmed in the Camden district. The movie is based on Beatrix Potter’s famous book series and her iconic characters. The special effects company Animal Logic spent two days on the shoot in Camden in January 2017. The first scene features the kidnap of the rabbit hero in a sack, throwing them off a bridge and into the river. For this scene, the Macquarie Grove Bridge over the Nepean River was used for the bridge in the movie. According to a spokesman, the reason the Camden area was used was that it fitted the needed criteria. The movie producers were looking for a location that screamed of its Englishness. Camden does that and a lot more dating back to the 1820s. The movie is set in modern-day Windermere in the English Lakes District. The location did not have to have too many gum trees or other recognisable Australian plants. John and Elizabeth Macarthur would be proud of their legacy – African Olives and other goodies. Conveniently the airport also provided the location for a stunt scene which uses a bi-plane. The role of the animators is to make Australia look like England.

 

 

In August 2018 the colonial Cowpastures homestead of Denbigh at Cobbitty was the set for popular Australian drama series Doctor Doctor. The series is about the Knight family farm and the show star is Roger Corser who plays doctor Hugh Knight. He said, ‘

The homestead is a real star of the show. The front yard, the dam and barn brewery on the property are major sets – I don’t know what we would do without them.

The show follows the high-flying heart surgeon and is up to season three. Filming lasted three months and the cast checked out the possibilities of the Camden town centre. Actor Ryan Johnson said that Denbigh ‘made the show’.

Denbigh homestead was originally built by Charles Hook in 1818 and extended by Thomas and Samuel Hassell in the 1820s.

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 has been used as a film set in 2018 for the TV series Doctor Doctor (I Willis)

 

In late 2018 the TV series Home and Away has been using the haunted house at Narellan known as Studley Park as a set for the program. The storyline followed three young characters going into the haunted house and staying overnight. They go into a tunnel and a young female becomes trapped. Tension rises and the local knock-about character comes to their rescue and he is a hero.  The use of the set by the TV series producers was noted by Macarthur locals on Facebook.

Studley Park at Night spooky 2017 CNA
Spooky Studley Park House is claimed to be one of the most haunted locations in the Macarthur region. The TV series Home & Away on 3 & 4 October 2018 certainly added to those stories by using the house as a set location. (CN Advert)

Studley Park has recently been written up in the Camden-Narellan Advertiser (4 August 2017) as one of the eight most haunted places in the Macarthur region. Journalist Ashleigh Tullis writes;

Studley Park House, Camden 

This impressive house was originally built by grazier William Payne in 1889. The death of two children has earned the house its haunted reputation.

In 1909, 14-year-old Ray Blackstone drowned in a dam near the residence. His body is believed to have been kept at the house until it was buried.

The son of acclaimed business man Arthur Adolphus Gregory died at the house in 1939 from appendicitis. His body was kept in the theatrette.

 

denbigh-2015-iwillis
Denbigh Homestead Open Day 2015 IWillis

In 2019 movie-making in the area continues with the 4th series of Doctor Doctor. Wikipedia states of the plotline:

Doctor Doctor (also known outside of Australasia as The Heart Guy[1]) is an Australian television drama that premiered on the Nine Network on 14 September 2016.[2] It follows the story of Hugh Knight, a rising heart surgeon who is gifted, charming and infallible. He is a hedonist who, due to his sheer talent, believes he can live outside the rules.

Camden was used as one location along with the historic colonial property of Denbigh. Mediaweek stated in 2016 (Sept 9):

The regional setting for the series has proven to be a benefit for narrative and practical production reasons. While all of the hospital scenes were filmed in a hospital in the Sydney inner-city suburb of Rozelle, exterior shooting took place in Mudgee, with filming of Knight’s home was shot in Camden. In addition to $100,000 worth of support from the Regional Filming Fund, the regional setting delivers a unique authenticity to the series that it would otherwise lack.

 

Sometimes the local area is used a set for an advertising campaign by a fashion label or some other business. The owners of Camden Park House posted on Facebook in August 2019 that the house and garden were used as a set by the Country Road fashion brand.

Camden Park House Country Road Photoshoot 2019
Country Road fashion shoot at Camden Park House. Have a peek at Camden Park House at the Country Road page and visit us on 21/22 Sept on our annual Open Weekend. (Camden Park House)

 

In late 2019 the local press reported that streaming service Stan’s drama The Common was partially filmed in Camden. The spokesperson for Stan said

While no specific details about plotlines or particular actors were given away, the spokesman said the production was filming on August 7 at the Narellan Jets Football Club and Grounds, Narellan Sports Hub.

 

In 2020 the movie release of Peter Rabbit 2 highlights part of our local area. Press reports state that the production team were impressed with the local area for Peter Rabbit and they came back for the sequel. Visual effects supervisor Will Reichelt said that the Macarthur region resembled an ‘English country vista’.

Wollondilly Advertiser 2020Mar13 Movie Peter Rabbit 2
Onset: Domnhall Gleeson and Rose Byrne (picture here filming a different scene) were on set in Brownlow Hill for the production of Peter Rabbit 2. Picture: Sony Pictures Australia/Wollondilly Advertiser 2020Mar13

 

Updated 21 April 2020

 

Anzac · Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Airfield · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Macquarie Grove · Modernism · Place making · Second World War · sense of place · war

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
Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Economy · Education · Farming · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memory · Modernism · Narellan · Place making · Railway · Second World War · Storytelling · Tourism · Transport

The Camden-Campbelltown Branch Railway Line

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

The Camden-Campbelltown Branch Railway Line

One of the most frequent 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 stories, then retell them, 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. 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 several 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 was unmanned. Others like Camden had a longer platform and 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.

