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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.

Graves of servicemen at Camden War Cemetery Cawdor Road Camden with a view of Camden township in the distance (I Willis, 2014)

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 Camden War Cemetery contains the graves of seventeen Royal Australian Air Force servicemen, four army personnel and two Royal Air Force servicemen. The headstones are lined up in an North-South configuration, with the graves facing East-West. 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.

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.

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 Airfield, with secondary airfields at The Oaks and Menangle Paceway. As well, there were a number of emergency runways constructed throughout the local area. The Royal Air Force also had several transport squadrons based at Camden Airfield between 1944 and 1946.

The names of the World War One servicemen and women re listed on the memorial gates to Macarthur Park, Menangle Rd, Camden. For more information on the service of Camden servicemen and women see Camden Remembers.  These servicemen add to the Anzac mythology that is on display every Anzac Day.

Members of the Camden Airforce Cadets 303 Squadron from Camden Airfield at Camden War Cemetery (B Dingo, 2021)

Royal Australian Air Force

Five airmen were killed in Hudson A16-152, which was part of No 32 Squadron RAAF. 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 No 32 Squadron RAAF. 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 No 15 Squadron RAAF. 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.

Camden War Cemetery Cawdor Road Camden (I Willis 2014)

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.

Members of the Camden Airforce Cadets 303 Squadron from Camden Airfield at Camden War Cemetery (B Dingo, 2021)

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.

Members of the Camden Airforce Cadets 303 Squadron from Camden Airfield at Camden War Cemetery (B Dingo, 2021)

Sources

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

Central Army Records, Melbourne.
Correspondence.

Updated 19 August 2021. Originally posted 19 September 2014.

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Fall of Singapore and the Camden response

Camden response to the Fall of Singapore

The Fall of Singapore in February 1942 was a disastrous military defeat for the British Imperial forces and a defining point of the Second World War for Camden.

Camden Artist Greg Frawley’s ‘Ceasefire Moon’ (2015). Frawley says that in ‘Ceasefire Moon’ ‘I imagine a moment of peace under a Byzantine Moon where three wounded diggers face us, perhaps questioning what their sacrifice is all about and fearing future horrific battles they will face when they recover’.

Tensions in the district had been rising for weeks during late 1941.

At the beginning of December the Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbour, Royal Air Force facilities on the Malayan coast (7 December 1941) and other locations. Shortly after this the Japanese navy sank the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse (10 December 1941).

 Camden resident Donald Howard wrote that the town ‘like the rest of Australia knew that sooner or later we would be “for it”‘. (Howard, The Hub of Camden, p. 25.) Earlier in the year the Camden area had been declared a ‘vulnerable area’ (August) and the town had its first blackout test. 

Argyle Street Camden in 1938. The town centre changed very little over the next decade. This view of Argyle Street would have been a familiar memory for any local soldiers who went away for the war. On their return to Camden the town centre would have appeared very much like this 1938 image. (Scan Studios/Camden Images)

Singapore had been on the minds of Australia’s strategic thinkers since the end of the First World War. The Australian Government felt that the country’s greatest military threat came from Japan, and Australia joined forces with Britain in what became known as the Singapore Strategy. British naval facilities were strengthened at Singapore and a string of conservative Australian governments reduced spending on defence across the Interwar years.

 ‘A black month’

Historian Michael McKernan in his book All in! Australia during the second world war  has called  December 1941 a ‘black month for Australians’ and Prime Minister Curtin told the nation ‘We are at war’. (McKernan, All In!, pp. 96-97.)

Things were heating up and the Japanese Imperial Army landed forces on the Malayan peninsula on 8 December and started their land-based push towards Singapore.

The Camden News ran an editorial with the headline ‘Japan – According to Plan’. The News stated:

The feeling has been that war with the crafty and ambitious Japanese, rapidly rising to power, was bound to come sooner or later.  For years the ‘Yellow Peril’ has provided an incalculable element in all Australian political thinking. Put bluntly, the traditional ascendancy of the white race might well be at stake if Japan were enabled to gather strength from this war in anything like the same proportion as she took it from the last.’

(Camden News, 11 December 1941)

The Camden News Front Page 11 December 1941

The warning of a threat to European exceptionalism advanced by the Camden News was not new. The ascendancy of the white man was a long-held belief by Europeans across the world and the defeat of the British Empire troops in Singapore came at the hands of an Asian power came as a complete shock. According to many in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was Europeans’ duty—the “white man’s burden“—to bring civilisation to non-white peoples through beneficent imperialism. In Australia, this found expression in the White Australia policy.

We are getting worried!

