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The patriotism of the wartime sock knitter

Fussing over socks

During the First World War, there was a considerable fuss over socks. Not just any ordinary socks but hand-knitted socks. Camden women hand-knitted hundreds of pairs of socks. So what was going on?

As it turns out there was a good reason for all the fuss.

Soldiers on the Western Front suffered in terrible conditions in the trenches. They were constantly wet and cold. In winter there were freezing temperatures.

First World War Freezing conditions soldier 1914-1918 NLS

Fungal feet

Under these conditions, there was a constant danger of the soldiers getting trench foot. Jenny Raynor at Sydney Living Museum writes that this was

a potentially debilitating fungal infection that thrived in the wet, cold and squalid conditions, and could lead to gangrene and amputation if left untreated.

Soldiers wore stiff leather boots that were poorly insulated with two pairs of socks in freezing winter conditions to keep out the cold and wet.

Authorities recommended that troops change their socks twice a day to avoid trench feet. Reports from New Zealand maintained in 1915 that

a pair of socks lasted no more than two weeks when on active service.

So it was unsurprising that there was a constant shortage of socks.

Shortages from the start

Sock shortages commenced from the outbreak of war and illustrated how the progress of the war completely overwhelmed military authorities with their unrealistic expectations.

At the Liverpool Infantry Camp in November 1914 military authorities were advising that three pairs of woollen socks would be adequate for the duration of the campaign, while new recruits were advised by bring ‘strong boots’ and ‘knitted socks’ because the army could not supply them.

Military supply authorities never really got to grips with the problem of shortages throughout the war. Even the vast US military machine could not supply sufficient numbers of socks to their troops when the US government entered the war in 1917. The U.S. government Committee on Public Information sponsored the  ‘‘Knit Your Bit’’ campaign conducted by the American Red Cross.

Keep knitting

Knitting for the troops was not restricted to the American Red Cross.

Knitting was part of the homefront response to the outbreak of war across all British Empire countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

First World War Sock knitting Cudgewa 1916 SLNSW

Across the globe, millions of knitted items found their way to the trenches on the Western Front.

Socks were only one of a large list of items that women made for the war effort. Other knitted items included cholera belts, scarves, gloves and balaclavas, and this was supplemented by a considerable effort sewing hospital supplies.

Women volunteer to supply socks

Australian women volunteered to supply knitted from the start of the war. Unlike women in the United Kingdom, Australian women did not replace men in their civilian roles during the war.

In Australia, the push for knitted-socks, and other items, was co-ordinated by the Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund and other groups including the Soldiers’ Sock Fund.

First World War Sock knitting War Chest 1917 SLNSW

In Queensland, the Governor’s wife, Lady Goold-Adams, established the Queensland Soldiers’ Sock Fund.

Knitted socks were part of the soldier’s bag that Red Cross volunteers signed up to supply on the foundation of branches throughout New South Wales in August 1914. Red Cross knitters in Camden and across Australia supplied thousands of pairs of knitted socks to soldiers.

In Camden, the new Red Cross branch supplied ‘a large number of socks’ in the first weeks of the war’ including supplies to the Australian Light Horse regiment and the 4th Battalion of Infantry. By September 1915 Camden Red Cross workers had supplied 456 pairs of knitted socks to Red Cross headquarters in Sydney amongst a host of other hand-made items.

Annette, Lady Liverpool, the wife of New Zealand Governor Lord Liverpool,

Lady Liverpool instigated ‘Sock Day’, when the women of New Zealand were encouraged to knit enough socks to provide every soldier with two new pairs (around 30,000 pairs in total).

The First World War was not the first time that women volunteers had supplied knitted socks to Australian troops in wartime. In 1900 Camden women supplied 120 pairs of knitted socks to Camden troops in South Africa in the New South Wales Mounted Rifles. These were similar to the activities of British women.

Millions of socks

It has been estimated that Australian women knitted over 1.3 million pairs of socks for the Red Cross and Australian Comforts Fund for the war effort.

Often with a small personal note inside the sock informing the digger who had knitted the garment along with a brief message. (The Conversation 11 August 2014)

Knitting patterns were distributed and cheap wool was made available to knitters.

First World War Cover Knitting Book Aust Comforts Fund Vic 1918 ARC
The cover of the sock knitting pattern book ‘Directions for Standard Socks for Our Men on Active Service’. It was issued by the Australian Comforts Fund in 1918 (ARC)

 

In 2012 volunteer knitter Janet Burningham from Wrap with Love found that it took about a day to knit each sock. She used a rare grey sock pattern and Paton’s 8-ply grey wool and needles. Socks were knitted in the round on double-pointed needles leaving no seams.

First World War Knitted Socks reproduction 2012 Fairfax

The iconic sock knitter

The solo woman sock knitter was one of the everlasting iconic images of the war at home in Australia.

