61ST AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BATTALION (AIF)
THE QUEENSLAND CAMERON HIGHLANDERS
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2

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"A Cameron Never Yields"

Brigadier John Field was urgently returned from the Middle East in early 1942 to take charge of the 7th Militia Brigade to prepare them to defend north Queensland against a possible Japanese invasion.

61st Battalion training at Cannon Hill in Brisbane in 1941

The 7th Militia Brigade comprised the 9th, 25th and 61st Infantry Battalions. The 61st were camped briefly near Yandina in April 1942. 

The 61st Battalion moved north to Townsville by train. They arrived at Oonoomba railway station on the outskirts of Townsville after a 6 day journey from Brisbane. The troops were taken by truck to Antil Plains, west of Townsville on the road to Charters Towers where they established their initial camp amongst the thousands of tall ant hills. The Spinifex grass caused the soldiers quite some annoyance, as it would stick in their socks. As they wore shorts and socks, the Spinifex nettles would often penetrate the skin on their legs. Snakes were also a problem. On one day private Mick Brown shot a 7 foot brown snake . 

They were at Antil Plains around the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea, which was at a time when the perceived threat of a Japanese invasion was very high. So for the short week or so that they were at Antil Plains, they spent a lot of time patrolling the area as there were concerns that the Japanese may drop parachutists in the area or land aircraft on the highway.

Members of the 61st Battalion building an underground signal exchange at Antil Plains

A short time later, Brigadier Field then chose Rollingstone just 50kms north of Townsville as the most likely spot for the defence against a Japanese landing. The 7th Militia Brigade moved to Rollingstone on 15 May 1942 and dug in their defensive positions along the coast at Rollingstone. They also prepared a number of fallback defensive lines in case they had to retreat towards Townsville.  If this were to eventuate, they would be supported by the 11th Brigade and the 29th Brigade.  Infantry training was only held two days per week with the rest of the time being devoted to digging in their defensive positions.

The 61st Battalion set up their defensive positions near Rollingstone either side of the highway north. The 9th Battalion established themselves on the coastline at Rollingstone and the 25th Battalion established themselves closer to Townsville. The 5th Regiment Artillery was also part of the defences in the area. 

"C" Company built some very elaborate tank traps near their positions and erected barbed wire entanglements

Some instructors from the 61st Battalion were sent to Ingham to train the local Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) in army tactics and assembly and disassembly of Bren Guns.

Rollingstone Creek was flowing freely while they were camped there and provided clean cool drinking water. Rollingstone, was worse for snakes than Antil Plains. "C" Company had to wear leg guards on the knoll where they were located. Brown snakes, death adders and carpet snakes were very prevalent. The Vickers Machine Gun Company's location was also snake infested. Lieutenant "Nugget" Emmet adopted and trained a large carpet snake, which he would take for a "walk" with a rope around its neck each morning and afternoon. During a concert attended by a number of female nurses, "Nigger" got George McIntosh to play a flute while squatting on the stage floor in front of a sugar bag. All of a sudden there were nurses rushing off in all directions as the snake slithered out of the bag.

Brigadier Field noted the following in his diary:-

"One problem at Rollingstone was the sugar farmers. We had to clear fields of fire in the cane and clear scrub. There were always protests, sugar inspectors, inflated claims for so much timber destroyed - this at the time of the Coral Sea Battle."

"We'd just begun the training programme when we were ordered to Milne Bay."

The troops would spend their leave in nearby Townsville, where they would enjoy a T-bone steak, attend an open air move theatre at the Olympia theatre in Sturt Street or catch an island boat to nearby Magnetic Island. While they were at Rollingstone an athletic carnival was held with Geoff Burfein again the Battalion sprint champion. By this time, Townsville had also been invaded by numerous American soldiers and airmen.

Reg Kogler was able to ensure there was always a good supply of beer on hand. He was a cousin of the Mayor of Townsville, who also just happened to own a hotel.

The 61st Battalion took part in much training while they were at Rollingstone. This involved many patrols and exercises. One large exercise took place towards the Ingham area.

On 30 June 1942 an unidentified aircraft flew overhead. Another unidentified aircraft flew over on 8 July 1942. While they were in the Rollingstone area, the Japanese made a number of air raids on Townsville starting on 26 July 1942.

An advanced party of the 7th Militia Brigade (9th Battalion, 25th Battalion and 61st Battalions) under the command of Brigadier J. Field, moved to Milne Bay on 11 July 1942.

The 61st Battalion, the Queensland Cameron Highlanders, moved to Milne Bay from Townsville as follows:-

DATE SHIP COMPRISING
11 July 1942 "Tasman" Advance parties of 61st, 9th and 25th Battalions, and 7th Brigade HQ
15 July 1942 "Bontekoe" Part of 61st and 25th Battalions
18 July 1942 "Swartenhondt" and "Japara" Part of 61st Battalion
27 July 1942 "Bontekoe" Part of 61st Battalion
3 August 1942 "Swartenhondt" Main party of 61st Battalion
8 August 1942 "Bontekoe", "Tasman", and "Japara" Remaining elements of 61st Battalion

 

The Defence of Townsville 

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"The 61st Battalion - 1938 - 1945, The Queensland Cameron Highlanders' War"
by James Watt

 

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This page first produced 13 July 1998

This page last updated 15 October 2006