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

 

Wartime heroes in blue and khaki

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 left from Campbelltown 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 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. It was delivered a death blow by the Heffron ALP Government in 1963 as a cost-cutting exercise. There was a drive from the 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 railway 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).

Several streets in Curran’s Hill are connected to the history of Pansy. Tramway Drive is close to the route of the train, and some 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 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 this book

BackCoverBook[1]
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)  The rear cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History Camden & District
 

Cover  Pictorial History Camden District Ian Willis 2015
Front Cover of Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden and District (Kingsclear, 2015)
 

Updated 28 April 2020; Originally published 3 January 2020

Camden · Carrington Hospital · Cobbitty · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Farming · Floods · history · Local History · Place making · Railway

Camden: Sydney’s best preserved country town

Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)
Dunk House, Argyle Street, Camden c.1937 (I Willis 2013)

The township of Camden on the banks of the Nepean River south-west of Sydney provides a glimpse of life from times gone past. The town was established in 1840 on the Macarthur family estate of Camden Park. The charm and character of the town comes from the many 19th century colonial buildings and early 20th century cottages.

Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images
Carrington Convalescent Hospital c1890s Camden Images

The heritage of the local area makes Camden, according to some expert sources, the best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain.
The visitor can experience Camden’s historic charm by walking around the town’s heritage precinct by following the Camden Heritage Walk.

A free booklet can be obtained from Oxley Cottage (c1890), the Camden Visitor Information Centre, which is located on Camden Valley Way on the northern approaches to Camden. Oxley Cottage is a farmer’s cottage built on land that was granted to John Oxley in 1816.

Camden’s heritage precinct is dominated by the church on the hill, St John’s Church (1840) and the adjacent rectory (1859). Across the road is Macarthur Park (1905), arguably one of the best Victorian-style urban parks in the country. In the neighbouring streets there are a number of charming Federation and Californian bungalows.

Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)
Stuckey Bros Building Bakers Argyle Street Camden c1941 (I Willis 2012)

A walk along John Street will reveal the single storey police barracks (1878) and court house (1857), the Italianate style of Macaria (c1842) and the Commercial Bank (1878). Or the visitor can view Bransby’s Cottage (1842) in Mitchell Street, the oldest surviving Georgian cottage in Camden. A short stroll will take the visitor to the Camden Museum, which is managed by the Camden Historical Society. The museum is located in John Street in the recently redeveloped Camden Library and Museum Complex.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden 2016 (I Willis)

The visitor can take in Camden’s rural past when they enter the northern approaches of the town along Camden Valley Way. They will pass the old Dairy Farmer’s Milk Depot (1926) where the farmers delivered their milk cans by horse and cart and chatted about rural doings.

A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden
A 1915 view of Commercial Banking Co building at corner of Argyle and John Street Camden (Camden Images)

The saleyards (1867) are still next door and the rural supplies stores are indicative that Camden is still ‘a working country town’. As the visitor proceeds along Argyle Street, Camden’s main street, apart from the busy hum of traffic, people and outdoor cafes, the casual observer would see little difference from 70 years ago.

Local people still do their shopping as they have done for years and stop for a chat with friends and neighbours. At the end of Argyle Street the visitor can stroll around Camden Showground (1886). A country style show is held here every year in March and the visitor can take in local handicrafts in the show hall (1894) or watch the grand parade in the main arena.

The picturesque rural landscapes that surround Camden were once part of the large estates of the landed gentry and their grand houses. A number of these privately owned houses are still dotted throughout the local area. Some examples are Camden Park (1835), Brownlow Hill (1828), Denbigh (1822), Oran Park (c1850), Camelot (1888), Studley Park (c1870s), Wivenhoe (c1837) and Kirkham Stables (1816). The rural vistas are enhanced by the Nepean River floodplain that surrounds the town and provides the visitor with a sense of the town’s farming heritage.

Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images
Pansy Nepean River Bridge 1900 Postcard Camden Images

The floodplain also reveals to the railway enthusiast the remnants of railway embankments that once carried the little tank engine on the tramway (1882-1963) between Camden and Campbelltown. The locomotive, affectionately known as Pansy, carried a mixture of freight and passengers. It stopped at a number of stations, which included Camden, Elderslie, Kirkham, Graham’s Hill and Narellan. The stationmaster’s house can still be found in Elizabeth Street in Camden, and now operates as a restaurant.

For the aviation buffs a visit to the Camden Airfield (1924) is a must. It still retains its wartime character and layout. As you enter the airfield view the privately owned Hassall Cottage (1815) and Macquarie Grove House (1812) and think of the RAAF sentry on guard duty checking the passes of returning airmen on a cold July night.

Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images
Camden Airfield 1930s Camden Images

The visitor can then relive the days when RAAF airmen (32 Squadron, 1943) flew out of the base chasing Japanese submarines on the South Coast, or when the RAF (1944) occupied the still existing hangers and runways flying transport missions to the South Pacific.

