During both World War 1 and World War 2, the Shire of Mundaring was home to two significant military camps: Blackboy Hill Training Camp and Chidlow Army Camps.
By July 1930 there were a thousand of these men at the camp, working for 12 hours a week on maintenance and improvements to the then Greenmount (and now John Forrest) National Park in return for their keep and 5/- a week.
In July 1932 the pay rate was reduced to 4/6 a week when unemployment was at its worst at 30.3%. In 1933 the site was abandoned and some of the buildings later relocated to other Army bases.
World War II
During WWII the Army maintained a Mobile Laundry unit at ‘Blackboy Camp 16’- which was probably at Blackboy Hill. The Number 10 Ambulance Train carried ill and injured soldiers to the military hospital at Guildford Grammar School chapel and the 118th Australian General Hospital at Northam. This train dropped bundles of dirty hospital linen at Helena Vale, for the Mobile Laundry at Blackboy Hill.
In May 1950 the 62 acre site was transferred to the state government for construction of public housing. The RSL successfully approached the State Housing Commission who donated 1 acre of land specifically for use as a memorial site.
It was not until December 1962 that a memorial was completed to a design by Architect Ean McDonald. The memorial consists of a series of ascending elliptical arches that face the setting sun on April 24th (the eve of Anzac Day).
In 1964 the Greenmount Primary School was relocated adjacent to the Memorial and on the former camp site.
Blackboy Hill Memorial
An Anzac Day service is held annually at the Blackboy Hill Memorial to commemorate the service and sacrifice of those who served in all wars.
The memorial is also used to commemorate the anniversaries of the individual units raised here.
Today the site is managed by the Shire of Mundaring through the Blackboy Hill Commemorative Site Advisory Committee. In 2006, the site was placed on the State’s Heritage Register.
World War 1 - Blackboy Hill Training Camp
Following the declaration of war in August 1914 an overseas expeditionary force known as the Australian Imperial Force (the AIF) was raised. All recruits were volunteers.
Blackboy Hill was selected as the main training camp for WA.
The site had to be cleared and the first enlistees marched to a bleak and wet bush campsite to erect bell tents. Each man was issued a groundsheet, two army blankets and later a blue or khaki drill outfit and floppy hat which they wore until the new AIF uniform was provided. The main camp meal was stew.
Blackboy Hill Camp remained principally a tented camp until 1915 when a severe storm blew down most of the bell tents and iron and timber huts were erected. In October 1915, a large YMCA Social Centre was erected.
Training consisted of induction to army organisation and discipline, drill, musketry, physical training, bayonet drill, tactics and marching long distances to weed out those unfit for service.
From a letter by Pte JM Aitken of the 11th Battalion,
‘Am very tired, just had a busy day. This morning went into the bush and did Battalion drill, arriving back in camp at 1pm; at 2pm had to fall-in again and marched to Guildford and back, about eleven miles.’
The Western Australian Battalions
Blackboy Hill Training Camp was the birthplace of most of Western Australia’s AIF battalions the 11th, 16th, and 28th with troops also allocated to other units. The 44th Battalion was formed at Claremont. Battalions made up of just over 1,000 soldiers were the core fighting units of the AIF.
Other units raised included the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade, 3rd Field Company Engineers and the 3rd Field Ambulance – which included John Simpson Kirkpatrick (of Simpson and the donkey fame).
Following the Gallipoli campaign the 11th and 16th were split and reinforcements added to create the new 51st and 48th Battalions.
Reinforcements for these units, to replace the appalling casualties through death, wounds and illness, trained at Blackboy Hill. Both the 11th and 16th Battalions each had 27 groups of reinforcements of over a hundred men.
Of over 32,000 men from WA who enlisted in the AIF, more than half (17,294) were killed and 4,345 were wounded or disabled.
After the War
To compound the misery following the end of WWI the world suffered a pandemic of pneumonic influenza, which reputedly killed more people than the war itself. Blackboy Hill Camp was used as an isolation hospital from June to October 1919 with over 1,500 patients, many ex-servicemen, of whom 79 died.
The camp reopened in June 1930 following representations to the Commonwealth by Premier Sir James Mitchell, anxious about the potential political threat from large numbers of single unemployed men in Perth.
World War 2-The Chidlow Army Camps 1942 - 1944
In response to the Japanese entering the war in December 1941 two Australian Infantry Divisions (home defence militia) and the 1st Australian Armoured Division were hurriedly transferred to WA.
Initially the battalions of the 2nd and 4th Australian Infantry Divisions were to be based at an existing camp at Melville. Defence planners realised an invading army could destroy the bridges and isolate the defence force south of the river.
Alternative sites were sought and bush sites at Chidlow identified as suitable. They were near rail and road transport, had water via the Goldfields pipeline and could be camouflaged, but they were far enough from the city lights to discourage men from going AWOL. These were holding and transit camps. The troops camped at Chidlow then deployed to locations between Fremantle and Geraldton to resist any Japanese invasion.
The deployment of 60,000 troops in Western Australia discounts the popular belief of a ‘Brisbane Line’ defence strategy that only the south east of Australia was to be defended. This force was the 3rd Australian Army Corps which included the Western Australian 13th Brigade and 44th Battalion (militia) units and, for a period, the 2/11th Infantry Battalion.
As the war swung in favour of the Allies and the invasion threat diminished, these units deployed to other parts of Australia or to garrison islands to the north of Australia containing thousands of cut-off Japanese troops whose command could no longer supply them with provisions.
Eight camp sites supported the numbers staging through between 1942 and 1944. Buildings consisted of kitchens, messes, shower and ablutions, latrines and administration huts but the troops were housed in canvas tents. From April 1942 to November 1944 the campsites were occupied by over 40,000 troops from 25 different Army units. The first were the Western Australian 13th Infantry Brigade arriving in April 1942. The last unit in occupation was the 16th Field Regiment, who departed in November 1944, allowing peace to return to the hills.
Makeup of the Brigade Camp