The iconic image of The Sock Knitter is a 1915 painting by Grace Cossington Smith found at the  Art Gallery of NSW. The gallery states

The subject of the painting is Madge, the artist’s sister, knitting socks for soldiers serving on the frontline in World War I. Distinctly modern in its outlook, ‘The sock knitter’ counterpoints the usual narratives of masculine heroism in wartime by focusing instead on the quiet steady efforts of the woman at home.

 

Art AGNSW The Sock Knitter Grace Cossington Smith 1915
‘The Sock Knitter’ painted by Grace Cossington Smith in 1915 (AGNSW)

 

Knitting mediating grief

The action of Camden women and others who became wartime sock knitters was an act of patriotism. They were supporting their boys using one of their traditional domestic arts.

Knitting, sewing, and other domestic arts were unpaid war work and a form of patriotism when women in Australia did not replace men at home in the First World War, unlike the United Kingdom. Historian Bruce Scates has written that women invested a large amount of ‘emotional energy’ in their knitting and sewing.

Women were the mediators of wartime grief and bereavement and knitting and sewing groups were women-only spaces where they could comfort each other and ease the loneliness.

Sock solution

Suzanne Fischer writes that the sock problem and trench foot still existed in the Second World War for American troops stationed in Alaska. She states:

Characteristically, Americans finally reduced their trench foot casualties by throwing more technology at the problem. Thee Shoepac system, introduced in 1944, combined a rubber foot and an impermeable outer leather layer with a felt liner to keep feet dry. These boots were also stylish, which increased their use.

 

Updated 17 April 2020; original posted 10 March 2020.

 

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Eastern Command Training School, 1939-1945, Studley Park, Narellan, NSW

astern Command Training School, 1939-1945

Studley Park, Narellan, NSW

 

Studley Park was located on the Hume Highway at Narellan. During the war period, its role as a  as defence facility for the Australian Army Service Corps (AASC) School was to conduct infantry training courses.[1] The property was leased in October 1939 by the Department of Defence at £12/12/- per week although it had been first occupied in September.

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)

 

A report[2] for the defence authorities in 1940 gave a detailed description of the property including a valuation. According to the report the site fronted the Hume Highway, with the rear of the property on Lodges Road. The property consisted of an undulating country that was mostly cleared and grassed and was 193 acres. The soil was clay and land was suitable for grazing, fruit growing, and viticulture. It was felt to be an appropriate site for a country club and golf course or an agricultural school.

The site had been purchased by Archibald Gregory, a company director, in 1933, who had established a golf course. Gregory had converted the house into a high-class residence and the author of the report considered that it was unlikely that the property could be maintained in that state during its occupation by the Army. The report author considered it probable that the entire golf course would have to be reconstructed after occupation.

Narellan Studley Park House 2015 IW
Studley Park House sits on the top of a prominent knoll above the Narellan Creek floodplain with a view of Camden township (I Willis, 2015)

 

Property Improvements[3]

Asset – Valuation

Land- 198 acres – £4,958; House – £6,592; Theatre – £465;  Club House – £1,057; Barn – £370; Swimming Pool – £188; Golf Course – £4,625; Motion Picture Plant, Screen – £750; Rental Value – £25 per week; Improved Value – £20,000.

 

Complaints

During the early occupation of the site by the army, Gregory continued to occupy the house, but by May 1940 his patience had worn thin. He complained to the authorities that the army had occupied the site from September 1939 without payment and had caused considerable disorganisation to his business and considerable damage to his property.

Gregory’s solicitors made representations that the government had published a report in the press in April that the army had decided to purchase the property. Since the publication of the report Gregory’s business had virtually stopped and had resulted in considerable losses.

In April 1940 approval was given for the purchase of the entire property at a cash price of £16,000, including all buildings, property, floor coverings and some furniture. [4]

 

List of property[5]

Golf House – 8 tables, chairs, mirrors, golf lockers, stove, counters, showcase, boiler;

Studley Park house – carpet, lino, wardrobes, tables, stove, bookcases, lounge suite, bedroom suite, tables, toilet stand, dresser, refrigerator, boiler;

Theatre – Theatre talking equipment with amplifiers and sound equipment

After the acquisition of the property by the Department of Defence additional buildings were moved to the site or constructed to house 280 staff and students.[6]

Narellan Studley Park Derelict Army buildings[4] 2015 IW
Derelict army buildings from the Second World War period adjacent to the Studley Park house. (I Willis, 2015)

Officers and Other Ranks

18 July 1940 – Captain Costello[7];

August 1941 – Major Ironmonger, CO, Captain Peach, Adjutant[8];

29 November 1943 – 26 February 1944 – Major John Whitmore, Chief Instructor. Lt Max Cadogan, 17th Battalion, Instructor[9]

