NO. 1 FIGHTER SECTOR HEADQUARTERS RAAF
LATER KNOWN AS NO. 101 FIGHTER CONTROL UNIT RAAF
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2

 

Formed Bankstown, NSW 25 Feb 1942

Disbanded Bankstown, NSW 16 Apr 1942

Renamed No. 1 Fighter Control Unit. 7 Mar 1944

Disbanded Bankstown, NSW 21 May 1945

 

The W.A.A.A.F Book
Edited by Clare Stevenson and Honor Darling

The following is the story as told by Eila Pickup ACW 93117 who later became the shorthand writer for John Kingsford Smith in Fighter Sector at Bankstown. 

"I worked in the nerve centre of the controls for the Army, Air Force and Navy to defend Sydney. This Fighter Sector was in a tunnel below the city streets, between Circular Quay and the Public Library in Macquarie Street, which now forms part of the Eastern Suburbs Railway (this should probably read "City Circle Railway").

The centre was connected to radar stations, weather signals, movements from airports, army and Volunteer Air Observer Corps reporting posts, air raid sirens, blackout control, the lot. A huge table carried a map of the New South Wakes coast and adjoining areas, on which WAAAF plotted movements of aircraft and shipping.

Here we worked with the Americans, and fought conditions vastly different from those in out earlier posting with the RAAF. We were billeted in the Metropole Hotel, occupying three of its floors. Extra beds were moved into the guest rooms, but we had hotel linen and facilities. A huge kitchen area on one floor was set up, from which we were served five course meals, even for breakfast, which offered us grapefruit, doughnuts, various types of cereal, toast, eggs, bacon tomatoes, coffee etc. The girls all put on weight! At our previous posting at a school near Newcastle the food had had to be cooked in dixies and coppers out in the quadrangle.

Each day or night when going on duty in the tunnel we would march up in shifts and work for six hours. Any longer would have made us ill as the air conditioning was not very effective. We were not allowed to eat on shift and kept ourselves going on tins of condensed milk and coffee mixed in the tin, to which we added cups of coiling water. There was a huge pile of opened milky sticky tins down there, hundreds of them - not very hygienic! Entrance to the tunnel was by a set of wooden air raid steps leading down from the middle of the road opposite the library.

During out months in the tunnel the submarine scare in Sydney Harbour took place. We knew the subs were in, and all the warnings, blackouts, sirens, etc. were set off. However, the people of Sydney thought is was just another practice raid, and did not take too much notice. The Americans tended to panic as they thought the Japanese were possibly coming to throw a comb into Fighter Sector Control, which they well might have been, as we were only at the top of the Domain and not far from where they were in the harbour. The guard rushed up the steps and as some cars in Macquarie Street were still happily pursuing their way with lights on, he machine-gunned them! I believe he actually shot an Army official through the leg as he was coming to Fighter Sector to check up. The orders to depth charge the subs would have been given from Fighter Sector.

There were, of course, many unidentified plots on the table, and we knew of many sinkings off the coast. We were very strictly controlled in what we said or wrote in out letters and never divulged any of this. Before the submarine incident there had been several unidentified planes over the Sydney Harbour area.

Later the Americans were sent up north and we were again taken over by the RAAF. Straight away we were moved out of the hotel into a three-storey building named "Labrador", nearly opposite Sydney Hospital in Macquarie Street, where we had to begin by scrubbing out the entire building. We went down to the local fruit vendor and came back with apple cases, from which we made dressing tables by putting three on top of one another. We had wire beds and straw palliasses to sleep on. Food was served in the basement from tin plates, and it was back to stewed chops and so forth.

Soon our health began to suffer from the poor ventilation in the tunnel, or the poor food, so we were moved to Bankstown where the Operations Room was set up in the local picture theatre, surrounded by barbed wire enclosures.

Our living quarters were now down the road in galvanised iron barracks where the walls did not meet the roof and the wind swept in, lots of newspapers under the straw mattresses to stop the cold, and were NOT allowed to get into bed together. We caught a few hours of extra sleep curled up in a blanket under the Ops table between practice raids at night - we could sleep anywhere by that time. Here I was secretary to the Controller, John Kingsford Smith, nephew of the famous aviator Sir Charles. We got on well  together and had some exciting times in small scares.

 

 

ACW 93117, Eila "Bonnie" Pickup in 1942

I spoke with Eila on 19 April 2004. She said that the WAAAF's who worked in 1 FSHQ were recruited from all states and there were many from country areas. This may have been a deliberate strategy by the Military to help with ongoing security in later years. They were initially fitted out in men's clothing as there was no women's military clothing available.

They trained initially for a few months in a school at New Lambton near Newcastle in New South Wales. 

When they moved to Sydney, the Americans had taken over the Hotel Metropole. One floor was used as a kitchen. Another floor was for the men and another floor for the women. Elia told me that the WAAAFs slept four to a room on proper beds provided by the Americans rather than the palliasses that they had been used to at New Lambton.

She said that once they descended the steep set of stairs they walked along the edge of the tunnel a fair way to access 1 FSHQ. In one area, they would walk past a large number of tins of opened condensed milk that were disposed of in the tunnel. They worked with the Americans for nine months in the tunnel before they headed north.