There are also a number of historic villages in the Camden area. Amongst them is the quaint rural village of Cobbitty where the visitor can find Reverand Thomas Hassall’s Heber Chapel (1815), St Paul’s Church (1840) and rectory (1870). Narellan (1827), which is now a vibrant commercial and industrial centre, has the heritage precinct surrounding the St Thomas Church (1884) and school house (1839). The buildings are now used for weddings and receptions.

View along Cobbitty Road in 1928
View along Cobbitty Road in 1928 (Camden Images)

There is also the Burton’s Arms Hotel (c1840) now operating as a real estate agency and the Queen’s Arms Hotel (c1840), which is now the Narellan Hotel. A visit to Cawdor will reveal a real country church that has been functioning continuously for over for over 100 years, the Cawdor Uniting Church (c1880). Cawdor is the oldest village in the Camden area.

Written by Ian Willis member of Professional Historians Association NSW.

Previously published on Heritage Tourism at Camden: The best preserved country town on the Cumberland Plain NSW

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)
The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Rear Cover Ian Willis’s Pictorial History of Camden & District. The last day of the Camden Campbelltown train running in 1963. Keen fans watching the train climb Kenny Hill at Campbelltown. (ARHS)
Second World War · Uncategorized

The Yanks at Camden Airfield in 1942

What is little known in Camden is the interest the US Air Force took in Camden Airfield in November 1942 and again in February 1944. On both occasions the 5th US Air Force completed secret reports, now declassified and held by the National Archives of Australia, on the readiness of Camden Airfield to accommodate US aircraft and personnel.

The US 5th Air Force, part of the US Army Air Force, provided the aerial spearhead for General Douglas MacArthur’s island hopping campaign in 1942 and 1943. It provided an air umbrella for MacArthur and was an integral part of the successful campaign to retake New Guinea, the Philippines and eventually Okinawa. The US 5th Air Force, was originally part of the Far East Air Force which was largely destroyed in the December 1941 when Japanese forces attacked the Philippines, hours after attacking Pearl Harbour. The unit retreated to Australia’s Top End in December 1941 (Darwin), re-designated as the US 5th Air Force and headquarter in Brisbane for a time (September 1942).

The initial Camden Airfield report was conducted by the US Army Services of Supply and the 5th Air Force in 1942 when the unit was based in Brisbane. The reports summarised the readiness of the airfield to accommodate aircraft and personnel.

In 1942 the Camden airfield was only considered a minor installation, with a limited capacity and a number of aircraft hazards. The airfield’s main runway was 5,400 feet long and 150 wide while the remainder of the field was grass, had natural drainage and became boggy in the wet.

The airfield was located in a basin surrounded by hills up to one mile away, with the hills ranging in height from 100 feet to 200 feet in height. The field was equipped to only handle occasional night landings with ‘obstruction’ warning lighting on the hangars, camp buildings and the St John’s church spire, which was 450 feet high.

There was 7 Bellman hangars and one smaller hangar, and the only maintenance provisions were for Lockheed Hudson aircraft. There were two underground fuel tanks of 10,000 gallons, one of 18,000 gallons and one of 13,000 gallons.

Communications at the airfield were limited to one telephone line and a telegraph line linked to headquarters in Sydney. The airfield was manned from 0600 hours to 2000 hours with no prior notice needed to call up the airfield. The airfield contact was by telegraph with a call sign of VNCD. The field had no weather station and had to rely on information from Richmond. The climatic conditions noted that the field was subject to daily fogs in July, up to 10 days per year.

Airfield access by an all weather road to Camden and a bridge over the Nepean River, at Macquarie Grove, at the entrance to the airfield ‘capable of carrying heavy loads’.

The 1942 report concluded that there were provisions for eleven dispersal bays in the northern part of the field and five bays at southern end. The field was considered suitable for fighters, and with upgrade suitable for heavier aircraft. At the time of the 1942 assessment the field was occupied by one General Reconnaissance Flying Boat Squadron.

The 1942 report concluded that there was sufficient accommodation for 1000 service personnel in the Camden area with 800 men garrisoned at the airfield, with another 200 men to be accommodated in Camden’s ‘modern hotels’.

If the US Air Force had decided to occupy Camden airfield under National Security Regulations the Americans had the right to do anything they felt was ‘necessary in relation to the airfield for military purposes’.

Over the next two years wartime conditions prompted activity at Camden airfield. By 1944 the field had undergone major improvements and after a re-assessment by the American authorities it was classified as a major airfield.

Improvements included extensions to the E-W runway beyond the airfield boundary, although it was noted that were still deficient with no anti-aircraft defensive installations.

The airfield had an improved ability to service a variety of aircraft, while doing only minor repairs, and there has been flood lighting of the St John’s spire. The field have become equipped with a sick quarters with 15 beds, the runways had become all weather with gravel taxiways and the base had a 24 hour weather service. The improvements amounted to $184,000.

After having completed the two reports, the 5th US Air Force was never based at Camden Airfield. Given the impact of American forces elsewhere in Australia Camden probably had a lucky escape not hosting ‘the Yanks’.