Narellan Studley Park Derelict Army buildings[2] 2015 IW
Derelict army buildings from the Second World War period adjacent to Studley Park house (I Willis, 2015)

 School Operations

The Eastern Command Training School conducted courses in tactical instruction on the Vickers machine gun and driving Matilda tanks.[10]

Narellan ECTS Studley Park 1939 Hall& Co AWM
Narellan ECTS Studley Park 1939 Hall& Co AWM

 

Most of the instruction at the school, including artillery, was conducted by the Australian Instructional Corps. The instructors were warrant officers and the chief instuctor was Captain Peters, a Duntroon graduate. Other instructors included W/O Jim Turpie, W/O Johnston, W/O Chad (WW1 veteran).[11]

 

Alan Bailey reports that he would occasionally take mail and quartermasters stores from Narellan Military Camp to Studley Park, usually by horse transport.[12]

Narellan Studley Park House Aerial 2020 LJackson
This aerial view of Studley Park House Narellan in 2020 shows the context of its site location on the knoll of a hill. The WW2 army buildings are behind the main house and just in view. (L Jackson)

 

Pansy Locomotive

In their time off some of the troops would `flag down’  Pansy, and it was reported the driver would pick them up anywhere along the line on the way into Camden. The guard and the driver would wait a reasonable time for the return journey in Camden and they would be rewarded with a bottle of wine, `…the only drink available in take-away form at the time…’.[13]

Exercises

Exercises were carried out on the Nepean River with river crossings, there were day and night exercises around Menangle and Camden Park, bayonet training, anti-gas warfare, range practice with a rifle, Bren Gun, mortars, pistols, sub-machine, carbines, and hand grenades. There were infantry tactics, leadership, supporting arms applicable to the infantry. In 1941 there was also instruction Vickers Machine Gun, Aircraft Identification and protection from air attacks.

All soldiers who attended the courses spoke well of them and Bede Tongs reports that they helped in action as a member of the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion against the Japanese in 1942 New Guinea in the Wewak campaign. The accommodation was two to a tent.[14]

During the war, the School provided married officers and well as single officer’s quarters.[15]

Narellan Studley Park Derelict Army buildings[3] 2015 IW
Derelict army buildings from the Second World War period adjacent to Studley Park house (I Willis, 2015)

Units Attending School

September 1939 – October 1939 – Sydney University Regiment[16]

Early part of the war – 1 Field Brigade, RAA, and various other units: Artillery, Light Horse, Infantry, Signallers;  130 personnel[17];

August 1941 –  3rd Infantry Battalion, AMF, Course Series No 1, Infantry Training; 30 participants in each of 3 platoons – total 90 personnel[18];

1941 – 100-150 personnel[19];

Little contact with townies

The troops at the school had little if any contact with the local community. If they had any time off, such as an hour in the evening, then they tended to walk across the paddock to the Narellan Hotel. It is reported by Sir Roden Cutler, that at such time the Camden Police were understanding enough not to monitor the hotels opening hours too closely.

Cutler stated that Camden was a very quiet pleasant little town  and in their off-duty time they frequented the Camden Inn milk bar, where the owner, his wife and their daughters always gave them a warm welcome.[20] Bede Tongs reports that Camden shops and streets were full of friendly people.[21]

Post-war use

After the war, the military use of the site continued and initially the AASC School was used by the Citizen Military Forces. In 1951 the School took the First Recruit Platoon of the newly formed Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps. During the Vietnam War, the School was used as intelligence centre where troops were introduced to helicopter tactics. The site has also served as the base for Camden Troop of the 1/15th Royal New South Wales Lancers, Second Ordinance Platoon and the Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU). [22]

The farmland surrounding the house was leased in 1945 to A Chapman of Kirkham for grazing his cattle.[23]  In 1949 a group of Camden residents approached the Department of the Army to secure all but 18 acres of Studley Park for use as a golf club, and eventually, in 1996 the Camden Golf Club purchased the site.[24]

Narellan Studley Park Derelict Army buildings[5] 2015 IW
Derelict army buildings from the Second World War period adjacent to Studley Park house (I Willis, 2015)

Infantry Wing Syllabus Course

7 June 1941 – 9 July 1941

from the diary of BGD Tongs

Instruction commencing 0945 – Instruction finishing  2200

Tuesday, 8 July 1941

Demonstration of C & C and Practical; Judging distance; Military vocabulary and searching ground;  study of the ground; Demonstration and Observation by night;

Wednesday, 9 July 1941

Lewis Light Machine Gun; Scouts and Patrols; Penetration; Map Reading – Definitions, Conventional Signs, Reference System; Indication and Recognition of targets; Fieldcraft; Military Intelligence;

Narellan Eastern Command Training School Obstacle course Studley Park Narellan 1941 LK Stevenson AWM
Narellan Eastern Command Training School Obstacle course Studley Park Narellan 1941 LK Stevenson AWM

