NORTH EASTERN AREA COMMAND HEADQUARTERS
THE COMMONWEALTH BUILDING
STURT STREET, TOWNSVILLE

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visits since 2 April 2000

 

The North Eastern Area Command headquarters was located in the Commonwealth building at 24 (42?) Sturt Street, Townsville. The building was originally the D & W Murray Warehouse.

In April 2000 this building was owned by Brad M. Webb (my wife's cousin), a property developer, who refurbished the old building for professional offices. All of the old timber stairways and railings have been beautifully restored to their former glory. The building is now known as Federation Place.

Major General Ralph Royce was the North-Eastern Area Commander in August 1942. His Chief of Staff was Air Commodore Lukis.  Brigadier General Walker was appointed by General George C. Kenney in about August 1942 to command the Allied Air Forces in the North Eastern area with the assistance of Group Captain William Henry "Bull" Garing of the RAAF.

General Kenney advised Royce that he was to return to the USA as General Arnold wanted him to run the 1st Air Force.

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North-eastern Area Station HQ was formed in Townsville on 23 February 1942. The book "Royal Australia Air Force 1939 - 1942" indicates that Air Commodore A.H. Cobby had succeeded Air Commodore Lukis in command of North-eastern Area Station HQ in Townsville on 25 August 1942. 

An Area Combined Headquarters was established on 8 May 1941 in the Commonwealth Building at 42 Sturt Street, Townsville. 

 

Commonwealth Building (large white building) with the old RAAF Recruiting
building (former Officers Mess) located to the right hand side of it.

The Area Combined Headquarters (ACH) Operations Room was located on the top floor of the building. On the same floor was located the Mercantile Movements Section, the Combined Operational Intelligence Centre, 12 Signals RAAF (formerly Townsville W/T Station) and a special separate room for Air Intelligence.

I believe that the Combined Defence Headquarters was also located on the top floor of this building at some stage during WW2.

The second floor was used by the RAAF and the ground floor was also used by the RAAF with one area partitioned off for the Naval Staff Offices, which included the Naval Officer in Charge (NOIC) Secretary and Writer, the Code Room and Naval Control Services, etc.

Lt. Commander Eric Feldt, RAN the Supervising Intelligence Officer (SIO) for North East Area was located in this area. He was also acting NOIC in May 1941. Feldt was in charge of the Coastwatchers. Feldt's civilian assistant was Mr. K.L. "Paddy" Murray.

The RAAF combat units at Townsville, Cairns and Horn Island were attached to Walker for operational control. Kenney asked Walker to reorganise the North Eastern Area Command which Kenney described as a "scrambled outfit of Australians and Americans that resembled a can of worms".

North-Eastern Area
in April 1943

Air Commodore A.H. Cobby

7 Squadron

9 Squadron

11 Squadron

20 Squadron

Beauforts

Seagulls

Catalinas

Catalinas

Ross River, Townsville, QLD

Bowen, QLD

Cairns, QLD

Cairns, QLD

The Japanese carried out three bombing raids on Townsville on the nights of 26, 28 and 29th July 1942. On 29 July 1942, Major General Ralph Royce, North East Area Commander in Townsville sent a message to the Commander General, Allied Air Forces in Brisbane with a proposal to relocate Area Command HQ in Townsville to an underground location inside Castle Hill.

Ray Smith, Manager of Donnington Airpark, 41 kms west of Townsville, said in an article in "The Independent News" on Wednesday 9 August 1995, that he entered the Green Street bunker at West End not long after the war finished and found an old blueprint of the Ross River airfield showing the location of two aircraft that collided just after takeoff. This is probably the collision of two Kittyhawks at Ross River airfield in about April 1945. Ray was employed as a scout (runner) at North Eastern Area Command HQ in the Commonwealth Building in Sturt Street.

I rang Ray Smith on 21 September 2000, and he said that security was very tight at the Headquarters. He was eventually promoted to the 3rd floor in the teletype area. He remembers that each day, himself and another scout would be accompanied the to rear of the building by an RAAF person to witness them burning the day's teletype printouts. If one of the printouts was blown away in the breeze there was quite some excitement from the RAAF person to ensure that it was recovered and burnt. He still has the pass that was issued to him to gain access to the Headquarters.

I was told by someone of 2 tunnels which started from the basement of the Officer's Mess for North East Area Command HQ in Sturt Street. The Officers Mess building later became the RAAF Recruiting Centre in Sturt Street. He said that he had entered the tunnel that went to the basement of Buchanan's Hotel in Sturt Street and it is unclear where the other one went. There was a flight of stairs down to the entry to these two tunnels. There were no indication of the tunnels found when the adjacent Commonwealth Building was refurbished. 

 


 

Subject:    RAAF Photos
Date:             Thu, 29 Jun 2000 22:20:01 -0400
From:           "Douglas P. Walker" <dp_walker@worldnet.att.net>

Peter:

I think it would be easier for me to send these photos again, if in fact I have previously sent them, rather than have you search for them in your archives. Included are two photos of what appears to be a welcoming ceremony for my father (Brigadier General Walker) at the RAAF Officer's Mess, North Eastern Area HQ., which I believe was in Townsville. In addition to my father (clearly overdressed for the occasion), I can identify only Air Commodore A.H. Cobby (with the pipe). The office with the mustache may be Group Capt. William Henry "Bull" Garing, the RAAF officer you mention on your website. Also, included is my father's honorary membership card in the mess.

Best, Doug

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Left to Right in Front Row:- Brigadier General Kenneth Walker (dark coat and glasses), Group Capt. A. H. Cobby, Air Commodore F. M. Bladin, and the last person on the right is unidentified

Closeup of the photograph on the left

Are you in this photograph?

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Air Commodore A.H. Cobby with the pipe

Group Captain "Bull" Garing is the
 person above the head in the right foreground

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Kenneth Walker's honorary membership of the North Eastern Area Headquarters Officers Mess

 

 

The following personnel were Messing Orderlies at HQ, North Eastern Area:-

99123 Aircraftwoman (ACW) C. J. Paterson of Kooroongarra, Via Millmerran, Qld
100390 Sergeant D. M. Byng of Crown Street, Geebung, Qld
99288 ACW Parry MBE of 27 Crown Street, Toowoomba, Qld.

Gwen Stark was a  WAAAF, Staff Officer, at North-Eastern Area Headquarters RAAF.

Do you know any of the above ladies? Or anyone else who worked at North Eastern Area HQ?

 

Does anyone know where the
North Eastern Area Headquarters Officers Mess
was located?

 

UPDATE:- I spoke to Fay Moore on 25 July 2001. Fay was a WAAAF who lived in the WAAAF barracks in Anne Street. Fay told me that the Officers Mess was in the building next door to the North East Area Headquarters in Sturt Street. The old RAAF Recruiting building which has since been demolished.

 

Proposal to relocate Area Command HQ in Townsville
to an underground location inside Castle Hill.

 

REFERENCE

"Kenneth N. Walker"
"Airpower's Untempered Crusader"
By Martha Byrd

 

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This page first produced 2 April 2000

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