The presence of over 1000 American servicemen at the airfield would have changed Camden from a sleepy little rural village into a garrison town. While many Camden locals would have welcomed the American presence, particularly local businesses, there would have been significant negative effects, given what happened in other localities such as Brisbane and Townsville.

As the war played out the Camden community had very cordial relations with RAAF and RAF personnel stationed at the airfield between 1940 and 1946, mainly because the town was not overwhelmed by large number of troops. There were dances, afternoon tea parties, invitations to local homes, dates with local girls and lots of other interactions with the defence personnel including a number of marriages to local girls.

If the Yanks had come to town it would have been an unforgettable experience.

Uncategorized

Camden War Cemetery

Camden War Cemetery
Camden War Cemetery

Camden War Cemetery

Camden war cemetery is located on the corner of Burragorang and Cawdor Roads, three kilometres south of Camden Post Office. The cemetery is on a slight rise above the Nepean River floodplain, with a northerly aspect at an elevation of 75 metres. The vista to the north provides a picturesque view across the floodplain and is dominated by the town with the spire of St John’s Church in the background. It is not hard to imagine the scene that met these servicemen when they arrived in Camden during wartime over 60 years ago.

There were thousands of servicemen who passed through the Camden area between 1939 and 1946 at the various defence facilities. The major major military establishments were the Narellan Military Camp on the Northern Road at Narellan, and the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park, Narellan. Many army units also undertook manoeuvres throughout the area and there were temporary encampments in several other locations including Camden Showground, Smeaton Grange and Menangle Paceway. The principal RAAF establishment was located at Camden aerodrome, with secondary airfields at The Oaks and Menangle Paceway. As well, there were a number of emergency runways constructed throughout the local area. The RAF also had several squadrons based at Camden airfield between 1944 and 1946.

When the visitor approaches the cemetery, they do so from the east. They advance along a paved walkway lined with low hedgerows. The walkway is dominated by a flag pole in the centre of the path. The visitor then walks through a gate into the cemetery proper, and they are immediately struck by the serenity of the site. The cemetery contains the bodies of twenty-three servicemen who were stationed in the Camden area during the Second World War. These men fit within the long military tradition of the Camden area when local men went off to the Boer War and later the First World War. The names of the latter group are listed on the memorial gates to Macarthur Park, Menangle Rd, Camden.

The cemetery contains the graves of seventeen RAAF servicemen, four army personnel and two RAF servicemen. The headstones are lined up in an N-S configuration, with the graves facing E-W. The graves are surrounded by a border of oleanders and a bottlebrush and dominated by a single majestic tea tree. The cemetery is well kept and has a pleasant outlook.

Royal Australian Air Force

Five airmen were killed in Hudson A16-152, which was part of 32 Squadron. The aircraft crashed south-west of Camden on 26 January 1943 while on a cross-country training flight. The aircraft was based at Camden airfield. The pilot and the four-man crew were killed.
Pilot:
F/Sgt SK Scott (402996), aged 25 years.
Crew:
Navigator F/Sgt HBL Johns (407122), aged 27 years.
W/T Operator Sgt BCJ Pearson (402978), aged 25 years.
Sgt GD Voyzey (402930), aged 24 years.
Sgt GT Lawson (412545), 30 years.

Sgt SW Smethurst (418014), aged 20 years, crashed his Kittyhawk A29-455 at The Oaks airfield on 30 September 1943 while on a training exercise strafing the airfield. This exercise was in conjunction with the 54th Australian Anti-Aircraft Regiment which erected gun positions adjacent to the airfield. The aircraft splurged at the bottom of a shallow dive and struck the ground.

Five airmen were killed on 18 November 1943 in Beaufort A9-350, which was part of 32 Squadron. The aircraft crashed on a night cross country exercise training exercise, while based at Camden airfield. The pilot and crew were killed.
Pilot:
F/Sgt RC Christie (410630), aged 23 years.
Crew:
Navigator Sgt DR James (418721), aged 20 years.
WOAG Sgt FN Fanning (419465), aged 20 years.
Sgt RA Sharples (419226), aged 23 years.
F/S HSJ Terrill (419426), a passenger from 73 Squadron, aged 20 years.

Corporal JP Kerrigan (62397) was an electrical mechanic and was killed in a car accident in Sydney on 11 December 1943, aged 29 years.

Five airmen were killed on 29 March 1944 in Beaufort A9-550, which was part of 15 Squadron. The aircraft was based at the Menangle Paceway airfield. The aircraft crashed after take-off when the port engine failed.
Pilot:
F/Sgt HB Johnston (420024), aged 26 years.
Crew:
2nd Pilot F/O RW Durrant (422555), aged 24 years.
Navigator F/O HD Wheller (426409), aged 21 years.
W/T Operator F/Sgt RAC Hoscher (412535), aged 23 years.
AC1 WH Bray (141632), aged 22 years.

Royal Air Force

LAC A Mullen (RAF) 1526778 was involved in a fatal accident on the Camden airfield tarmac on 12 October 1945, aged 23 years.

WOFF FS Biggs (RAF) 365157 from the Servicing Wing, RAF Station, Camden, was killed in a car accident in Sydney on 25 November 1945, aged 36 years.