 

Thursday, 10 July 1941

Weapons and their characteristics; Map Reading – Contours and North Points, Direction; Lewis Light Machine Gun; Fieldcraft; Fieldcraft – Epediascope;

Friday, 11 July 1941

Lewis Light Machine Gun; Map Reading – Scales and Protractor, Compass and Intervisibility; Fire Control; Fieldcraft – Individual Stalk, Epediascope;

Saturday, 12 July 1941

Patrol Exercise

Monday, 14 July 1941

Fieldcraft; Bayonet; Rifle; Grenade; Anti-Gas Respirator and Fitting; Attack Rifle; Military Intelligence; Message Writing; Lewis Light Machine Gun; Map Reading – Setting Map and Finding, Own Position;

Tuesday, 15 July 1941

As for 14 July 1941 [25]

Narellan Eastern Command Training School Training class Studley Park 1940 Major EE Bundy SLV
Narellan Eastern Command Training School Training class Studley Park 1940 Major EE Bundy SLV

 

References

[1].AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Dept of Interior, Correspondence, 17 May 1946

[2]. AA: SP857/PC681;  Memorandum from Valuer CH Jackson, 16 February 1940;

[3]. AA: SP857/PC681;  Memorandum from Valuer CH Jackson, 16 February 1940;

[4]. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Department of the Interior, Correspondence, 16 January 1940 – 7 June 1940;

[5]. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Department of the Interior, Correspondence, 16 January 1940 – 7 June 1940;

[6].Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet (Camden: Studley Park Golf Club, 1998)

[7].Camden News 18 July 1940

[8].BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986

[9].Max Cadogan, Letter to ICW, 18 February 1999

[10].Ray Herbert, ‘Army Spy Centre now a golf course’, District Reporter 5 August 1998

[11]. Sir Roden Cutler, Letter, 21 August 1987; BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986; George Carter, Letter, 7 November 1986;

[12]. Alan Bailey, Letter, 3 October 1988

[13]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986

[14]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986; George Carter, Letter, 7 November 1986;

[15].Ray Herbert, ‘Army Spy Centre now a golf course’, District Reporter 5 August 1998

[16]. Sir Roden Cutler, Letter, 21 August 1987

[17].Dr John Ratcliffe, Letter to ICW, 18 February 1999

[18]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 16 November 1986

[19]. George Carter, Letter, 7 November 1986

[20]. Sir Roden Cutler, Letter, 21 August 1987

[21]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 29 January 1987

[22].Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February  1999,  29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club,  1998);

[23]. AA: SP857/PC681, Studley Park, Dept of Interior, Correspondence, May 1945, 1955.

[24].Ray Herbert, ‘Jobs for the girls’, District Reporter 12 February  1999,  29 July 1998, 5 September 1998, 19 February 1999; Ray Herbert, Brief History of Studley Park, Pamphlet, (Camden: Studley Park Camden Golf Club,  1998);

[25]. BGD Tongs, Letter, 29 January 1987

Anzac · Attachment to place · Camden Airfield · Cultural Heritage · Heritage · history · Local History · Menangle · Menangle RAAF Airfield · Mount Gilead · Place making · Second World War · sense of place · war · War at home

Menangle RAAF Squadrons during the Second World War

Menangle Park Airfield Memories

RAAF No 83 Squadron

The squadron moved from Melville Island in January 1944, then moved to Queensland and was equipped with Boomerangs.

The squadron moved to Menangle in August 1944, where it was disbanded on 18 September 1945. (RAAF Museum)

Menangle1935 Aerial view 1935 NLA
This is an aerial view of the Camden Park Estate village of Menangle in 1935. It clearly shows the small nature of the private estate village with the general store at the intersection of the Menangle Road and Station Street. The main railway line to Melbourne is on the left hand side of the image. (NLA)

 

RAAF No 1 Squadron

Alan Hick, former Observer Air Gunner and Wireless/Telegraph Operator, aged 24 years of age recalls that he spent about six weeks at Menangle Airfield around December 1943 as part of No 1 Squadron.

Hick arrived at Menangle from East Sale on 29 December 1943 as part of the air crew. What followed was a training period consisting of anti-submarine patrols off the Australian east coast.

Alan Hick’s Flying Log Book details the type of operations of the squadron while at Menangle RAAF. There was training flights in airmanship, formation training, night flights, high level bombing, low level bombing, formation flying, fighter co-operation, and medium level bombing.

The squadron leader while at Menangle was DW Campbell.

