51ST AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BATTALION, 11TH
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII
The 51st Battalion moved from Sellheim to Townsville on 28 March 1942. In May 1942 they were based at Mount Louisa.
The 51st Infantry Battalion was a Militia unit known as the “Far North Queensland Regiment”. The 26th Battalion, 31st Battalion, and 51st Battalion which comprised the 11th Brigade were in camp at Miowera near Bowen, in north Queensland when in early 1940.
The 51st Battalion took in its first intake of men called-up for national service from men who lived in the Cairns, Atherton Tablelands, Mossman, Innisfail, and Tully areas of far north Queensland.
The 11th Brigade, with its headquarters in Townsville was allocated the defence of far north Queensland in early 1942.
The 51st Battalion was sent to the Cairns area in far north Queensland. It established its Headquarters in the Cairns Showgrounds. On about 13/14 February 1942, the 51st Battalion took part in a practice Air Raid Alarm in the Cairns area. The observation post on Edgehill reported that lights were seen in some of the the black-out windows in Sheridan Street and Lake Street on the western side near the Cemetery. The trial was considered a success.
On 23 February 1942, Lt Colonel H.C. Harris, the Commanding Officer reported from his Headquarters in the Cairns Showgrounds as follows:-
Paris maps have been noted to show the residence of all persons of enemy origin between BARRON and MULGRAVE Rivers. The large number of these in strategic positions is alarming, the area leading to the GILLIES HIGHWAY in particular being occupied most entirely by them. Small guards of V.D.C. have been stationed at the top and bottom gates to observe their activities and to endeavour to control then in event of hostilities in the area. The attention of the I.O. at CAIRNS has been drawn to the position and the mapping of other areas is proceeding.
The 51st Battalion was soon relocated to Sellheim near Charters Towers arriving on about 16 March 1942. They had stayed at Armstrong's Camp in Townsville the previous night.
On 28 March 1942, 51st Battalion less 13 Platoon, C Company, A/Q.M. and 2 O/R's (Rear Party), plus 2 Secs 19 Field Ambulance, plus One Sec 115 Reserve M.T. Company moved from Sellheim to Townsville by Motor Transport. They met guides at the Ross River bridge who led them to their dispersal areas.
On 12 April 1943 the 31st Battalion and the 51st Battalion merged to become the 31st/51st Infantry Battalion after a reduction in numbers in each Battalion due to men who had worked in essential services being released from the Army.
On 22 May 1942 between 8 pm and 9 pm several shots could be heard coming from the 96th Engineers General Services Regiment's camp in the Upper Ross area near Townsville. The 96th Engineers was a negro airfield construction Battalion that was constructing the Upper Ross airfield (Kelso field).
One of the many to hear the shots was the late Arthur Kelso who was riding his horse on his property at Laudham Park, on Five Head Creek in the Upper Ross area just outside Townsville. He heard the initial shots and judged them to be about 1.5 miles away. The shooting continued and he could then hear Thompson sub machine guns. The firing continued until about 11pm.
Richard "Dick" Kelso (QX63614), Arthur's brother, who was with the 11th Brigade was one of those who manned a road block on Ross River road that evening after the riot. Dick said they were issued with live ammunition and Bren Guns as well. Dick reported that the rioting Negroes had been stopped and turned back at another road block near Corbeth's water hole on Ross River.
The 51st Australian Infantry Battalion "War Diary or Intelligence Summary" in May 1942 had the following entries regarding the riot:-
|22 May 42||2400||Bde reported U.S. negroes had seized their own arms. 51 Bn sent 2 coys to block STUART TOWNSVILLE road to all persons|
|23 May 42||0022||B coy ordered to move to B. H.Q. picking up guides at ECHLIN ST. on route. Password BUCKS|
|0058||patrol supply by C. Coy under Lieut Smith from Bde operating along WEIR ROAD|
|0010||D. Coy ordered to take up position ROSS RIVER Meatworks Br. with left flank STUART TOWNSVILLE road. 1 Sec M.G.'s attached. Instructions cancelled. Coy in reserve in vicinity RISING SUN. 1 Sec Carriers with A. Coy, 1 Sc with C. Coy.|
|0225||Instructions from Bde. A. Coy at ROSS RIVER Br. and Sec Carriers attached to be recalled. C. Coy remain in position WEIR AREA.|
|0258||Message from Bde state Carriers at C. Coy. ordered by Col. Forbes to return to lines.|
|0344||A. Coy returned to Biv. Area|
|0718||Bde instructions all coys return to Biv Area|
|0855||Bde instructions that all messages by wireless must be passed by cipher|
Negro Servicemen Riot at Upper Ross on 22 May 1942
The 31st / 51st Battalion then returned to the Cairns area where it was involved in amphibious landing training in mid 1943 using American landing craft. the 31/51 Battalion left Cairns in June 1942 headed for Merauke in Dutch New Guinea via Horn Island. They arrived in Merauke in July 1942
The 31st / 51st Battalion returned to Townsville via Thursday Island in August 1944 for leave. The 11th Brigade reassembled at Strathpine just north of Brisbane where they trained prior to their move to Bougainville. By now the 11th Brigade comprised the 26th Battalion, the 31st/51st Battalion, and the 55th/53rd Battalion. The 11th Brigade moved to Bougainville in December 1944 where it fought many battles with the Japanese. The 11th Brigade was eventually relieved by the 23rd Brigade at the end of June 1945. In September 1945 the 31st / 51st Battalion transferred to Nauru and Ocean Islands. The Battalion then transferred to Rabaul in December 1945 and finally in May 1946 it returned to Australia and was disbanded on 4 July 1946.
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© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 26 September 2011
This page last updated 06 September 2018