Where to find hidden WWII sites of the Far North

SEVENTY five years ago Cairns bore little resemblance to the reef and rainforest tourist city perched on the western coast of the Coral Sea.

Tanks and armoured vehicles lumbered on its beaches, flying boats, darkened and oil smeared, returned from bombing enemy shipping around Papua New Guinea and commandos trained in Trinity Inlet and the hills above the city for dawn raids against the Japanese empire.
Cairns was a city at war.

The front page of the Cairns Post that announced the end of the war in the Pacific.
The front page of the Cairns Post that announced the end of the war in the Pacific.

 

In the war's darkest hours, when it was uncertain whether the Japanese could be halted, fear was ever presence in Cairns.

"One Gordonvale resident recalled that there was "not a soul in the street. If you turned the corner you put your head round to see if there were any Japanese uniforms there. That's how we felt,' Cairns historian Timothy Bottom wrote in Defending the North, Frontline Cairns

"'We expected them any day.'"

The town, evacuated after the fall of Singapore in 1942, had become a hub for the allies in their preparation to battle through the South West Pacific.

Tablelands historian Gordon Grimwade said geography had dictated Cairns become a wartime centre.

"There was a lot going on because of its proximity to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific," he said.

 

House on the Hill. PHOTO: Cairns RSL
House on the Hill. PHOTO: Cairns RSL

"There was substantial troop movement on the roads to and from the Tablelands and camps in the Ravenshoe area."

Major military camps were dispersed through the Tablelands, including two large military hospitals at Tolga and Rocky Creek.

"You can still see the stone remnants of the ovens," Mr Grimwade said.

Terry James' family has links to House on the Hill and the Z Special Unit which operated out of the location during World War II. Terry at the Z Special Unit forces plaque near the RSL on the esplanade. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN
Terry James' family has links to House on the Hill and the Z Special Unit which operated out of the location during World War II. Terry at the Z Special Unit forces plaque near the RSL on the esplanade. PICTURE: STEWART McLEAN

Military sites spread far to the north in the Torres Strait, which was dotted with forts and artillery batteries as forward defence against an anticipated southward Japanese thrust should Port Moresby fall.

One of the most daring moments of the war would have its roots in the Far North, as 14 men of the Z Special Force prepared to infiltrate Singapore Harbour from their training centre above Moorobool.

Their exploits aboard the fishing vessel MV Krait would pass into legend.

By mid-1943 Cairns was enjoying a wartime business and agriculture boom.

S Australian Heavy Battery soldiers man of two 155mm guns stationed at False Cape during World War II in 1944.
S Australian Heavy Battery soldiers man of two 155mm guns stationed at False Cape during World War II in 1944.

The city was a major thoroughfare for troop movements, with units toughening themselves wat jungle training centres, resting at camps on the Tablelands or steeling themselves to deploy forward to combat.

"On occasions there were between 50,000 and 100,000 troops quartered on the

Atherton Tablelands, with an average constant of roughly 40,000 troops," Mr Bottoms said.

When the end finally came in August 1945, the Cairns Post filled the breach of wartime shortages.

"The jobbing department rose to the occasion in supplying quantities of coloured paper to replace streamers which were not available," a report from August 16, 1945, read.

"Trucks were draped with the paper and many of the people festooned it round their hats."

Thousands of people turned out in the city centre as the "town went delirious with joy".

 

The Cairns Post on August 15, 1945.
The Cairns Post on August 15, 1945.

 

 

FORGOTTEN WW2 SITES OF THE FAR NORTH

 

QUINTELL BEACH, LOCKHART

South of the Lockhart River settlement, the remnants of a B-24 Liberator bomber, named Condor, are visible at low tide in the sand of Quintell Beach. Surviving sections include the lower nose with the still retracted nose gear in place and part of a wing tank.

 

COEN TELEPHONE CARRIER STATION

Found at the junction of the Coen River and Lankelly Creek, the wartime telephone carrier station standing next to the site of the original telegraph station of 1886, was a crucial link in military communications during World War II. The building was erected in 1942 as part of an urgent upgrading of the Cape York telegraph line in response to the threat of Japanese invasion.

 

REDLYNCH STAGING CAMP

The Redlynch Staging Camp, or 16 Australian Personnel Staging Camp was located in the vicinity of Harley Street, Redlynch. Also know as a Leave and Transit Depot, the Redlynch site saw vast numbers of troops pass through its gates, en route to New Guinea and later Borneo and the South-West Pacific.