Australian Army

Private Leonard Charles Walker (V235527) enlisted in the Australian Citizen’s Military Forces at Ballarat, Victorian on 8 October 1941. He was born in Ballarat on 28 June 1923. He served in the:
46th Australian Infantry Battalion,
29/46th Australian Infantry Battalion.
He died at Menangle on 18 July 1945 aged 22 years.

Warrant Officer Class Two John Gow Alcorn (NX148530) enlisted in the Australian Citizen’s Military Forces at Sydney on 28 May 1934. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 19 January 1900. He transferred to the 2/AIF on 26 February 1943. He served in the:
Sydney University Regiment,
110th Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment,
41st Australian Infantry Battalion,
41/2nd Australian Infantry Battalion.
He died of illness on 31 March 1944, aged 44 years.

Warrant Officer Class Two Harry George Grinstead (NX126686) enlisted in the Australian Militia Forces at Sydney on 17 February 1930. He was born in London on14 August 1910. He initially transferred to the Australian Citizen Military Forces on 17 February 1940, and then to the 2/AIF on 15 August 1942. He served in the:
9th Australian Field Regiment.
He died on 15 August 1944 as the result of injuries sustained in a railway accident, aged 34 years.

Craftsmen Elwyn Sidney Hoole (NX97717) enlisted in the 2/AIF on Paddington on 11 August 1942. He was born at Walcha, New South Wales, on 12 October 1908. He served in the:
1st Australian Ordinance Workshops Company,
308th Australian Light Aide Detachment.
He died on 6 June 1944, aged 35 years.

Sources

RAAF Historical Section, Department of Defence, Air Force Office, Canberra.
Correspondence,
Accident Reports.

Central Army Records, Melbourne.
Correspondence.

For more information on the service of Camden servicemen and women see Camden Remembers  click here

Uncategorized

Camden Airfield and Hut No 72

Camden Airfield Hut No 72 (I Willis)
Camden Airfield Hut No 72 (I Willis)

The last remaining hut at Camden Airfield from the Second World War is still standing. It is Hut No 72. It is located adjacent to the current carpark.

Huts were built at the airfield for the arrival of the RAAF Central Flying School in 1940. Other flying schools were built at Bradfield Park in Sydney and Narromine around the same time. In December 1941 the personnel at the school included 45 officers, 422 airmen, with 48 officers and 81 airmen in various training courses. There were around 35 huts on the airfield that were used to accommodate the personnel and a variety of other uses.

The huts were quite rudimentary with a timber frame, built on wooden stumps. They were unlined and reportedly quite cold on a frosty Camden winter’s morning. They were only ever meant to be temporary accommodation and were erected quite quickly to cope with the large number of personnel that were moved onto the airfield in 1940. Generally each hut was 80 feet long.
In 1942 there were 24 accommodation huts with 3 for officers, 6 for sergeants and remainder for airmen. Officers and sergeants had their own cubicles within the huts and each hut accommodated 16 men. Other ranks had huts that were dormitory style and accommodated 26 men. Other huts were used as latrines, kitchen, messes, canteen, lecture rooms, base headquarters, stores, guard house, laundry, boiler room, recreation rooms, post office, medical hut, dental clinic, chaplain hut, amongst other uses. Hut No 72 was used as a clothing store.

There were 5 rows of huts with two rows of 14 on either side of the parade ground running NE-SE in direction. The huts were built in a U-shape around the parade ground going up the hill towards the entrance of the airfield.

A careful examination of the open ground around the present buildings will reveal the site of the huts to the keen observer. As the ground rises up the hill from the present carpark it is possible to just make out the flat area that each hut occupied in 1942. It is possible to imagine how the airmen moved in and around the site, and how personnel would line up for the daily parade. The noise and hub-bub of the site will talk to the observer as the breeze blows gently through the trees. The ghosts of times past are easy to imagine as the base was part of the defence of Australia.

John Postlethwaite in his The Early History of Southern Cross Gliding Club(2005) has described that even as late as 1953 much of the wartime atmosphere of the airfield was still intact and very much alive. He has described the airfield in the following terms.

The gliding people saw in 1953 was an almost intact example of a WW2 Air Force training base. Near the top of the hill at the bend in the road was a sentry box with boom gate and khaki painted wooden huts stretched in rows right down the hill to the hangers which were full of unwanted aircraft, mainly Avro Ansons. There was a khaki wooden control tower built on tall crossed-braced poles on the high side of the intersection of the main strip and the taxiway (which was the original cross-strip). Hardy souls who climbed this rickety structure all said “Never again!” The sand hills to the south of the field were full of cannon and machine gun rounds where the aircraft guns had been tested. That so much should have remained in 1953 was remarkable. But no one else visited the place and it was like an old movie set of WW2. The gliding people were even given the use of a few wooden huts.

Dick Hutchinson recalls that from the 1950s Hut No 72 was used by the air cadets.

It was one of a number that were made available to them. They were used as barracks, mess and orderly rooms. From the late 1960s Hut No 72 was used as orderly rooms and a classroom. The air cadets moved out in late 1990s when a new building was erected at the airfield.

In 2007 a group of aviation enthusiasts formed the Camden Aerodrome History Hut Association. They aimed to preserve the last original hut on the site of the airfield.

