PARRAMATTA PARK MILITARY CAMP
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII
Parramatta Park, the local showgrounds in Cairns in far north Queensland was taken over as a military camp during WWII.
The 51st Aust Infantry Battalion was a Militia unit known as the “Far North Queensland Regiment”. The 51st Battalion commenced a 28 day unit camp at Parramatta Park on 3 November 1939 with camp concluding on 3 December 1939. On 5 April 1940, 1 Officer and 8 NCOs were despatched from Miowera to Cairns in preparation for the main body of 10 Officers and 386 Ordinary Ranks to move into Parramatta Park. The 51st Battalion, after completing Brigade exercises at Miowera, entrained for Cairns at 1330 hours on 24 June 1940.
Notification was received on 16 August 1940 of a 70 day camp from 16 September 1940 until 25 November 1940 preceded by three weeks pre camp training for Officers and NCOs. 150 Officers and Ordinary ranks entered camp at the Cairns Showgrounds for three weeks pre camp training on 26 August 1940. 350 recruits entered camp for 70 days training on 16 September 1940.
On Monday 18 November 1940, the 51st Aust Infantry Battalion held their ninth and final concert at Parramatta Park. Members of the Women's Emergency Corps attended in a body.
On 24 March 1941, a 90 day continuous training camp commenced at Parramatta Park with about 600 soldiers in attendance. Recruits were mainly from the sugar cane areas. The 90 day camp concluded on 21 June 1941 and all camp and training stores were removed from the Showgrounds to allow the annual Cairns Show to be held from 22 to 24 July 1941.
Approximately 500 men of the 51st Aust Infantry Battalion went into camp again at Parramatta Park on Monday 28 July 1941. Some of the older age groups went into camp this time for the first time since the introduction of universal service, while men from Mossman, Millaa Millaa, Ravenshoe and Herberton made their first appearance. Camp for other than F.T.D. personnel (Full time duty) finished on 25 October 1941.
Recruits commenced to enter camp at the Cairns Showgrounds for 6 months training on 1 December 1941. On 8 December 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, troops in camp were 242 FTD, 32 attached details and 257 recruits for a total of 531 troops. The 51st Battalion was ordered to dig slit trenches at Parramatta Park on 15 December 1941.
A boatload of AIF personnel arrived in Cairns by boat at 1430 hours on 25 December 1941 and were transferred to Parramatta Park by lorries. A second boatload arrived at 1600 hours. Unit strength at the end of January 1942 was 28 Officers and 878 Other Ranks.
On 23 February 1942, Lt Colonel H. C. Harris, the Commanding Officer of the 51st Battalion 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.
At 2300 hours on 11 March 1942, 51 Battalion Warning Order No. 1 was issued stating that the 51st Battalion was moving from Parramatta Park for higher training. Operation Order No. 1 was issued at 0800 hours on 12 March 1942 in connection with their impending move to Sellheim. The men started to pull down buildings and packing equipment and stores at 0900 hours then loading it all onto railway trucks for movement. The battalion moved out of the Cairns Showgrounds in three parties on 13 March 1942 and stopped for a meal at South Johnstone River at midday.
The 17th Battalion of the R.S.L. Defence Corps (later know as the Volunteer Defence Corps) held their parades at Parramatta Park. An article in the Cairns Post of Friday 18 April 1941 read as follows:-
"On Sunday morning next, wet or fine, all members will parade at Parramatta Park at 9.15 o'clock."
"Diggers please note that this parade will begin their instructions in the Lewis Gun and its mechanism. This is specialised work and will be carried out each Tuesday night and Sunday morning until completed, in about six or eight lessons......."
American Gridiron Football games were also played in Parramatta Park. Two American teams played there on Sunday 8 August 1943. Admission was free.
The 50-50 Army Show was held at Parramatta Park on the nights of 11, 12 and 13 April 1944. Many thousands of enthusiastic Cairns people attended this all soldier, half American, and half Australian musical revue. Admission was free and civilians were welcome to accompany troops who attended the show. The 50-50 Army Show had been formed in the battle areas of New Guinea and the show was the same as that shown to the troops in New Guinea. Many other concerts were held at Parramatta Park during WWII.
A number of rodeos were held at Parramatta Park during WWII. One of those Allied Army Rodeos was held in Parramatta Park on Saturday afternoon 10 June 1944. Lieutenant Dick Ryan of the American Red Cross Hostel in Cairns was the contact person for people wanting to offer their horses for use in the rodeo.
"51st Battalion Concert at Parramatta Park", Cairns Post, Tuesday 19 November 1940
"R.S.L. Defence Corps, 17th Battalion, Cairns" Cairns Post, Friday 18 April 1941
"51st Battalion Camp, Begun in Cairns, Men from New Centres", Cairns Post, Tuesday 29 July 1941
"History of American Football", Cairns Post, Tuesday 3 August 1943
"50-50 Army Show", Cairns Post, Thursday 13 April 1944
"Allied Army Rodeo, Saturday Afternoon", Cairns Post, Wednesday 7 June 1944
"Allied Rodeo, Today's Programme", Cairns Post, Saturday, 17 June 1944
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© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 4 January 2023
This page last updated 04 January 2023