Camp Ascot Park (United States Army)
Special Intelligence Service accommodation / Eagle Farm Race Course
- Military camp
- Greater Brisbane
Member’s Car Park, Eagle Farm Race Course, Ascot 4007
Camp Ascot was the first US Army camp established in Australia, following the arrival of the 'Pensacola' Convoy on 22 December 1941. It was located in the Ascot Racecourse due to its close location to the major Brett’s Wharf at Hamilton. The Americans were not permitted to damage the racetracks so it was largely a tented camp containing only a few, temporary, pre-fabricated buildings. Until War’s end in 1945, it remained a delivery and transit camp for various US Army and Navy units upon their arrival in Brisbane.
Camp Ascot Park was an extension of the camp and provided accommodation for the Special Intelligence Service, who were employed at nearby “Nyrambla” at 21 Henry Street, Ascot.
On 22 December 1941, the 'Pensacola' Convoy reached Brisbane’s Brett’s Wharf at Hamilton, bringing the first US Army troops to Australia. Upon disembarking, the troops marched up Racecourse Road and entered Ascot Park Racecourse to establish a tented camp. The units comprised the 147th Artillery Regiment, 131st and 148th Artillery Battalions, motor transport units, US Army Services of Supply (USASOS) personnel plus pilots, ground crews and aircraft for P-40E fighter and A-24 dive-bomber squadrons. On 28 December, the convoy’s combat units departed for Darwin and Java on Holbrook and Bloemfontein. The remaining troops stayed at the new US Army Camp Ascot Park.
The camp was built within the grounds of the Ascot Park (now Eagle Farm) Racecourse. Because the racecourse was an important Brisbane existing sporting and recreation facility, the Americans were not permitted to alter its buildings or damage its three concentric racetracks. The Australian Comforts Fund (ACF) initially provided personal items, such as writing paper, library books and magazines for the Americans.
By May 1942, when the 648th US Engineer Regiment reached Brisbane, the unit described the Camp as “a big fancy racetrack” though they found the facilities poor. The Regiment’s kitchen comprised a makeshift tin shack with coal stoves, an open hearth with primitive utensils. US troops had to chop wood daily to supply the kitchen’s fireplace. They shared this small shack with the 69th US Engineer Regiment, the 707th and 708th Regiments and a Base Communications unit. Only open-air showers were available and there was no hot water available except by boiling. A tin horse trough was used as a shaving basin. The latrines were corrugated iron sheds containing unfamiliar timber 'dunnies' supplied with sawdust instead of toilet paper. The American soldiers referred to the latrine as 'the Can'. There were no lights except in the Mess Hall. The men slept on the wooden floors of their tents. Two US Army and two Australian army sentries guarded Ascot Park’s main gates.
In May 1943, the 837th Signal Service Detachment was deactivated and renamed the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) commanded by Colonel Harold Doud. In 1944, SIS was relocated into 'permanent' quarters at Camp Ascot Park. The camp had become a tent city, packed with US Army 'Bell Tents' and divided into camps ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’. A temporary movie theatre was placed in the main grandstand. Ascot Racecourse’s flowerbeds were beautifully maintained to aid camp morale. A baseball diamond was marked in the racetrack’s grass field centre. Two warehouses including a Mess Hall, complete with a Day-Room (Reading Room) was placed in the members’ car park. Prefabricated demountable huts (20 to 40) were placed around Camp Ascot but outside the fenced racing circle. A tramline that ran from outside the racecourse and into Brisbane City, where most amenities for troops on leave were located, serviced the camp.
SIS expanded and was allotted Oriel Park (just four streets away from Camp Ascot Park) as as site to place temporary additional facilities. Americans from the Womens’ Army Corps (WAC), Australians from the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) as well as Canadians were based at Oriel Park. In June 1944, SIS sent an Advanced Headquarters to the new Allied base at Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea. By 1 August 1945, the entire SIS had left Camp Ascot Park and the unit was concentrated at San Miguel in the Philippines.
SIS in the Far East 1942-46 Clarke, R.W. “Racecourses and GIs: Australia WW2—The American Invasion", Sabretache Vol XL No. 3 — September 2009, Page 1. The Military Historical Society of Australia Sabretache) Journal.