Alan Hick recalls:

This was our war training period, it consisted of anti-submarine patrols which were practice to us but actually was fair dinkum as we used to patrol up and down the coast. High and low level bombing practise, fighter co-operation with a fighter squadron based at Bankstown. Formation flying, day and night, strip landings for possible emergencies, then as a ‘finale’ we did a squadron formation trip to Mildura. I remember 4 flights of 3 aircraft in each flight. Next day on the way back each aircraft of each flight had to take their turn in leading the flight. It was during a changeover that two planes touched and ended with both planes crashing and burning. Killing all air crew members plus our squadron photographer. This is something I’ll never forget. I’ve never seen a squadron break up so quickly as this one did. We were ordered home to Menangle as soon as possible before two more ended up the same way. As far as we (the crew) were concerned the remainder of our training was trouble free.

Hick states that the squadron number around 150 personnel. He recalls:

The advance part of 10 left 3 weeks before we get the camp ready and each plane took 10 people including a crew of 4 which would make approximately 150 at Menangle. We were equipped with the later mode Beauforts designed for local level flying ideal for out job of sea reconnaissance and convoy work.

According to Alan Hick the airfield had a number of issues for aircraft. He recalls:

The land strips was not very long so whenever possible we always took off in a southerly direction particularly if it was a hot day. To the north was a hill which was hard to clear when the air was hot and thin. If this happened we often had to turn slightly to the right to avoid hitting the hill. North or south take-offs depended on the wind and weather.

The layout and operation of the airfield used the existing facilities of the trotting club. He stated:

The grandstand for used for ‘bludging’ when didn’t have anything to do. The lower portion was used for offices and storage space for anything else that needed protection from the weather.

Menangle Airfield Sketch Map Alan Hicks 1987_0001
A sketch map drawn by Alan Hick of the Menangle RAAF airfield at Menangle Park in 1943. Hick was a Wireless Operator Air Gunner with an air crew in a Beaufort aircraft with No 1 Squadron RAAF. The squadron was stationed at Menangle Park in December 1943. (A Hick)

 

Meals were prepared in the quarters in Station Street in Menangle village. Alan recalls:

Our lunch was brought down to us from the living quarters where the cookhouse was situated in one of the six houses built for the purpose. These houses had to be dismantled at the end of the war as they were only temporary buildings with no lining on walls or ceilings. They had the appearance of a small country village from the air. The general store received quite a bit of patronage from the ‘boys’. We were transported by truck between the village and the airfield.

Alan Hick recalls that he met his wife while he was on training at Maryborough in Queensland in December 1941. While the squadron was at Menangle his wife lived at Buxton with their one year old son and Alan was at home most nights.

The squadron moved on from Menangle RAAF to Charleville in Queensland on 20 February 1944.

Air accident

While the No 15 Squadron was stationed at Menangle there was an air accident and the air crew of Beaufort A9-550 were killed. The accident occurred on the Mount Gilead property on the Appin Road. The report stated that the plane crashed

‘9 miles SE [of the] Menangle Strip at 0410 hours’  after take-off due to a port engine failure.

The members of the air crew who were killed were pilot F/Sgt HD Johnson, and the members of the crew who were F/O RW Durant, F/O HD Wheller, F/Sgt BA Herscher, and AC1 WH Bray. (RAAF Historical: Preliminary Accident Report 1 April 1944)

 

RAAF No 24 Squadron

Former Flight Sergeant Allan Hope recalls the six weeks he spent at Menangle in September 1944 as part of No 24 Squadron which was equipped with Vultee Vengeance Dive Bombers.

The squadron had moved from Bankstown Airfield to Menangle.

The unit was put up in barracks in Station Street Menangle.

Allan Hope states:

The barracks were build as houses and merged with the existing residences as a form of camouflage. Once inside the resemblance ended. There were no ceilings or wall linings and any framing inside was just a load bearer for the roof.

The squadron took over the runway that had been built across the trotting track in the mid-war years. The runway was parallel to the railway line.

Hope recalls:

The [trotting] club premises at Menangle Park houses the orderly room, store room and signals office.

The unit had 150 personnel and the main purpose of locating at Menangle was ‘as a staging camp for the squadron’.

The unit did not see active service at Menangle Park as Allan Hope does ‘not recall any Vultee landing there as they were diverted to New Guinea’.

While at Menangle things were fairly quiet and leave was granted to most men. He recalls:

Most men had friends or relatives in Sydney suburbs. They took every opportunity to visit them on weekends and during the week. They arrived back at camp at night about 4.00am. Once a week we could pile into a truck and go to the pictures in Campbelltown’

Allan Hope states that there was little interaction with the ‘locals’, although ‘the general story on the corner would have been sorry to see us go’.

Hope left for New Guinea in September 1944 with a ‘small advance party taking off from the racecourse in a American DC3’.

 

RAAF No 15 Squadron

No 15 Squadron was equipped with Beauforts and formed at Camden on 27 January 1944 and was located at Camden Airfield until March 1945.

The unit operated in the anti-submarine and convoy escort role off the Australian East Coast.