When the Americans moved out the WAAAFs moved into a 3 floor tenement building called "Labrador", nearly opposite Sydney Hospital in Macquarie Street. (Is that building still there?)

There were some near misses when the RAAF nearly shot down allied aircraft at night time due to the fact that the RAAF had no night fighter capability. These friendly targets were usually aircraft arriving in Australia from New Zealand.

 

An elevation of the 72 feet high set of stairs down to the railway tunnel to access 1 FSHQ

 

The Drawing 7.C503, for the above set of stairs was signed in November 1939 and it superseded Drawing 7.C501. The works are described as "The City Railway Emergency Entrance to Tunnel, Macquarie Street". Helen Kenney stated that they would walk down 87 steps opposite the Mitchell Library down to the Underground Command Centre.

The drawing seems to indicate that the existing platforms were to be removed and existing timbering to the stair shaft were to be renewed suggesting that this structure had existed for some time. Some notes on the drawing mentions "ARP Entrance" and "Splinter Proof".

 

Typical Fighter Sector Headquarters with combined
Anti-aircraft and Searchlight Operations Rooms
(Drawing via Russell Miller)

 

Suggested layout of combined Anti-aircraft and Searchlight Operations Rooms
contained within the Fighter Sector Headquarters above
(Drawing via Russell Miller)

 


20 April 2004

Another web page suggests that this stairway is part of the 
original entrance to the vertical stairwell down to 1FSHQ.

 


20 April 2004

Close-up of the entrance which is now a service entry for the nearby freeway

 

Many of the WAAAFs became sick after working in the tunnel for a while. 1 FSHQ eventually relocated to a Picture Theatre at Bankstown. Eila told me that they lived in nearby galvanised huts. Eila was discharged from the services in 1943 and did not know about the large underground concrete bunker at Bankstown (near todays Marion Street Reserve) that 1 FSHQ eventually moved into.

The Bankstown Remote Receiving Building (semi-underground reinforced concrete bunker) for 1 Fighter Sector Headquarters bunker at Bankstown was located just over 4 miles away at Picnic Point National Park beside the George's River.

 

Large map of the South West Pacific Area on a wall in
No 1 Fighter Sector Headquarters at Bankstown

 

Large map on which sea movements were plotted inside
the large underground bunker for 1FSHQ at Bankstown

 


30 Dec 1999

Underneath this rock was 1 FSHQ at Marion Street Reserve, Condell Park, Bankstown

 

bab02.jpg (48989 bytes)

Inside the Bankstown Bunker

 

1fshq09.jpg (70252 bytes) 1fshq10.jpg (69647 bytes) 1fshq11.jpg (49168 bytes)
1fshq12.jpg (47162 bytes) 1fshq13.jpg (153245 bytes) 1fshq16.jpg (91601 bytes)

1fshq17.jpg (39474 bytes)

There was a suggestion at one stage that the Bankstown Council were considering refurbishing the Bankstown bunker.

 


 

The following file is available at the Australian War Memorial:-

Accession Number:  MSS1622

Name of Collection:  Gash, Noel (Gunner, b: 1921)

Description:  Describes location and layout of the Gun Operations Room which Gash was posted to in 1942 while serving in the Anti-Aircraft Artillery in Sydney. The room was situated in an unused railway tunnel below the Royal Botanic Gardens, along with the Search Light Operations Room and Fighter Sector RAAF. Briefly outlines the work done in the complex and the roles of personnel including women with the WAAAF and the AWAS. 

 


 

John Arentz's mother, Sgt. Stella Arentz, worked somewhere under Hyde Park in Sydney in a disused railway tunnel along with a pile of Yanks and lived in the Hotel Metropole. 

John told me the following:-

"There was some kind of plotting going on there in the tunnels. Radar information and other reports as I understand it. She used to tell us that any unidentified aircraft of suspected Japanese origin would be only referred to as the "Bega Mail" and that the "Bega Mail" flew frequently at all hours. There was also a story about a sub being identified, a Hudson (I think) being scrambled and a bomb getting stuck. She basically was saying that the air defence was a joke. She also told us that frequently mistakes would be made with identification of information and radar returns. She claimed that at one stage there was a panic amongst the Yanks about a major Japanese presence off Wollongong, which turned out to be the Steelworks showing up on the radar. This was the source of a lot of dumb Yank jokes apparently."

 


 

Denis Elwood told me that he explored these tunnels in 1966, before the large wooden staircase was destroyed by fire. Access at that time was from St James Railway Station partly along operational running tracks (required careful timing!) There was no sign of the wartime usage. These tunnels were intended to form an Inner Circle line under the CBD of Sydney, having been built in the early 1920's, but were never used for this.

 

Did you work in the Circular Quay Tunnel?

Was this No. 1 Fighter Sector Headquarters?

 

A typical RAAF Fighter Sector Headquarters

 

Bunker/Tunnel under Sydney Town Hall

 

Bunkers, Tunnels, Fortifications
in Australia during WW2

 

REFERENCE:-

The above info from the WAAAF book was made available by Ian Bauer. I'd like to thank Eila Fox (Nee Pickup) for her assistance with this home page. I'd like to thank Rod Mountford for his assistance with this home page.

I'd like to thank Victor Zdanowicz-Muchlado for the provision of some of the above photographs.

 

 

 

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This page first produced 3 July 2000

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