Chermside Army Camp
7th Brigade Park
- Military camp
- Brisbane City
Ellison, Geebung (now Newman), Hamilton and Murphy Roads, Chermside 4032
During World War Two, the Australian Army fielded dual forces. There was the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) that comprised volunteers who could serve anywhere overseas. The Australian Military Forces (AMF) were the voluntary part-time militia that was the mainstay of the Interwar army. Constitutionally, the militia could only serve within Australian territory (including Papua & New Guinea). On 1 January 1940, conscription for all unmarried men aged 21 years or older into the AMF began. As a result, new militia training camps such as Chermside Army Camp were required. Chermside Camp operated from October 1940 to April 1946. It was the largest AMF camp built in Brisbane during the war.
On 7 August, the Commonwealth used its National Security Regulations to requisition Alanzo Sparkes’ paddock at Chermside for a militiary camp. The plan was to erect a tented camp to accommodate 3,500 militia troops. Huts would be built later when funds were available. The first structure to be established was a Military Post Office (MILPO) that opened on 5 October. The first 200 recruits were expected on 7 October 1940.
The site was chosen, as it was handy to Geebung Railway Station only 9 miles from Brisbane. It had good road access as Gympie, Hamilton, Murphys and Geebung (later Newman) Roads were sealed. By February 1941, new town water pipes were laid along Hamilton Road. The paddock was fenced with wooden posts and barbed wire. The site held three rented cottages in Banfield Street. The old cottages were of no use to the Army. They had no bathrooms, baths, sinks, washing tubs, gas electric light or town water and were dilapidated. The Army allowed the Frankham, Strange and Dawson families to remain in the cottages. The only civilians permitted to live on site. By February 1941, the army had spent £35,000 to build facilities. This amounted to £10 for each soldier then based at the site. The main gate was at Ellison Rd (across from Danette St). On Sunday afternoon, the Changing of the Guard ceremony was conducted at the Main Gate. On 12 June 1941, the Commonwealth gazetted the acquisition of Sparkes’ Paddock comprising 401 acres and 31.8 perches of land bounded by Ellison, Murphy, Gympie, Hamilton and Geebung Roads. It became Chermside Army Camp.
The area north of Downfall Creek became known as the upper camp. It was tent city, mainly using A-frame tents with a few huts for toilet and shower blocks. Later two permanent mess huts were built and electricity connected to the site. To aid self-sufficiency, a large vegetable garden, irrigated by sewerage and treated water, was established beside Downfall Creek. The irrigation water came from the army’s sullage plant that was built beside the creek. Soldiers also traded packaged Army foodstuffs for fresh food. At first, the Camp’s ammunition magazine was a tin shed located beside Downfall Creek. Later, three ammunition storage sheds and a salvage and recovery shed were built.
The first unit to enter the Camp was 7th Brigade, initially commanded by Brigadier John Hill. 7th Brigade was an all-Queensland militia force. It comprised 9th, 15th, 25th, 47th and 61st Battalions plus support units: 7th Brigade Headquarters 11th Field Engineers, 7th Field Ambulance, 106th Casualty Clearing Station and a transport section. The units did not arrive simultaneously as they had to await the completion of facilities or equipment issues to new recruits. During 1941 and into 1942, 7th Brigade undertook training. The battalions conducted day and night route marches in the district or further a field. A bagpiper or kettledrummer could accompany the marchers to help keep step. A common route was along Ellison Road, up Murphy Road, along Zillmere Road and then down Geebung Road to the Camp. Bilsen and Robinson Roads and Railway Parade were also used. Bottlenecks occurred when soldiers had to pass through the local railway gates. Soldiers would often march with full kit including knapsacks, allowing them to camp overnight in the field. They fed from hotboxes trucked out from the Camp or from the rations they carried. Gradually modern equipment arrived. Bren-guns replaced Lewis machine guns. Trucks and universal (Bren-gun) carriers replaced horses and civilian cars. Downfall Creek’s banks were used as a testing course for the carriers.
Troops entrained at Geebung Station to go to Enoggera Army Camp’s weapons ranges to live fire their rifles, machine guns and mortars. Small arms firing also occurred at the Virginia Brick and Pipe Works’ clay pits. On military exercises, troops fired blanks. The local dirt roads’ steep sides were utilized as impromptu trenches and farm fences as barricades. Sometimes soldiers would appear from camouflage and frighten civilians. In April 1942, 7th Brigade command changed to Brigadier John Craven, later to Brigadier Francis North. By May 1942, 7th Brigade left Chermside Camp for Nambour and then Townsville. On 11 July 1942, the Brigade’s vanguard arrived at Milne Bay, Papua, where from 25 August to 7 September, 7th Brigade led by Brigadier John Field, helped inflict the first land defeat suffered by the Japanese in World War Two.
With 7th Brigade’s departure, Chermside Camp changed to a training centre for specialist rear-echelon units and a staging camp for troops heading north. A camp inspection of 13 June 1942 listed a Motor Transport School, the 1st Australian Cookery School, an area signals unit and a bomb disposal and chemical warfare unit. Thereafter it held a variety of units under the overall authority of the 1st Australian Base Sub-area, including the Eastern Command’s Land Headquarters, the 113th Transport Company, the 17th Personnel Staging Camp, the 2/1st Australian General Hospital and later the 2nd Camp Hospital. Northgate general practitioner Dr Gillies was Medical Officer in charge of the hospital. Kitty Dean was a matron there.
During 1943, Chermside Camp expanded across to Marchant Park. A US P-47 Thunderbolt fighter crashed in the lower camp area. The plane carried a trainee pilot and an instructor. The pilot got into difficulties, tried to land on Hamilton Road but the road’s heavy military traffic forced a diversion towards open ground inside the Camp. The aircraft hit the end of the officers’ latrines and crashed, killing both men.
