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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.

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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

Eastern 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

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Camden Airfield and No 32 Squadron RAAF

Memories from 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.

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

Source: WA Paull, 32 Squadron 60th Anniversary

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, Camden Museum) 

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

This image shows a Lockheed Hudson Aircraft from 14 Squadron RAAF between 1940-1942 that was on operational duties in the Dutch East Indies. The plane crashed in an accident after take-off in 1942 at Laha killing 3 crew members. (G Birkett)

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 32 Squadron RAAF (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

Updated 30 April 2021. First posted 14 October 2017. First published in Camden History, Journal of the Camden Historical Society, September 2009.

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Anzackery and Vimyism, national military myths

I recently came across a post by Canadian blogger Andrea Eidinger in her Unwritten Histories  that mentioned the battle of Vimy Ridge from the First World War. The author was reviewing a recently published book The Vimy Trap: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War by Canadian historians Ian McKay and Jamie Swift as part of CHA Reads 2017.

Book Vimy Trap Cover (Amazon)

Publicity from Amazon states that

The story of the bloody 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge is, according to many of today’s tellings, a heroic founding moment for Canada. This noble, birth-of-a-nation narrative is regularly applied to the Great War in general.

This heroic story has launched a mythical tale labelled as “Vimyism”.

I was reminded of Anzackery discussed by David Stephens in The Honest History Book (pp.120-133) that is described as excessively promoting the Anzac legend – the heroic nation-founding story which emerged from the 1915 Gallipoli landing by the Anzacs.

2017 Anzac Day Commemorations in Camden NSW (I Willis)

I felt that it was worthwhile to re-published Andrea Eidinger’s blog post in full here.

CHA Reads: Mary-Ellen Kelm on The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War

May 23, 2017 / Andrea Eidinger

What is CHA Reads? Find out here!

Mary-Ellen Kelm defending The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War.

The Vimy memorial was on TV when Andrea Eidinger’s call for participants in #CHAreads went out on Twitter. Though the First World War is not my field, I have long been interested in how the past gets used to make or break community. So I signed up to participate in #CHAreads and to investigate the merits of The Vimy Trap: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift – a nominee for the CHA’s Sir John A. Macdonald prize. The Vimy Trap is a book that all Canadian historians, whatever their interests, should read.

The reason is simple. Historians care about history. We care about people in the past and we want to represent their experience faithfully. We care about how history is written and used. What McKay and Swift are arguing is that Vimyism – “a network of ideas and symbols that centre on how Canada’s Great War experience somehow represents the country’s supreme triumph [and]… marked the country’s birth,” has flattened the complex, contradictory and terrifying reality of the First World War into a simplistic, militaristic ‘big bang theory’ of Canadian history.(p. 9)

Article on Vimy Ridge from The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Wed 11 Apr 1917 Page 1 Trove NLA nla.news-article15706380.3

What is lost in the process is astounding and much of the Vimy Trap explores the horror and ambiguity of modernized warfare and Canadians’ varied reactions to it. McKay and Swift eschew black-and-white portrayals. Canadian soldiers were neither heroes or villains: they used poison gas, killed prisoners and were torn apart by artillery fire while marching with fixed bayonet wearing kilts. They came to view the war and to write about it in ironic, scathing terms. At home, disunity turned to violence as conscription split the nation. The War was hardly a unifying, glorifying force.

McKay and Swift give voice to a spectrum of Canadian reactions to the War. Early enthusiasm waned quickly. From Arthur Meighan to William Lyon Mackenzie King to Walter Allward, the sculptor of the Vimy Memorial, and Charlotte Susan Wood, Canada’s first Silver Cross Mother, all called upon Canadians to remember the War not a righteous cause but as reminder of war’s futility. They grieved their dead and honoured them but not the war that caused their deaths. Canadians dreamed of peace and their leaders sought it too but failed to remake the social order into one that would recoil from war.

A culture of martial nationalism remains. Late twentieth century popular and scholarly histories recognize the contradictions and the complexities but have concluded that, in war, nations are strengthened, dreams realized, heroes made. Historians are responsible for Vimyism. It is a trap because it reflects none of the nuance and little of the stark horror of modern warfare that soldiers and civilians experienced and that contemporary writers expressed. And this is why Canadian historians must read The Vimy Trap. McKay and Swift remind us all that we have not always glorified war and ask us, as historians, to consider our part in honouring, or ignoring, that past.

Mary-Ellen Kelm is a professor of history at Simon Fraser University specializing in settler colonial and medical histories of North America.

Re-published from Andrea Eidinger’s original blog post with permission

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Macarthur Park Camden NSW erected in 1922 by public subscription (I Willis)

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The army in camp at Narellan in WW2

Once the army moved into Narellan Military Camp it commenced operation and became part of the wartime scene during WW2. Men were seen marching all over the district, there were mock raids and the men practiced firing small arms.  The camp is an important part of the story of Narellan during war as thousands of men, and some women, moved through the camp on their way to somewhere in the theatre that was the Second World War.