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Camden Airfield and the RAAF Central Flying School

RAAF CFS Camden 1941

Camden Airfield RAAF Central Flying School 1940-1942

Australia’s entry into the Second World War created a demand for trained pilots. In July 1940 the Commonwealth Government acquired 468 acres of land on the Nepean River floodplain at Macquarie Grove `for defence purposes’ for an airfield.1 The site had been inspected in January 1940 for the RAAF by Wing-commander EC Bates (RAF).2 He had found it eminently suitable for the establishment of a flying training school. The Air Board had taken control of the airfield in April with the initial expectation for the airfield to house 150 men and 50 aircraft.3 According to reports the airfield had an ideal location with a long runway (1100 feet), clear approaches, room for expansion and existing hangars.4 The site had the advantage of a good surface, reasonable weather throughout the year, and quiet rural surroundings.

Purpose of School

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Minister for Air, Mr JV Fairbairn had appointed Squadron-leader EC Bates as the commanding officer of the new Central Flying School and Flight-lieutenant GS Coleman as the Chief Flying Instructor. The purpose of the school was to train RAAF instructors.5 The Commonwealth Government also set up training schools at Bradfield Park in Sydney and at Narromine around the same time.6

Establishment

According to the Sydney Morning Herald the full establishment of the school consisted of headquarters, a flying squadron of four flights and equipment, accounting and workshop sections, that would ultimately consist of 385 men. There was to be a permanent staff of 28 flying instructors. The regular intake of potential instructors when the school is in full swing would be 55, compromising 25 civil pilots and 30 service pilots. There would also be link trainer’s instructors course.7 One of the first training courses at the flying school involved 13 British Royal Air Force officers who arrived for training for an instructors conversion course in June 1940.

The purpose of the school was flying training and administrative duties for selected officers and airmen of the RAAF so that could be flying instructors at RAAF Service Flying Training Schools throughout the country. The programmes conducted included training pilots in courses that lasted 16 weeks, air observers courses of 12 weeks, wireless operator’s courses of 16 weeks, and air gunners courses of four weeks.8 There were four Flights – A,B,C,D. The commanding officer of C Flight was Flight-lieutenant LN Ford. He commanded 35 officers, NCO’s and other airmen. Flights A,B and D had similar numbers. The aircraft used for training included Avro-Ansons, Airspeed Oxford, Tiger Moths and Wirraways while the Avro-Cadets were seen as `ideal’ for flying.

Movement from Point Cook Victoria

The flying school shifted from Point Cook to Camden in March, 1940 using aircraft, motor transport section vehicles and private cars. `C’ Flight was the first to move and due to temporary lack of accommodation a number of airmen were put up for a two weeks at Podesta’s Hotel in Camden. The move from Point Cook to Camden involved 48 Avro-Ansons and 2 Wirraways. The personnel included Wing Commander EC Bates (RAF), Squadron-leader GS Coleman, seven Flight-lieutenants, 23 flying-officers, ten pilot-officers, 132 airmen.9 By December 1941 the personnel at the school included staff 45 officers, 422 airmen, with 48 officers and 81 airmen in various training courses. Bates was commanding officer from 18 May 1940 to 11 May 1941 and was replaced by Wing-commander DJ Eayrs (RAF).

The staff of the flying school consisted of RAAF instructors, as well as former commercial airline pilots and private instructors. For example, GS Coleman, was the chief flying instructor at the Royal Aero Club and the Kingsford Smith Air Service Co at Mascot before the war.

Macquarie Grove

While the Department for Air had control of the airfield they lengthened the runway to 1000 feet, built huts for officers and the airmen, completed new hangers to house training aircraft, erected a control tower, Macquarie Grove house had been converted into the officers’ mess, a hospital was added and there had been the completion of a parade ground, roads and lawns. The Central Flying School was described by on aviation correspondent as ‘the nerve centre’ of the Empire Training Scheme in Australia.

Movie Shoot The Power and the Glory

In 1940 Camden airfield was the location for the film The Power and the Glory and some CFS personnel played at important part. The black and white film was directed and produced by Noel Monkman was made by Argosy Films. The cast included heart-throb Peter Finch, with Lou Vernon, Eric Bush and Katrin Rosselle. The plot was one where a Czech scientist accidentally discovers a new poison gas and he escapes to Australia rather than give the secret to the Nazis. In Australia he goes to work for the government, but is plagued by spies desperate to obtain the formula. Camden airmen were involved in a scene where there was enemy infiltration on the coast near Bulli, with the sighting of an enemy submarine. Five Avro-Anson aircraft from Camden airfield were directed to seek-and-bomb the submarine. Wirraway aircraft acted as fighters and the `pilots’ were the `good looking’ airmen who worked in the mess. During the filming a grassfire was accidentally started on the western side of the airfield along the Nepean River and was the cause of much confusion among the film crew. The base fire unit contained the fire and it eventually burnt itself out. The `bombing’ effect was achieved by digging a deep hole in the ground between the landing wheels of the Avro-Anson and a few bales of straw were placed at the bottom of the hole. The bombs were released and fell into the hole with the camera down at ground level to give the proper effect. All the personnel from the flying school were shown a special screening of the film at the Paramount Theatre so they could see themselves. There was much amusement from the crowd to see how effective faking can be in the movie business.10

In August 1940 the airfield and flying school was inspected by the Governor of New South Wales, Lord Wakehurst.11