Reveille was at 6 am, breakfast at 7 am, Sick Parade at 8 am held outside of the Headquarters Orderly Room. Administration Parade was also held at 8 am. Lunch started at midday, followed by a second Administration Parade at 1.30 pm. Troops wanting leave attended Leave Parade at 4 pm. Lights went out at 10.30 pm. Parking vehicles parked next to tents or huts was not permitted due to the fire risk. A car park was set aside for all vehicles. The Camp Fire Officer was Captain B. Platt. He and his deputy Sergeant W. McGarry organized fire alarms and liaised with the nearest fire unit at Nundah Fire Station. The Camp boasted an open-air, amphitheatre cinema, an Officers’ Mess (bar), a Sergeants’ Mess and a wet canteen that served beer to the other ranks. A Salvation Army Red Shield hut provided tea and coffee, newspapers and letter-writing material. The local community was asked to donate games, magazines or other items to this hut. To combat VD, there was a Blue Light Tent where condoms were issued to the troops going on leave. To get to the City, the Camp ran a bus service from the Murphy Road gate to the tram terminus near Lutwyche Cemetery. For many homesick soldiers, the best outing was when they gained an invitation to visit one of the district’s families’ homes.
Many of the militia conscripts were married men. Some wives followed their interstate servicemen up to Queensland and boarded at homes nearby. Entry into the Camp for non-military personnel was by invitation only. The evening movies screened at the Camp theatre appeared to be the exception. Local families would bring along blankets and sit on the grass to watch the films shown to the troops. The cinema was popular with the locals as it was close and petrol rationing prevented many people from going further a field for entertainment. Civilian cars would park in the Camp. Some families would park so close to the amphitheatre that they could watch the films from their cars. But too many cars came into the Camp that restrictions were eventually placed on civilians attending the theatre.
By March 1945, Chermside Camp accommodated 5000 troops. It had spread below Downfall Creek and across Hamilton Road to Pfingst Road. This area was known as the lower camp. It was connected to the upper camp by a narrow bridge over Downfall Creek. The lower camp’s main gate was on Hamilton Road, at what is now Corrie Street. The upper camp, consisting of A, B, C and D Blocks, was used for troop accommodation and training. It included tennis courts, a boxing ring, a cricket pitch, two sergeants’ messes, two vegetable gardens, horse yards, a medical laboratory, a dental hut, two barber’s huts, four butcher’s sheds, a Salvation Army recreation hut, a Church of England recreation hut, plus the theatre and the hospital both of which were in 'B Block'.
The lower camp comprised ‘E’ and ‘F’ Blocks housing accommodation and messes for vehicle maintenance units. 'Block F' held petrol bowsers and vehicle workshops including two igloos. Across Hamilton Road from the lower camp was the 20th Works Company in 'G Block' plus the 67th Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) in 'H Block'. As the women’s sleeping quarters were located in 'H Block', it was a restricted area. At war’s end in August 1945, Chermside Army Camp converted to a demobilization centre. Known as the 17th Australian Personnel Staging Camp, it was commanded by Captain H.E. Hopkins. From August to December 1945, Chermside Army Camp housed large contingents of returning Australian soldiers awaiting demobilisation. The Chermside Army Camp formally closed on 30 April 1946.
Memories of Ted Barber, 2017:
Ted Barber lived in Piccadilly Road, north of Ellison Road, and attended Zillmere state school. These are some of his memories of the camp:
“As a boy I used to deliver flowers to the camp hospital from my mother’s garden, my father was the caretaker of the C of E hut and an ARP warden. My first recollections were of the Light Horse unit camped on Downfall Creek with horses, horse stables etc. As a boy I had freedom to roam the camp and remember quite well the arrival of the first Bren gun carrier… At the gate on Murphy [Road] was a large sign (See no Evil- Hear no evil and Speak no Evil) with the three wise monkeys. I also recall a large tree on Gernses Hill used as a lookout with a view over Moreton Bay. Open days [were] held in Marchants Park with tent pegging displays and car displays with balloon busting, army bands etc. Our home was surrounded by tents at first but later buildings were erected on our land. There was a unit camped on our front paddock for some time which I believe was the 61st Highland Regiment which [moved] from our paddock to New Guinea with tragic results.
I could go on, the aeroplane that crashed flew low over our house and quite clear in my memory.
Entering from Ellison road there was a sentry box on the left, a guard house behind the sentry box with a couple of prison cells at one end. There was a high tank stand on the right with large water tanks as you moved into the camp there were wooden buildings on either side. I have a vague memory of a wooden sign board on the right in front of the buildings. Also, Sir Leslie Wilson visited the camp at some stage and entered off Ellison Road. Our belief that [the] Murphy Road gate was the main gate no doubt was [because] Murphy Road was a major road, more activities at that gate, all the main signs were there and the taxis lined up there in the evenings to pick those going on leave.
We frequently had soldiers sitting around our dining table of an evening either playing board games or listening to Tokyo Rose on shortwave radio. Tokyo Rose had a lot of information relating to the camp and the private citizens in close proximity. This led to rumours of people passing on information to the enemy and some finger pointing.
The 3c’s [Civil Construction Corps] came and were installed in our back paddock and outside our kitchen window, causing concerns for my parents as I was the youngest of seven with adult sisters.”
Jonathan Ford, Marching to the Trains - the Chermside Army Camp Remembered, (Brisbane: Ford, 2005).
Email communications from Ted Barber, 4 and 13 February 2017