Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 19 Replenishment Centre
Talmoi Chemical Warfare Store
- Ammunition facility
Talmoi Wool scour siding, Flinders Highway, Talmoi 4740
The Queensland directorate of the Allied Works Council received a requisition for the provision of buildings and services for a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) explosives reserve at Talmoi wool scour west of Richmond in late September 1942. The work was to be supervised by the Main Roads Commission (MRC). At the time, Talmoi wool scour was owned by the firm of Edkins Marsh and Company of Ilfracombe, who owned a number of sheep properties and a string of wool scours throughout central-west Queensland.
The wool scour was located on Molesworth station near Maxwelton, west of Richmond on the Townsville-Mount Isa railway. The area was considered suitable for chemical weapons storage as it provided storage sheds and living facilities with running bore water, on a rail siding a safe distance from the coast and other settlement. The facility was initially designated as RAAF No.4 Central Explosives Reserve, Talmoi.
The work was given top priority with the design and supervision of buildings and services referred to the Department of Works engineers in Townsville. MRC roadworks and earthworks had commenced at the site by December 1942, but it was not until March 1943 that a contract for the erection of 24 buildings and repairs to an existing 11 buildings was awarded to J Hutchison and Sons who were then carrying out work at Cape River meat works, on the Townsville railway.
Today, nine widely-spaced reinforced concrete igloo-shaped explosives stores remain, with several floor slabs of other buildings removed, including a laboratory. The wartime chemical weapons stores now hold cattle fodder. The military camp area, centred around the wool scour site, now comprises concrete floor slabs of the kitchen, mess and ablution blocks and footings of the airmens’ quarters.
Construction of reinforced concrete storage igloos and other buildings at Talmoi was underway by June 1943, when the first of a series of industrial disputes occurred when workers engaged by Hutchison and Sons complained that they were without food and rations. Further disputes and supply difficulties served to delay the opening of the facility which had been redesignated RAAF 19 Replenishment Centre by late 1943.
RAAF 19 Replenishment Centre was established at Marrangaroo near Lithgow in New South Wales in October 1943. The unit was responsible for storing chemical weapons manufactured from a consignment procured in Britain and shipped to Australia.
Talmoi was first occupied in March 1944 by a small detachment from RAAF 19 Replenishment Centre. Chemical weapons from Lithgow began arriving at Talmoi siding by rail in September 1944 and within a week a total of 2550 phosgene bombs had been unloaded. The reinforced concrete igloos were used to store the 250 lb (113 kg) bombs and a corrugated iron shed was used to store mustard gas canisters. Additional building work was requisitioned for Talmoi in mid-1944 by which period the detachment stood at one officer and 43 other ranks.
In May 1945 orders were received to transfer the chemical weapons to Breddan airfield near Charters Towers. However, Breddan was found to be unsuitable for this purpose. After the Japanese surrender, two RAAF officers were sent to Talmoi from Melbourne to supervise the destruction of the chemical weapons by fire and a series of controlled burns were carried out during January 1946, when all of the phosgene bombs and remaining chemicals at Talmoi were declared to have been destroyed. On 19 February 1946, RAAF 19 Replenishment Centre was formally disbanded at Townsville.
By 1948 thousands of phosgene bomb casings at Talmoi, presumed to have been rendered harmless, had been removed by local residents for a variety of purposes including use as house blocks. However, in December that year the McKinlay Shire Council advised the federal government that many bomb casings still contained gas. In response, military command in Melbourne suggested that McKinlay Shire Council should prohibit the use of phosgene bomb casings for building purposes. A small stockpile of chemical weapons was discovered at Maxwelton near Talmoi, as late as 1989.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
Allied Works Council (Queensland), AWC Minutes 1942–1945, BP1/1, National Archives of Australia, Brisbane.
Peter Dunn, Australia @ War website, 19 Replenishment Centre RAAF.
Howard Pearce. WWII: NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2009.