War’s ‘nerve centre’ was in Warwick
Iconic building vital during campaign
THE Queensland Echelon and Records Office, better know as Warwick’s Army Records Office was considered to be the largest business organisation in Australia in 1944, and was the workplace of more than 1300 personnel from the Australian Women’s Army Service between 1942 and 1945, after the Government moved the Records Office from Brisbane when the country was threatened with a Japanese invasion in World War II.
The Government requisitioned the largest building in Warwick for this purpose, the iconic Barnes’ building on the corner of Palmerin and King Sts.
As mentioned in my previous story in the Warwick Daily News on September 26, Warwick became a garrison city with the Army taking over many buildings to house and accommodate army personnel.
Barnes’ building with its adequate floor space of 70,000 cubic feet was perfect for the Records Office.
It could be argued that the people of Warwick felt a sense of security owing to the large presence of military personnel in the town, as the Army Records Office became a self-contained unit with its own orderly room, a quartermaster, and an amenities section.
It also had a regimental aid post (RAP) for the hundreds of soldiers who were accommodated in tents at Morgan Park, Risdon, the showgrounds, and the 2/12 Australian General Hospital situated at Scots College. At its peak it also provided a bootmaker, a barber, and specialised tradesmen such as electricians and carpenters.
Research has uncovered evidence that 60 to 70 typists from the Australian Army Women’s Service (AWAS) worked with over 200,000 files stored there that could be accessed at five minutes’ notice. The files contained the complete details of a soldier’s life, his will, his medical records, and also had the unenviable task of reporting all battle casualties to their nextof-kin.
The population of Warwick expanded greatly in the period 1942 to 1945 due to the Army presence and housing became scarce as invasion fears became a reality for many concerned Australians who moved into country centres, as the Japanese attacks on Darwin, Townsville and Broome became known.
Presbyterian boarding schools experienced record enrolments as invasion fears worried many parents after these attacks. For instance, the Scots College enrolments went from 28 in 1940 to 60 in 1942, and on February 4, 1942, the WDN reported: “In the case of the Presbyterian schools, the position has been reached where the “house full” sign is imminent.
In fact, it has not been possible to accept a number of potential preparatory pupils, while in the other divisions, although there have been no refusals, a waiting list has had to be arranged pending the provision of additional accommodation”.
A science section was housed in the Army Records Office where medical officers studied records of many soldiers who returned from New Guinea suffering from malaria, to help find a way to control this debilitating condition that affected thousands of troops who fought in the South Pacific region. It kept an intricate schedule which enabled the medical authorities to study the incidence and progress of this tropical disease.
Although it cannot be confirmed, some older residents of Warwick remembered the golf club, where No 102 Convalescent Depot was situated as a wing of 1/12 General Hospital at Scots College, was used as a centre for malaria patients.
The Records Office also had the task of not only informing next-of-kin of casualties, but also of the location and welfare of all prisoners-of-war, and informing them of their release and return to Australia and their home state.
The casualty section was available to answer the thousands of queries from the public sector, Red Cross, Prisoners of War Relatives’ Association, and any other organisation involved in the welfare of individual soldiers.
The presence of so many soldiers that passed through the city between 1942 and 1945 required sound organisation to manage the records. The Records Office really became the Australian “nerve centre” of the Pacific campaign, and if the walls could talk, there would be some very interesting conversations coming out of the Barnes’ building.
Perhaps members of the fitness club situated in the upper section of what is now called Rivers, could spare a thought of what it was like in those war years, and the thousands who were there before them working hard to assist the nation in defending Australia’s shores during the dark days of World War II.
BACK IN TIME: The Barnes building is now occupied by Rivers and Voyage Fitness.