Narellan Military Camp 1940 CHS1229
Aerial View Narellan Military Camp c.1941 (Camden Images CHS)

 

Militia Units

Universal trainees appeared at the camp in December 1941. They were part of the militia as tensions increased with Japans entry into the war in December 1941 and uncertainty increased. In October 1939 Prime Minister Menzies introduced compulsory military service for duty within Australia. Unmarried men 21 years in the year ending 30 June were called up for three months’ training with the militia. Menzies wanted the militia to maintain a strength of 75,000 to meet the demands of the 2nd AIF and withdrawal of men who were in reserved occupations. Menzies stated in November 1940:

there is, I believe, a growing recognition of the fact that military training for the defence of Australia should be a normal part of our civic life, and that if it is to be just and democratic, it should be made compulsory.[1]

Militia units were created and equipped and some were deployed to sensitive areas. According to Milsearch  in 1941  some units were deployed operationally to cover the likely Japanese landing beaches in the Newcastle – Sydney area. One unit established at the Camp at this time was the 2nd Australian Army Troops Company Royal Australian Engineers. This unit was almost solely involved in preparing route denial charges designed to frustrate enemy deployment inland following expected Japanese beach landings both north and south of Sydney. Narellan Camp also seems to have served as an assembly area at this time for units of the 8th and 9th Infantry Brigades.[2]

Tents in the bush Narellan Military  Camp 1942 A Bailey
Tents in the bush Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey

 

Training Ranges

There were three ranges for training purposes that Milsearch has identified – a grenade range, a 600 yard range, and a 30 yard small arms range.

The grenade range was located on a small hill adjacent to the old Oran Park Raceway and now covered with houses. The range was used for training hand grenade throwing and was constructed in late 1940.

The 600 yard range has been variously described as Narellan Rifle Range, Cobbitty Range or the rifle range Cutt Hill Cobbitty. The range was located north-west of the camp and is described as ‘being three and a half miles west along Cobbitty Road from the junction with Bringelly Road, then north along dirt roads to the range’. There were fifteen targets at 600 yards for small arms training and the range was constructed in July 1942. There are indications, according to Milsearch,  that there was another 30 yard range on the site in 1941.

The 30 yard small arms range was located in a ‘disused quarry at the foot of water tanks on the right of the road from Camden to Narellan’.

Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942
Camp Admin block Narellan Military Camp 1942 A Bailey

 

Training with a difference

In 1942, according to Arthur Colman, the  2/1st Light Tank Squadron attacked RAAF Camden Aerodrome in a night exercise, and it is reported that they frightened the wits out of some of the RAAF personnel by charging over them in their slits trenches. As well, there was similar exercise in daylight (they had the only 2 light tanks in NSW). In the 10 weeks this unit was at Narellan they had instruction in small arms, map reading, truck driving and maintenance. As well there were the long route marches over all sorts of terrain to keep the men physically fit. For instance exercises by `Shanks pony’ and truck to such places as Wallacia, Mittagong, Nowra and the Kangaroo Valley area.[3]

Jim McIntosh reports that the Army had exercises over the whole of his property of Denbigh but they would always ask could they come onto the farm. He remembers that the tanks always `tore up a lot of grass’ but they were pretty careful not to disturb cultivated areas. In addition he recalls the Camp had trenches in the hills on the northern and north-western side of the camp adjacent to Denbigh.[4]

At Cobbitty Fred Small  reported that the soldiers would frequently have marches through the village. A short march would be from the camp to Cobbitty Bridge over the Nepean River with groups of 40-50 troops. Larger groups of between 300-400 men would march through the village 2-3 times per day.[5]

Diary of a soldier

The diary of Andrew Heyward[6] of the 2/1 Independent Light Tank Regiment gives some of the character of activities at the camp.

Date Activity
31 December  1941 Arrived at Narellan from Tamworth by bus and train – last camp in tents along Narellan Road
4 January 1942 Route march through Camden
5 January 1942 Major-General Northcote told the unit was not going to Malaya – anticipated what was going to happen to Singapore
6 January 1942 – 22 miles route march to Menangle
8 January 1942 Left camp with full packs marched through Cobbitty, Camden ended up at The Oaks Public School
12 January 1942 0330 – Reveille – full packs marched towards Penrith and ended up at a large waterhole – Warragamba
16 January 1942 Full pack march to Stanwell Park – storm about 1800 – came back in trucks
21 January 1942 up 0430 – exercise with trucks at Wallacia
23 January 1942 Rifle range – Narellan
3 February 1942 Unit ground attack exercise on RAAF Camden drome- I went right around river bank to enter up through vegetable garden and buildings nearby
11 February 1942 Anzac Range – Moorebank
16 February 1942 4 days exercise to Moss Vale, Jervis Bay, Nowra, Kiama, Bulli, Picton, Bowral
20 Feb, 1942 Used first 10 Owen guns on Narellan range
26 Feb, 1942 Driving exercise to Valley Heights
2 Mar, 1942 4 day stint in Blitz wagons – Wallgrove, Penrith, Windsor, Richmond, Rossmore – did a night march through Campbelltown to Wedderburn then marched to Menangle and Blitzs back to camp – at Narellan we did lot of Morse vehicle maintenance, gunnery training in camp
16 Mar, 1942 Left Narellan camp for exercises on way to Singleton camp via Menangle, Richmond, Wilberforce

 

[1] http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs162.aspx

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

[3].  Arthur Colman, Letter to ICW, 14 November 1986, 15 January 1987; Mort Maiden, Letter to ICW, 6 June 1987;

[4]. Jim McIntosh, Interview, 10 November 1987

[5]. Fred Small, Interview, 13 January 1987

[6]. Andy Heyward, Letter to ICW, 6 January 1987,  7 May 1987;

 

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