US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment Parachute packing shed
Gordonvale and District Tennis Association courts
- Supply facility
No 1 tennis court, Gordon and Mill Streets, Gordonvale 4865
Construction of parachute packing sheds at Gordonvale for
the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment
began in February 1943. Two packing sheds were built in Norman Park on the present site of Nos. 1 and 2 tennis courts of the Gordonvale and District Tennis Association. The sheds were constructed with towers at each end where the parachutes could be hung up to dry before folding and assembly. Between the towers were 15 sets of packing tables where the parachute packers worked in pairs, one on each side of a table. The men in the packing sheds called them the 'Parabelles'. On one occasion towards the end of June 1943 as the number of exercise jumps increased, they packed 700 'assemblies' in three days.
Most of the remainder of Norman Park was taken over by a large tent encampment of US Army parachute maintenance men. Only t
he concrete slab floor of the packing shed has withstood the test of time. After the war it became the playing surface for tennis courts Nos. 1 and 2 of the Gordonvale and District Tennis Association. The No.1 court was resurfaced in 1978 but the surface of the No.2 court is still the original packing shed floor.
Some 3500 men of the US 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, including the 501st Parachute Battalion and ‘A’ Company of the 504th Parachute Infantry Battalion, arrived somewhat unexpectedly in north Queensland after a long voyage across the Pacific, disembarking in Cairns on 2 December 1942. At Cairns the troops and their gear were loaded onto trucks and taken to an undeveloped camp area on the Gillies Highway south-west of Gordonvale. Their camp extended on both sides of the road near Alley Creek in the Riverstone area.
Work on two parachute packing sheds commenced in Norman Park on 17 February 1943. Another tower was built at the back of the Lyric Theatre (now the RSL Hall) where the men could practice harness jumps and tumble falls. These facilities were built by Civil Construction Corps workers. On arrival at Gordonvale the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment did not have their own parachute packers so a call was made for local women to do the work. After a rigorous selection process involving an intensive interview and training course at the Lyric Theatre, only 17 out of the several hundred applicants were chosen as packers in March 1943.
At first the chutes were made of silk, but these were replaced with nylon chutes. Training chutes were white, while combat chutes were camouflaged khaki and green. Equipment chutes for dropping supplies and equipment were of a coarse linen material. One of the main training jump sites in the district was Green Hill at Kamma, north of Gordonvale. General MacArthur and General Blamey inspected the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment at Gordonvale in June 1943 and witnessed a jump by the Regiment at Green Hill.
After completion of training the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment left Gordonvale for Cairns in August 1943, bound for Port Moresby. On the morning of 5 September the paratroopers were loaded into 82 C-47 transport aircraft assembled at eight airstrips in the Port Moresby area. Five aircraft carrying Australian gunners from the 2/4 Field Regiment accompanied the air armada over the Owen Stanley Range for the parachute assault on Japanese forces around Nadzab in the Markham River valley. They secured the Nadzab area for the construction of an airstrip from where the Australian 7th Division could be flown in to attack Lae from the landward side, while the 9th Division carried out an assault from the sea. Lae and Salamaua were taken by mid-September.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author)
Vera Bradley. I Didn’t Know That: Cairns and districts Tully to Cape York, 1939–1946, Service personnel and civilians, Boolarong Press, Brisbane, 1995.
HC Morton, Mulgrave Shire Historical Society Bulletins 13–15, ca.1982.
Peter Nielsen. Diary of WWII North Queensland, Nielsen Publishing, Gordonvale, 1993.
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.
PD Wilson. North Queensland: WWII 1942–1945, Department of Geographic Information, Brisbane, 1988.