 

JUNGARA UNITED STATES ARMY STATION HOSPITAL

Located at Shaws Road, Redlynch, Jungara was designed by US engineers for 750-bed capacity. The hospital contained over 140 prefabricated buildings including wards, operating theatres and staff accommodation,

 

TRINITY BEACH

Troops from the 2/24th Battalion land at Trinity Beach during amphibious exercises
Troops from the 2/24th Battalion land at Trinity Beach during amphibious exercises

From 1943, the popular holiday beach north of Cairns became a training ground for units preparing for amphibious landings. Troops would rotate between here and jungle training on the Tablelands before shipping to Papua New Guinea and Borneo.

 

ADMIRALTY ISLAND, TRINITY INLET

RAAF Flying Boat Maintenance Base

RAAF mine-laying Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat, with underwing mines aboard. The flying boats were based at Trinity Inlet until 1944.
RAAF mine-laying Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat, with underwing mines aboard. The flying boats were based at Trinity Inlet until 1944.

Cairns-based Catalina flying boats began nightly operations known as the 'Milk Run' early in November 1942. These were nightly patrols to blockade Japanese shipping movements from the north into the Buna, Salamaua, Lae and Finschaffen districts.

Maintenance and refuelling facilities were developed on the mangrove shoreline of Admiralty Island, close to the main flying boat anchorages on Trinity Inlet and Smiths Creek.

RAAF Catalina No.11 and 20 Squadrons were based on the Cairns Esplanade, on a site now occupied by beachfront apartments and the courts of the Cairns Tennis Club.

 

MUNRO TCE, MOOROOBOOL

Cairns 'Z' Experimental Station (Z.E.S.) Commando Training School

The Krait in 1943, when members of the Z Force commandos travelled from Australia to Singapore on a secret mission codenamed Operation Jackwick. Picture: Supplied
The Krait in 1943, when members of the Z Force commandos travelled from Australia to Singapore on a secret mission codenamed Operation Jackwick. Picture: Supplied

The military commandeered "Fairview House" on Fairview Farm at Mooroobool in Cairns. The address was used as a training facility for used "Z" Special Operations Commandos, and its secretive nature led to the home becoming known as "The House on the Hill"

The house saw training programs that included demolition and explosives, unarmed combat, signals, map reading, weapons and physical training.

 

 

FALSE CAPE BATTERY - YARRABAH

Remnants of the False Cape Battery near Yarrabah, which guarded the region from possible invasion during World War II. Photo: Kevin Pierce
Remnants of the False Cape Battery near Yarrabah, which guarded the region from possible invasion during World War II. Photo: Kevin Pierce

False Cape Battery is a heritage-listed fortification at Yarrabah Road, East Trinity, It was built in 1942-43 and manned with a heavy artillery battery positioned to provide coastal defence and protect shipping from Cairns.

 

 

HIDES HOTEL - LAKE STREET

Hides Hotel, Cairns
Hides Hotel, Cairns

Hides Hotel was used as short-term accommodation for newly-arrived or visiting Australian and US officers, and General Douglas MacArthur is said to have stayed overnight at the hotel while on a visit to Cairns.

 

MILLSTREAM FALLS NATIONAL PARK

Big Millstream Falls, plunges over a basalt lava flow, in the Millstream Falls National Park, Ravenshoe, Atherton Tablelands, Australia
Big Millstream Falls, plunges over a basalt lava flow, in the Millstream Falls National Park, Ravenshoe, Atherton Tablelands, Australia

More than 1000 Diggers from the 7th and 9th Divisions lived here mostly in tent accommodation. Remnants of walking tracks, concrete slabs, trenches, corduroy roads and training and parade grounds are clearly evident.

 

ROCKY CREEK MEMORIAL PARK

The Rocky Creek War Memorial Park on the Atherton Tableland offers free camping halfway between Atherton and Mareeba
The Rocky Creek War Memorial Park on the Atherton Tableland offers free camping halfway between Atherton and Mareeba

Rocky Creek Memorial Park is situated on the 2/2 Australian General Hospital laundry and medical stores site. The hospital was the largest military hospital in the Southern Hemisphere; a 3000 bed hospital that treated over 60,000 patients from 1943 to 1945.

 

Originally published as Where to find hidden WWII sites of the Far North



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