War’s ‘nerve cen­tre’ was in War­wick

Iconic build­ing vi­tal dur­ing cam­paign

Warwick Daily News - - NEWS - JOHN TELFER

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.

Photo: Con­trib­uted

BACK IN TIME: The Barnes build­ing is now oc­cu­pied by Rivers and Voy­age Fit­ness.

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