Sandgate RAAF Station

No.3 Embarkation Depot and RAE searchlight position (Brighton Health Campus in 2019)

Type
Training facility
Region
Brisbane City

East of the Hornibrook Highway, north of Nineteenth Avenue, Brighton 4017

Only two 'Sidney Williams huts' remain of the Sandgate RAAF Station’s structures training base, which were built prior to the Pacific War in 1941. Constructed to house RAAF and WAAAF trainees, the barracks were pre fabricated and designed for ease of construction. Although they are no longer in their original position, they are close by, between Twenty Third and Twenty Fourth Avenues.

History

Only two 'Sidney Williams huts' remain of the Sandgate RAAF Station’s structures training base, which were built prior to the Pacific War in 1941. Constructed to house RAAF and WAAAF trainees, the barracks were pre fabricated and designed for ease of construction.

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) advance party had arrived by rail at Sandgate on 9 December 1940. To their dismay, the airmen discovered that no buildings had been constructed on the site due to the recent intense wet season in Brisbane. So the advance party moved back to the new RAAF base at Amberley, west of Ipswich. Thus the RAAF Station Headquarters, consisting of No.3 Initial Training School and No.3 Embarkation Depot were formed on 16 December 1940 at Amberley. No.3 Initial Training School’s first commander was Flight Lieutenant V.L. Dowling. No.3 Embarkation Depot conducted navigation, signalling and armaments classes.

The units were temporarily based at Amberley while a new base was constructed at Brighton. Designated as the Sandgate RAAF Station, it was to operate as an air training base. The first structures to be constructed were the Station Orderly Room, stores buildings plus barracks for the transport section.

The official date given for the full occupation of the Sandgate RAAF Station is given as 18 April 1941, though No.3 Embarkation Depot had moved there on 10 April. Detachments from No.3 Initial Training School and No.3 Embarkation Depot moved onto the site from Amberley and the Sandgate RAAF Station was operational by July 1941. An opening ball was held at Sandgate Town Hall to mark the event. On 1 December 1941, Wing Commander H.A. Rigby was appointed commander of No.3 Initial Training School.

The design of the barrack buildings constructed at Brighton in 1941, most closely resemble the 'Sidney Williams huts'. This company previously constructed 'Comet' brand windmills and was founded in Rockhampton in 1879. It is possible prefabricated sections of the buildings may have been constructed there or at their Dulwich Hill factory in Sydney. However, the Sandgate huts were produced prior to American involvement in the war. Therefore they do not strictly fit the standard US prefabrication design and being drawn from a British or Australian wartime building plan, are therefore considerably rarer. Only two 'Sidney Williams huts' remain at the former RAAF Sandgate station site.

Out of the initial trainee class of 1941, twenty graduated as RAAF aircrew. Of this number only three survived World War Two. Squadron Leader J.A. Adam took over command of No.3 Initial Training School on 30 March 1942.

By April 1942, the breakdown of staff at the Brighton base consisted as follows:
Station Headquarters
RAAF 17 Officers of whom 4 were from the Women's' Australian Auxiliary Air Force (WAAAF)
RAAF Airmen 162 + 1 male nurse
WAAAF (other ranks) personnel 22
No.3 Initial Training School
RAAF Officers 23
Nurses 1, Airmen 57, WAAAF Airmen 4
No.3 Embarkation Depot
Officers 2, Airmen 5

Sandgate RAAF Station accepted recruits and provided basic training such as marching, bayonet and rifle drill plus aircraft identification. A RAAF rifle range and an observation post were placed on a nearby farm. An individual’s RAAF service life began at Brighton and then progressed to advance training bases such as at Kingaroy. Nearby there were another three Allied air bases, operating in the Petrie-Strathpine area. In this area fighter squadrons were active, with the US Army Air Force (USAAF) 80th Fighter Squadron flying Bell P-39 Airacobras. Also based in this locality were Vought A-24 Vultee Vengences of RAAF No.12 Squadron, Boomerang fighters of RAAF No. 83 Squadron and Spitfires of RAAF No.548 and No.549 Squadrons.

On 23 July 1942, No.3 Initial Training School transferred to Kingaroy. On 1 December, No.6 Recruit Depot transferred to Brighton from RAAF Amberley. Squadron Leader J.R. Gordon was the unit’s commander, replaced by Squadron Leader J.A. Adam on 8 December. This unit had only recently been formed, on 24 August. Its role was to provide basic training including swimming lessons at Sandgate Beach, lectures on gas precautions, sanitation, hygiene and military discipline together with physical fitness including night survival exercises in the local bush. Squadron Leader C.H. MacKinnon became the commander. Squadron Leader F.V. Bassett replaced him on 30 May 1944. On 15 November 1944, the School relocated to Maryborough.

As well, the Sandgate RAAF Station trained many radar units. On 1 February 1943, the 24th Radar Station was formed at Brighton under Pilot Officer J.B. Hughes. The 135th Radar Station was formed at the Sandgate RAAF Station on 5 May 1943. Flight Lieutenant A.W. Williams led the unit. After initial training, it left for Pinkenba on 28 June 1943. On 12 August 1944, the 163rd Radar Station relocated from Richmond (NSW) to the Sandgate RAAF Station. Flying Officer F.H.W. Surman commanded the unit. It left for Melbourne on 30 December 1944 but returned to Brighton on 18 January 1945. The 166th Radar Station, under Flying Officer W.H.C. Mann, relocated from Castlereagh (NSW) to the Brighton RAAF base on 22 February 1945. Both the 163rd and 166th Radar Stations moved to Brisbane on 2 May 1945 prior to embarkation for Morotai in the Netherlands East Indies on 16 May.

On 3 March 1944, No.1 Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit was formed at Brighton with 6 officers, 25 nurses, 1 warrant officer, 4 flight sergeants, 23 sergeants, 8 corporals and 24 other ranks. It took over control of all New Guinea medical air evacuations from the Americans on 1 October. By 1 May 1945, the unit had transferred to Lae, New Guinea.

In April 1944, No.3 Embarkation Depot was redesignated No.3 Personnel Depot. The unit established a transit camp at the Rocklea Showgrounds in July. No.3 Personnel Depot was appointed the Sandgate RAAF Station’s parent unit on 6 November 1944. It held revised navigation and Morse code courses and lectures on first aid, administration and RAAF law. The unit trained airmen as airfield defence guards with bayonet and weapons training and live grenade throwing on an attached range. By 1945, WAAAF recruit training was undertaken at Brighton. At War’s end in September 1945, the Sandgate RAAF Station was converted from its training role into a RAAF demobilisation centre for returning air personnel. It closed on 29 January 1947.

A 1946 aerial photograph of the site shows that the main location of the Station’s buildings was east of today’s Hornibrook Highway, between Nineteenth Avenue and Twenty Third Avenue. The Station may also have utilised the land east of the Hornibrook Highway as far north as the old Hornibrook Bridge; as well as west of the highway, between Range Avenue and Twenty Third Avenue.

Source/comments

BCC Heritage Unit citation
Units of the Royal Australian Air Force Vol.5
Units of the Royal Australian Air Force Vol.9