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On 15 April 1942, about 100 men of the 96th Battalion were involved in a fight in Townsville. They had been rounded up by white soldiers with fixed bayonets and loaded guns.

On 22 May 1942 a major riot broke out at the camp of the 96th Engineers General Services Regiment airfield construction unit that was based in the Upper Ross area near Townsville. Between 8 pm and 9 pm several shots could be heard coming from the Negroes camp. 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.

The 22 May 1942 date of this incident was provided to me by Ray Holyoak. Several extracts of Mr Holyoak’s 1998 James Cook University Honors Thesis "The North Queensland Line: The Defence of Townsville in 1942" appear with permission on my "Australia @ War" web site.

This crucial date for the riot at the Upper Ross enabled me to search a number of War Diaries for confirmation of some of details of the event. Ray is carrying out a Postgraduate study in 2012 in regards to the African American experience in North Queensland during WWII. The working title will be "The Kelso Field uprising: African Americans in North Queensland 1942 – 1944".

Over the past 18 months, Mr Holyoak has obtained primary documents from the US which detail a serious mutiny at Kelso, Townsville on this date. A plot was devised by several ringleaders to conduct an armed uprising against white US Officers who had physically abused African-American serviceman whilst constructing an airfield in Townsville. This plot was carried out.

The repercussions from this night subsequently altered ‘colored’ servicemen’s involvement and placement in Australia during WWII. Australian documents and oral history reflect the US version and subsequent enquiry.

If you have any further information regarding this incident please contact Ray Holyoak at

All sources and contributors will be acknowledged and referenced.


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This page first produced 30 September 2011

This page last updated 25 August 2015