Visit for Americans

In the last few weeks that the flying school operated at the airfield they were privileged by a short visit from a squadron of American Bell P-40 Aircobras. The first aircraft arrived at the end of March 1942 and by the 2nd April there 11 aircraft and 117 personnel. The number of American airmen peaked the following week when there was a total of 25 aircraft. Their stay was short lived and they soon departed, with all personnel leaving by the 15 April 1942.12

In 1942 the flying school the hospital had a dentist, RM Kavanaugh,13 as well the welfare of the base was looked after by the Rev. AA Adams, a Presbyterian minister.14

Base Security

Security was always an issue. There was a guard post on the entry road to the airfield, although airmen who had been in Sydney had no trouble getting onto the base late on a Sunday night. There was a ban on the taking of photos in the vicinity of the airfield and in March 1941 someone was reportedly taking pictures around Macquarie Grove. The police investigated the matter and found that it was the `well known’ press photographer Mr SHE Young of Fairfield.15

Access to the town for most airmen was restricted in March 1942 when there was heavy rain and the Macquarie Grove bridge covered by 2½ feet of water.16

The Town of Camden

The town welcomed the airmen from the beginning and Camden was always seen as RAAF leave town. Soldiers from the Narellan Army Camp were always discouraged from coming into the town. In 1941 a contingent airmen from the flying school was present at the Anzac Day ceremony.17 Some officers lived in Camden, for example, Squadron Leader Ford lived in Elizabeth Street in the house next door to the station master.18

Time Off and Leave

Relaxation was always considered important by military authorities and the servicemen at the airfield were no exception. In 1940 the RAAF personnel at the school were made honorary members of the Kirkham Country Golf Club.19 On 9 January 1941 the RAAF A cricket team gained outright win over Campbelltown and was in second place behind Narellan in the Camden District Association first-grade competition. By 16 January 1940 the RAAF team were on top of district cricket.20 According to Claude Whitfield (1941-42) airmen who were wearing `cricket creams’ could leave the airfield without a leave pass, while other without passes could not leave.21

In January 1941 the Central Flying School Swimming Club used the swimming pool at the Nepean Picnic Reserve for training for the inter-station carnival at North Sydney Olympic Pool. In October 1941 the swimming club asked the council to clean out the swimming pool at River Reserve in Chellaston Street.22 An athletics sports meeting was held on Onslow Park on 16 April 194123 and the CFS Rugby Football and Recreation Club were using Onslow Park.24 The rugby union joined the local competition later that year, but despite local goodwill the Council objected to the RAAF playing football on Sundays at Onslow Park. After protests from the airmen the Council amended its regulations so that games could proceed.25 This was not the only time this occurred in Camden during the war.

Tea and Scones

In 1940 and 1941 correspondents recall with fondness Mrs FA (Sylvia) Macarthur-Onslow who lived in the old house next to Hassall Cottage. She gave tea and scones to airmen on a Friday, nights as well they would play cards, read a book, play bingo and singing around the piano. She was a `lovely old lady’ who provided some family touches to home sick young airmen. Only about ten to fifteen officers and airmen were selected at a time to visit the house. Local women from the district churches and CWA auxiliary also attended these functions. These evenings were organised by Squadron-leader Fred Huxley and were eagerly awaited by the airmen. CR Portch remembers that Mrs Macarthur-Onslow had a particularly large great dane that moved among the airmen as they had their sing-a-long.26

Soldiers’ Recreation Room in Camden

The Camden AH&I Society opened a ‘Soldier’s Recreation Room’ in the supper room in the hall at the showground in June 1940 for the airmen and soldiers based in the area. It was strongly supported by Dr Robert Crookston and George Sidman, a Methodist and owner of the Camden News. It was staffed by women from the Camden Women’s Voluntary Services, under the presidency of Crookston’s wife, Zoe. It had mixed patronage and could not compete with the local hotels. It was out of the way and was largely set up as an alcohol free venue for local airmen and soldiers. This might have suited the morality of some local townsfolk but not the more pragmatic men on active service at the military bases in the area. These military establishments included the airfield, the Eastern Command Training School at Studley Park and Narellan Military Camp. The Room was closed in March 1942 when the 11th Casualty Clearing Station, a mobile hospital unit, requisitioned the hall.

Move  in 1942

The whole flying school was transferred  in mid April 1942. One corporal, four cooks and six officers departed on 17 April 1942, while 13 officers and 216 airmen left by rail and 11 officers and 19 airmen departed by road. The aircraft moved consisted of 14 CAC trainers, nine Wirraways, 18 Avro Trainers, and eight Oxfords.27

