NORTH-EASTERN AREA HEADQUARTERS
THE COMMONWEALTH BUILDING
STURT STREET, TOWNSVILLE
Headquarters Northern Area was formed in Townsville on 8 May 1941 and established itself in the Commonwealth Offices at 42 Sturt Street, Townsville. An Area Combined Headquarters was also established on 8 May 1941 in the Commonwealth Building.
Northern Area Headquarters was renamed to North-Eastern Area Headquarters on 15 January 1942.
The first stage of the building was originally built for the British drapery firm of Scott, Dawson & Stewart in 1884 and the second stage completed in about 1889. D & W Murray Warehouse leased the building from 1899 and purchased it in 1913. Rooneys Ltd. purchased the Building in 1933 and moved out of the building in about 1938. The building remained vacant for a number of years until it was acquired by the Commonwealth Government in mid 1941 to become Headquarters Northern Area. The building is now listed on the Queensland State Heritage list.
North-Eastern Area Headquarters
42 Sturt Street, Townsville
On 10 June 1941, the Senior Air Staff Officer, for Group Captain, Air Officer Commanding Northern Area wrote to the Secretary of the Air Board in Melbourne to advise on progress in establishing Headquarters Northern Area at 42 Sturt Street. Below are some excerpts from his letter:-
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
NORTHERN AREA - READINESS TO
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.
As a result of the formation of Eastern Area, the following units came within the command of North-Eastern Area as from 25 May 1942:-
Station Headquarters, Townsville
24 Squadron, Townsville
76 Squadron, Townsville
3 Fighter Sector Headquarters, Townsville
33 Squadron, Townsville
3 Medical Receiving Station, Townsville
No. 1 Wireless Unit, Townsville
12 R. & S.U., Charters Towers
100 Squadron, Cairns
O.B., Horn Island
32 Squadron, Horn Island
Station Headquarters, Port Moresby
4 Fighter Sector Headquarters, Port Moresby
11 Squadron, Port Moresby
20 Squadron, Port Moresby
15 R. & S.U., Port Moresby
75 Squadron, Port Moresby
North-Eastern Area was one of five RAAF Air Defence Areas established during WWII. On 19 August 1942, the boundaries for North-Eastern Area were revised to the following:-
"That portion of QUEENSLAND north of the Tropic of Capricorn (but excluding the area contained in the Northern, Eastern, Southern, and Western boundaries of the Shire of BARKLY TABLELAND and the districts of HASLINGDEN and HEYWOOD) and the adjacent Island territories."
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.
The North-Eastern Area Air Operations Room (A.O.R.) moved to Sidney Street premises at West End (Green Street Bunker) on 7 November 1942 and Townsville W/T Station took over the whole of the top floor of the North-Eastern Area Headquarters building at 42 Sturt Street. A Signals Office was established in the A.O.R. building at Sidney Street and facilities were provided for passing messages from Townsville W/T Station. The emergency Signals Office in the house at Stagpole Street was closed down at about the same time.
Commonwealth Building (large white
building) with the old RAAF Recruiting
building (former Officers Mess) located to the right hand side of it.
The following units were all located on the top floor of the Commonwealth Building at 42 Sturt Street:-
I believe that the Combined Defence Headquarters was also located on the top floor of this building at some stage during WWII.
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-Eastern 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.
An Education Section was formed at North-Eastern Area Headquarters on 2 December 1942 to supervise:-
On 6 January 1943, an Area Publications Receipt and Despatch Section was formed at North-Eastern Area Headquarters to ensure that publications intended for Units within the Area arrived safely at those Units.
On 10 June 1943 Air Board approved the establishment of Air Force Post Office 71 (AFPO 71) for North-East Area at 282 Flinders Street, Townsville and the appointment of an Area Postal Officer who commenced duties at Headquarters North-Eastern Area on 8 July 1943. AFPO 71 was a central point for distribution of all R.A.A.F. A system of Postal Group addresses had previously been introduced for all Units and Sections in North-Eastern area on 10 August 1942 mails in North-East Area. There were 42 separate Group addresses initially on 10 August 1942 which grew to 112 Group address in North-East Area by the end of December 1942. Mail was carried between Townsville and Port Moresby by Service Flying Boats and mail from Townsville to southern states was carried by Civilian Airlines, and Queensland Railways.
The RAAF combat units at Townsville, Cairns and Horn Island were attached to General Kenneth Walker for operational control. General 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".
in April 1943
Air Commodore A.H. Cobby
|Ross River, Townsville, 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-Eastern 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-Eastern 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.
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.
Douglas Walker, son of Brigadier General Walker sent me the following photos, two of which appear to be a welcoming ceremony for Brigadier General Walker at the RAAF Officer's Mess, North-Eastern Area Headquarters. Douglas Walker identified Air Commodore A.H. Cobby (with the pipe) and obviously his father, who he said was overdressed for the occasion. Douglas Walker thought that the officer with the mustache may be Group Capt. William Henry "Bull" Garing.
Welcoming ceremony at RAAF Officer's Mess, North-Eastern Area Headquarters
Left to Right in Front Row:-
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?
Air Commodore A.H. Cobby with the pipe
Group Captain "Bull" Garing is the
person above the head in the right foreground
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
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-Eastern Area Headquarters in Sturt Street. The old RAAF Recruiting building which has since been demolished.
relocate Area Command HQ in Townsville
to an underground location inside Castle Hill.
"Kenneth N. Walker"
"Airpower's Untempered Crusader"
By Martha Byrd
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 2 April 2000
This page last updated 14 September 2018