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Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS); Australian 1st Battalion; POW Compound and Interrogation Centre

'Tighnabruaich' and Witton Barracks

  • Internment/POW facility
  • Brisbane City

203 Clarence and 9 Lambert Roads, Indooroopilly 4068

Leased by the Commonwealth in October 1942 for the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), the site held two nineteenth century houses - 'Tighnabruaich' and 'Witton House'. ATIS established its Australian headquarters (HQ) there. It became the primary interrogation centre for enemy POWs in this country. The interrogation cellblocks remain on the site. Other important work conducted at the ATIS HQ were the breaking of the Japanese Army's codes in1943 and the translation of a captured list that allowed the Allies to compile a Japanese Order of Battle. ATIS left in July 1945 and the site became an Australian Army Women's Service barracks.

History

The Commonwealth requisitioned the site from the state government's Public Trustees Limited in October 1942. The site included two residences 'Tighnabruaich' and 'Witton House'. 'Tighnabruaich' was built in 1892. The earlier (1860s) 'Witton House' was moved onto the property from elsewhere in Indooroopilly in 1915.

A joint Australian and American intelligence organisation, the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) established its headquarters there. In June 1942, there was a re-organisation of the various national intelligence services (Australian, American, Dutch) based in Australia. The Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) was formed to oversee all intelligence activities. The ATIS was probably created around the same time. Its role was to interrogate enemy prisoners of war (POWs) and interpret any captured documents. The first such documents were captured in the Australian raid on Salamua in Papua on 29 June 1942. The Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) theatre, US General Douglas MacArthur transferred his headquarters from Melbourne to Brisbane on 23 July 1942. The first group of Japanese (8) were captured at Normanby Island (near Milne Bay) on 23 September 1942. By October, Japanese POWs began to trickle in from the Kokoda Campaign. It was at this time that ATIS set-up at Indooroopilly.

ATIS was a joint Australian and US unit. Japanese-Americans (Nisei) and Australians who spoke Japanese staffed ATIS. Interrogation of captured Indonesians or the translation of documents written in the Malay languages of the Indies was undertaken separately by the Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service (NEFIS).

The initial 1942 plans for the layout of the ATIS Camp incorporated 'Witton House' as the Sergeant's Mess with the larger 'Tighnabruaich' allotted as an officers' mess and sleeping quarters. The Other Ranks slept in tents until barracks and an ablutions block were constructed. The Orderly Room/Office was built close to the Camp's main entrance off Clarence Road. A documents translation building was placed near 'Tighnabruaich'. The most important additions were the five-building POW Compound (or Cage) located near 'Witton House' and the Interrogation Building adjacent to 'Tighnabruaich'. Construction was undertaken under the direction of the Allied Works Council (AWC). The POW cell designs were deemed TOP SECRET and were never drawn onto the site plans.

Surrounded by barbed wire, the POW Compound contained three brick cellblocks that could accommodate about 15 prisoners. The POWs were guarded by troops drawn from the Australian 1st Garrison Battalion. The Japanese were being shipped from Port Moresby to Brisbane then sent under guard by train or truck to the Gaythorne POW Transit Camp. Individual POWs were taken to the ATIS Camp and placed in a cell prior to interrogation. Interrogation sessions lasted a few days. Once the interrogation was completed, POWs were returned to Gaythorne prior to being placed on a train and sent for permanent incarceration at the Japanese POW Camps in New South Wales or Victoria. While close to suburban housing, the ATIS Camp bordered the Brisbane River and the Ipswich railway line and so was considered escape-proof. Still, the presence of Japanese POWs so near to Brisbane homes was kept a secret from the civilian population. The ATIS headquarters at Indooroopilly was the principal interrogation centre within Australia during the war.

By the time of the Cowra Breakout in August 1944, there were 2,223 Japanese POWs in Australia. Many of these POWs would have been interrogated at the ATIS Camp. German POWs also went to Indooroopilly. HMAS Adelaide and HMNS Jacob van Heemskerk sank the blockade-runner Ramses in the Indian Ocean on 28 November 1942. HMNS Zwaardvisch sank the submarine U-168 in the Indian Ocean on 6 October 1944. The ships' officers and telegraphists were despatched to the ATIS Camp for rigorous interrogation.

During 1942–45, the personnel who worked in the document translation building undertook important work. Two significant translations were of a captured Japanese Officer List and of the captured codebooks belonging to the Japanese 20th Division. The translation of the Japanese Officer List provided the Allies with a proper understanding of the Japanese Army's command structure, such that the Australian analysts became the acknowledged experts the Japanese Army's Order of Battle. In 1943, the Japanese 20th Divisions codes were captured in New Guinea and sent to Indooroopilly for translation. It enabled the Allies to decode Japanese Army signal traffic.

As the number of Japanese POWs and the volume of captured documents increased, the facilities at the ATIS Camp expanded. Such additions were usually small, temporary structures such as army huts, though by April 1944, the Other Ranks had obtained their own Mess and adjacent Kitchen buildings. The Australian Army finally purchased the property for £8,909 on 13 June 1945. In July, ATIS left and until War's end, the site became the barracks for No.2 Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS). This unit had transferred from the AWAS Signals camp on Indooroopilly Road.

Source/comments

BCC Heritage Unit citation

Last updated
30 June 2014