Former wireless operator and gunner David Symons recalls the squadron was at Camden from February 1944, then at Menangle in March 1944, Camden again in April 1944 to March 1945.

The squadron eventually moved to Kingaroy where it was disbanded on 23 March 1946. (RAAF Museum)

 

 Information drawn from correspondence with former RAAF personnel by author.
Anzac · Attachment to place · Australia · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Narellan · Narellan Military Camp · Second World War · sense of place · war

The army arrives at Narellan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art · Attachment to place · Belonging · Camden · Colonial Camden · Colonial frontier · Colonialism · Convicts · Cowpastures · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · England · Farming · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Interwar · Landscape aesthetics · Lifestyle · Living History · Local History · Local newspapers · Local Studies · Macarthur · Memorials · Memory · Modernism · Monuments · myths · Newspapers · Place making · Ruralism · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Stereotypes · Streetscapes · Sydney's rural-urban fringe · Tourism · Urban growth · urban sprawl · Urbanism · war · Women's history

Making Camden History

View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2
View of the farm of J. Hassel [Hassall] Esqr. Cow Pastures, New South Wales by Augustus Earle, c. 1825. State Library of NSW PXD 265, f. 2

Making Camden History

A brief historiography of the local area

The story of the construction of the history of the Camden area.
There are many versions and they are all correct. They all put their own spin on the way they want to tell the Camden story. Some good, some indifferent, some just plain awful

(Facebook, 23 November 2015. https://www.facebook.com/Camden-History-Notes-1433284970226274/)

Tourist history of Camden

The official story of the township as told to tourists is shared in the brochure for an historic walk around the Camden town centre published by Camden Council.  It is reflective of the pioneer legend that has pervaded the Camden story and the legitimising narrative that is part of the nation building story of a settler society.  In many ways it hides as much as it reveals. It states:

The historic town of Camden, less than an hours drive south-west of Sydney, is the cultural heart of a region that enjoys a unique place in our nation’s history.

The earliest developments of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries are associated with the town following the original land grant from Lord Camden to John Macarthur in 1805.

The town is home to a large number of heritage listed attractions that reflect its strong links with the history of colonial settlement in Australia. Camden is rich in rural heritage with live stock sale yards, vineyards, Equestrian Park and dairy facilities.

The township reveals in its built heritage an interesting and varied range of architectural styles that reflect the town’s evolution from the earliest days of European settlement through to the modern era.

The walking tour brochure portrays Camden’s rich historical and cultural legacy and affords a valuable opportunity to both visitors and the local community to experience the town’s unique character and charm and appreciate some of its history first hand.

(Camden Heritage Walking Tour Brochure)

A similar heritage walking brochure exists for Narellan area, which tells the story of European settlement of a planned government village that pre-dates Camden. Here there is also a silence on many aspects of the past that are yet to be revealed to readers.

This short historiography  is one of the few that has been attempted to illustrate the construction of the history of a rural community. One that has been recently published is included in the history of the gold-mining community of Linton in Victoria  (2015). The author, Jill Wheeler, examines the broad range of influences that shaped the writing of that community’s history.

Camden Walking Brochure

This paper should be read in conjunction with the Camden Bibliography, which is list of published and other sources on the Camden District. It was my first attempt at compiling an authoritative list of sources on the local area and it has been pleasing to note that a host of researchers have found it to be a useful start.

This construction of the story of Camden history can be divided into a number of identifiable stages. Each stage reflects the values and attitudes of those who created the writing of the period, and the social and cultural filters that shaped their version of the story.

The Cowpastures frontier

From the beginning of European settlement in Australia curiosity drew those with an interest in wider issues to the local area. The first expeditionaries were naval and military officers who were trained to observe the landform and surroundings and record the detail in their logs and diaries.  While providing a detailed account of their journeys they also recorded their observations and contact with Indigenous people. They recorded their observations of a managed landscape that was regularly burnt by the local Indigenous people. Prominent amongst these were Englishmen Watkin Tench (1790), Governor John Hunter (1795), David Collins (1795), George Bass (1796) and Lachlan Macquarie (1810, 1815, 1820), and Frenchmen Francis Louis Barrallier (1802) and Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1826).

Then there are the letters of settlers like John Hawdon of Elderslie in the 1820s who wrote back to England of his experiences in the Cowpastures and dealing with ‘the government men’. [convicts]

Amongst other writings of there are the reminiscences of Barron Field (1825), Thomas Mitchell (1836) and William Pridden (1843), while there are the journals of colonial women such as those of Annabella Boswell (1848).

Naming landform features gave the new arrivals a legitimacy of possession. For example on Governor King’s excursion to the area he named the locality the Cowpastures because of the escaped cattle.

Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)
Central Camden c1930s (Camden Images)

Villages and beyond

The earliest records of settlement in the Cowpastures describe the conditions in the villages that were scattered across the area – Cawdor, Cobbitty, Elderslie, Narellan and then later Camden (1840)

The earliest accounts of Camden village its planning, its establishment and development are carried in the Sydney newspapers – particularly The Sydney Morning Herald. During the 1840s the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions Charles Tompson was a regular correspondent to the newspaper.

Even by the 1880s the changing nature of the Camden village and the district prompted a nostalgia for the pioneering days of the early colonial period. The Camden Times and Camden News printed reminiscences of the town and district of JB Martin in the early 1880s and 1890s and RH Antill in the late 1890s, Richard Todd (1895 and 1896) as well as the stories from Obed West  in the 1884 and 1885 in The Sydney Morning Herald.  These stressed the progress and development of the town. Martin, the Camden Clerk of Petty Sessions for a period,  made the point in his 1883 (Camden Times) reminiscences that the history of several English counties had been written by local history associations and he felt that a similar venture was worthwhile in the Camden district.

Further reminiscences were  Thomas Herbert (1909) in the  Town and Country Journal and Samuel Hassall’s  (1902) In Old Australia and there are the unpublished reminiscences of Camden businessman Samuel Thompson (1905).

Wartime writing

The Boer War, then the First and later the Second World Wars provide a period of reflection for local folk who are away soldiering in foreign lands. They are amongst the first to write about the Camden District as home in nostalgic terms from far away places where they are under traumatic conditions.

These letters were published in the Camden News and during the Second World War the Camden Advertiser. Some have found their way into recent publications particularly on the centenary of the First World War.

John Kerry's view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)
John Kerry’s view of St Johns Church in 1890s (Camden Images)

Camden Aesthetic

An important theme in the Camden story is the development of a Camden aesthetic based on romantic notions surrounding the colonial properties of the landed gentry and the landscapes that were created by the Cowpasture patriarchs.

 

This first appeared in Andrew Garran’s highly successful Picturesque Atlas of Australasia  (1886) and portrayed an idyllic English village at Camden surrounded by an ordered farming landscape. The engraving was accompanied by GB Barton’s account of the exploits of John Macarthur and the foundation of the colonial wool industry. This was a narrative that evolved into a local and national mythology and was further advanced by Sibella Macarthur Onslow’s Some Early Records of The Macarthurs of Camden (1914), a collection of family papers.

1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp
1934 Australian Commemorative Postage Stamp

The legend of John Macarthur gained further momentum in the 1930s on the centenary of John Macarthur’s death in 1934 when Australia was in search of national heroes. He was the subject of stories in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society (1929) and biographies. His image appeared on a series of postage stamps and later on the new decimal currency in the 1960s. His character was the subject of a novel (1941) and a new Federal electorate of Macarthur (1949) was named after him.  In 1960 the Camden community held a four-day celebration of the legend of the John Macarthur and 150th anniversary of wool production in Australia called the Festival of the Golden Fleece (22-30 October).

 

The early 20th century also witnessed  a shift in history writing identified by Graeme Davison from ‘pioneer’ to ‘patriarchal’ history writing and the development of the Camden aesthetic was part of that agenda.

 

There was William Hardy Wilson’s The Cow Pasture Road (1920) and Ure Smith’s water colours and etchings in his Old Colonial By Ways (1928). Whimsical descriptions of Camden’s Englishness were published in Eldrid Dyer’s  ‘Camden, The Charm of an Old Town’ (1926) and articles in The Sydney Morning Herald like ‘The Beauty of Age’ (1934).

 

The journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society published articles on the Camden District.  The  first appeared and in  1928 on the Cowpastures, Cawdor and Cobbitty, which were followed by the Burragorang Valley (1934), Camden (1935), Narellan (1936), and the Cowpastures again in 1939.

 

Newcastle based journalist JJ Moloney, a former Menangle resident, published his reminiscences of Early Menangle in 1929.   In Camden two local journalists, George Sidman and Arthur Gibson, each separately marked the golden jubilee of the foundation of the Municipality of Camden (1889). Sidman, owner of the Camden News, published the memoirs of J. B. Martin in a series of newspaper columns. While Gibson, owner of the Camden Advertiser, commissioned James Jervis from the RAHS to write The Story of Camden.

 

The end of the Second World War created an air of confidence in the Camden District, which by this stage was prospering from the wealth created by the Burragorang Valley coalfields. In 1948 the  newly formed Rotary Club and Camden Community Centre commissioned the University of Sydney to conduct a sociological survey of the town to provide a foundation for ‘future development’. This was followed up in 1952 by an American sociologist from the University of Kansas  City, ML ‘Jack’ Mason and his wife Elizabeth ‘Beth’. They surveyed the town and established that there was a five-tier social structure, which had its origins in the colonial period and the Cowpasture patriarchs. Both studies were suppressed from public gaze by vested interests until recent times.