References
1 Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No.134; National Trust of Australia (NSW), Listing Card, 19 January 1987
2 CR Portch, Letters to ICW, 17 November 1986, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987
3 Camden News, 11 November 1940.
4 Camden News, 4 April 1940
5 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11.
6 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11.
7 Sydney Morning Herald 23 May 1940 p.11
8 Camden News, 4 April, 1940
9 Movement Order No 2, Movement Order No 1, Central Flying School, Point Cook, 14 May 1940; Nominal Roll of Staff, CFS,Camden, 1 June 1940;
10 CR Portch, Letter to ICW, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987
11 Wakehurst visited the airfield on 13 August 1940.
12 Operations Record Book, CFS, Camden.
13 Register of Dentists, NSW Government Gazette 1942, p.619
14 Register of Ministers of Religion, NSW Government Gazette 1942, p200
15 Camden Advertiser, 6 March 1941
16 Operations Record Book, CFS, Camden, May, 1940 to April, 1942
17 Camden News, 3 April 1941
18 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988
19 Camden News, 6 June, 1940
20 Camden Advertiser, 9 January, 1941; 16 January, 1941
21 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988
22 Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 13 January 1941, Camden Advertiser, 23 January 1941; Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 13 October 1941, 24 November 1941;
23 Camden News, 3 April 1941
24 Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 28 April 1941
25 Camden Advertiser, 5 June 1941; Camden Municipal Council Minutes, 23 June 1941, 14June 1941;
26 Claude Whitfield, Interview, 3 January 1988; CR Portch, Letters to ICW, 17 November 1986, 10 January 1987, 4 May 1987;
27 Movement Orders

Image RAAF Central Flying School Camden 1941 (RAAF CFS)

Uncategorized

Camden Airfield and the Bellman Hangars

Bellman Hangar Camden Airfield (I Willis)
Bellman Hangar Camden Airfield (I Willis)

Camden Airfield has a number of historic hangars from the Second World War. They are called Bellman hangars.

They are a British designed transportable hangar that were erected at the airfield. Camden had six Bellman hangars by mid-1942.

According to John Dunn’s Comeng (2006), they were originally designed in 1936 by NS Bellman, a structural engineer with the British Directorate of Works (UK). The hangars were meant to meet the needs of the Royal Air Force (UK) and the Empire Air Training Scheme (UK).

Australia had very close links with United Kingdom at the time as part of the British Empire. The country relied heavily on the UK for its defence needs and Camden airfield played a small part in that story.

The RAAF Central Flying School that was set up at Camden Airfield in 1940 was part of the Empire Air Training Scheme and Bellman hangars were supplied by Waddington’s Pty Ltd.

The tenders for the of the supply of the hangars, according to Dunn, were called in mid-1940 by the Australian Government’s Department of Supply and Development. Overall 283 Bellman hangars were supplied to a variety of sites across Australia and New Guinea. The final cost to the Commonwealth Government for the supply of the hangars was around £1,500 each.

Over 85 per cent of the Bellman hangars in Australia were supplied by Waddingtons (Clyde). Waddingtons got into financial trouble with the Bellman supply contract and under the wartime regulations the Commonwealth Government took a controlling interest in the firm. According to Dunn, the government discovered that there were all sorts problems with supplying the hangars, although they were a ‘simple product’. The problems were eventually sorted out and the hangars were all supplied.

Under wartime regulations Waddington’s was a protected industry and supplied a variety of wartime contracts in the engineering field. They included railway wagons, ocean-going lighters, ‘Igloo‘ hangars, pontoons, landing barges, and buses. Waddingtons was completely taken over by the Commonwealth Government in 1946 and renamed Commonwealth Engineering Co Ltd. Interestingly, in the 1920s the principals of Waddingtons ran a business called Smith and Waddington which made ‘custom’ car bodies for imported chassis of Rolls Royce, Hudson, Wolseley and Fiat in a factory on Parramatta Road, Camperdown.

The Bellman hangars were only ever meant to be temporary, and they were supposed to be capable of being erected and dismantled by unskilled labour with simple equipment. Dunn maintains that the Bellman hangars were 95 feet wide (1 feet = 0.304 metres), 122 feet long, 17 feet high, covered an area of 10,000 square feet (1 square foot = 0.092 square metres), consisted of 60 tons of steel, at an average cost of £3,365 (erected), had 80 major components and could accommodate 5 Barracuda aircraft.

Waddingtons, according to Dunn, supplied Bellman hangars to around 25 airfields and other locations in New South Wales (from Camden to Temora), 15 in Queensland (from Cairns to Kingaroy), 17 in Victoria (including Ascot Vale and Port Melbourne), 4 in South Australia (including Mallala and Mt Gambier), 8 in WA (from Canarvon to Kalgoorlie), 3 in Tasmania (including Western Junction), 1 in the ACT (Kingston), 3 in the Northern Territory (including Gorrie and Wynellie) and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

Initially Bellman hangars were designed in the United Kingdom with canvas panelled doors and canvas under the eaves, although steel-framed and clad doors were introduced after heavy snowfalls at Thornaby Airfield in the winter of 1937. The time taken to erect this UK hangar including leveling the ground, laying door tracks, erecting the steelwork and fitting the original oiled canvas Callender doors, was 500 man hours.

According to the British Ministry of Defence, there are over 100 Bellman hangars still in existence in throughout the UK that were built around the Second World War. They were originally constructed by provide a fast, economical solution to a need for hangars. It is described as being a lightweight structure made from steel lattice frames, to form 14 bays giving an overall length of 53 metres and width of 29 metres. For the enthusiast there is an interesting article on Bellman hangars on Wikepedia.

According to some reports there are 14 surviving Bellman hangars at RAAF Base Wagga, at least three at Point Cook (RAAF Williams), one at RAAF Base Fairbairn, Canberra Airport, four at HMAS Albatross, Nowra, a number at Auburn, Bankstown and Camden.