There were signs that the Camden community were seriously worried by the progress of the war. The   Camden National Emergency Services jumped into action: there was an urgent call for wardens; civil defence meetings were held with training sessions; sand dumps were established in case of incendiary bombs; street lighting was reduced; sandbagging was increased at Camden Hospital; and police strictly enforced fuel regulations.

The Japanese advance down the Malay peninsula continued and units from the Australian 8th Infantry Division saw action in mid-January. By the end of month the Malaya campaign was going badly for the British forces.

The Camden News ran an editorial headed ‘The Jap is not a Super-man’:

‘The Japanese continue their rapid advance through the islands of the north until they are now within striking distance of the biggest island of all — our own homeland. That is cause for anxiety enough, but don’t let us help the enemy by crediting him with powers and capacities. he does net possess. The Jap, good fighter though he is, is not yet a superman.’

(Camden News, 29 January 1942)

The Camden News Front Page 29 January 1942

A profound shock

On 8 February 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army landed on Singapore island. Within a week the British forces had surrendered. The Fall of Singapore on 15 February to the Japanese forces was a profound shock to Australia and other parts of the British Empire.

Terry Stewart writes that Singapore

was the scene of the largest surrender of British-led forces ever recorded in history’The British considered Singapore as their ‘Gibraltar in the Far East’ and it was assumed to be just as impregnable’.

Terry Stewart, ‘The Fall of Singapore’. Historic UK. Online at https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryofBritain/The-Fall-of-Singapore/ viewed 1 February 2021.

Total War

The Camden News editorialised the defeat as Australia’s Total War— And Its Implications. The News warned that Australia was under direct threat of invasion:

Official pronouncements made last week, and again this week, should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the ‘battle of Australia’ has now definitely begun. We face total war — possibly on our own soil.  The events of the last week — one of the blackest weeks of the whole war — have shattered our complacency, and he is a foolish man indeed who still faces the immediate future with light-hearted abandon. We must rid ourselves of our comfortable beliefs that Australia is too far from Japan for successful invasion.

(Camden News, 19 February 1942)

The Camden News Front Page 19 February 1942

Camden’s civil defence authorities drew up plans for the town’s evacuation, and formed a scorched earth policy committee.  Helen Stewardson wrote to her brother, Harry, an airman in England, ‘I guess you hear the news the same as we do, it is rather disheartening, but we hope for the best’. (Vernon, ‘Letters to an Airmen’, Grist Mills, Dec. 1999, p. 56.)

Disaster

 The failure of the British Imperial Forces at Singapore was profound.   

Terry Stewart maintains that the arrogance of the British led to underestimate the ability of the Japanese forces. She writes:

In the 1930s and 1940s, the British forces stationed in Singapore epitomised the British military idea of officers and gentlemen. The atmosphere was very much one of colonial sociability.

Terry Stewart, ‘The Fall of Singapore’. Historic UK. Online at https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryofBritain/The-Fall-of-Singapore/ viewed 1 February 2021.

The Raffles Hotel is a colonial Victorian Singapore icon and is built on the former site of a beach house. The hotel was a favourite spot of British officers and their staff. 2017 (IWillis)

Oliver Steward writes that the British High Command left Singapore vulnerable, with a lack of equipment including tanks and aircraft, without proper kit to be worn by troops in a jungle environment. This situation was complicated by Churchill’s attitude who ordered Empire forcesunder the command of General Percival to “stand their ground to the last man standing”.

When the British commander Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival surrendered on 15 February 1942 more than 130,000 British Imperial troops were taken prisoner.

Captivity

The National Museum of Australia states that for Australia, the fall of Singapore was a disaster. More than 15,000 Australian soldiers were taken captive. Of these, more than 7000 would die as prisoners of war. Controversially, the commander of Australian forces on the island, Major General Gordon Bennett, escaped the island with two staff officers on the night of the surrender. (NMA)

One Camden soldier, Private Robert J Auld, served with the 2/20 Australian Infantry Battalion and was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore. In 1940 Auld enlisted and married Camden girl Phyllis Kerswell.   The 2/20th saw action in the Malayan peninsular campaign and withdrew under the Japanese advance in December 1941 and arrived in Singapore at the end of January 1942. Imprisoned in Changi after the surrender, Auld and others were transferred to Sandakan. Auld died in June 1945 aged 30. (Camden Remembers)

The imprisonment of Australian troops created the POW as the dominant stereotype for Australia during the Second World War. Craig Barrett writes in his PhD titled Remembering Captivity: Australian Prisoners of War of the Japanese that the POWs have become ‘an integral part of Anzac Day and the Anzac legend’.

Camden War Cemetery on Cawdor Road (I Willis, 2014)

Camden’s Macarthur Park Cenotaph and Memorial Gun Emplacement (I Willis)

Updated 1 February 2021. Originally posted 29 January 2021.