Memorials of loss

As historians Graeme Davison and Gail Griffiths have noted loss of local icons and ‘loved places’ creates a deep sense of insecurity and a desire by some for the ‘good old days’.  The grieving process was triggered in the Camden District community from the loss of Burragorang Valley, after the state government decided to build a dam in the 1930s. In the early 1960s the New South Wales Government closed the Campbelltown to Camden rail link as part of a state-wide rationalisation process.

WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)
WW1 Memorial Gates at Macarthur Park (Camden Remembers)

There were five seminal events during this period, firstly, in 1957 the number of teachers from the newly established Camden High School formed the Camden Historical Society and held lectures, conducted field trips and outings.

 

Secondly there was the erection of civic monuments celebrating the Burragorang Valley. The first monument, erected in 1962, was the Camden Rotary mural at the southern entrance to the town. The mural has designs celebrating Indigenous culture as well as the area’s farming and mining heritage. The stone for the wall came from the St Paulinos Catholic Church in ‘the Valley’.

 

Thirdly, a wagon wheel was erected by the Camden Historical Society outside the council chambers in 1977 to celebrate the teamsters who brought silver ore from Yerranderie through ‘the Valley’ to the Camden railhead. A heavy horse-drawn farm wagon was located outside the council chambers in 1978 to  memorialise  farmer workers and the horse. Each of these monuments recalled the values of the frontier; tenacity, stoicism, ruggedness, individualism, adaptability and Britishness. An 1899 water trough was added to these civic monuments in 1979 celebrating the town’s modernity when the town was connected to reticulated water; a sign of progress and development.

Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden

In 1970 the Camden Historical Society opened a folk museum in a room in the old council chambers encouraged by the RAHS. The museum used  simple displays of local ephemera, artefacts and other collectables supplemented with rudimentary signage to tell the Camden story.

 

The memorials of loss across the district extended to the numerous war memorials scattered throughout the Camden District that mourned the loss of men who never came home after the Great War. These monuments were added to after the Second World War and in recent times with the centenary of the First World War, and have shaped and re-shaped the Camden story in ways that are still hard to identify. Their meaning is a statement of collective memory that is expressed in April and November every year by local communities.

 

Elsewhere in the district The Oaks Historical Society was formed up in 1979. It has contributed much material to the story telling of the western part of the Camden District, particularly the Burragorang Valley and the silver mining fields of Yerranderie.

The rural-urban fringe and other threats

The role of loss in the Camden story acquired new meaning after 1973 when there was an identifiable shift in the interpretation and representation of ruralness in Camden. The release in 1973 of the ‘Three Cities Plan’ as part of the 1968 Sydney Regional Outline Plan triggered a wave of invaders from the city. Urban planners envisaged three regional centres on Sydney’s outskirts at Camden, Campbelltown and Appin with the ambitious idea of stopping the city’s urban sprawl.

MtAnnan2002CHS2005

These events strengthened the role of the Camden aesthetic. There was the re-making of place centred on the  decline of the country town of Camden as the hub of a thriving rural economy to an idealised country town, a country town of the imagination.

 

Romantic representations of Camden’s rurality, especially St John’s church, became an important part of the contemporary consciousness. They found their way into official council policy, and been used in literature, publications, tourist and business promotions, websites, artwork, music, museum displays  and a host of other places. In 1999  Camden Council’s strategic plan Camden 2025 adopted the language and imagery of Camden’s rurality when it outlined ‘the traditional qualities of a rural lifestyle’, ‘the historic nature’ of the area and  the ‘unique rural landscapes and vistas’ in a country town atmosphere.

 

There was also the influence of the  national bicentennial celebrations in 1988 and the publication in the same year of  Alan Atkinson’s Camden, Farm and Village Life in Early New South Wales (1988) which examined the early decades of the township. The dust jacket used a romantic watercolour (1850s) attributed to Emily Macarthur which looks ‘across Camden Park to the north-west, with St John’s Church  and the distant Blue Mountains closing the view’, with the Nepean River flowing across the vista, similar to the 1886 Garran engraving.

 

This period also the emergence of the local histories of the area written by keen amateurs with the most notable example being John Wrigley, who has put together several publications the first published in 1980 called A History of Camden.  The Camden Historical Society started a small journal in 2001 called Camden History, which the society continues to successfully published specialist local histories for a local audience.

 

The 21st century saw the evolution in the Camden story to a new generation of writers, most notable amongst them was this author. My work started with a local wartime study of a women’s voluntary organisation and has extended across a range of local themes  including the rural-urban fringe, urban history, place, identity, philanthropy, the wartime homefront and local government. Most recently I have told the Camden story in a publication of a pictorial history of the district.

Read more @ Camden Bibliography