AUSTRALIAN CHEMICAL WARFARE RESEARCH AND EXPERIMENTAL SECTION
AUSTRALIAN ARMY, IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

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The Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section (A.C.W.R. & E.S.) compared the efficiency of various American Anti-Gas Ointments with that of Ointment No. 5. Large stocks of the latter ointment were held in Australia. It was known that all known ointments were of limited value only from the point of view of personal decontamination against liquid mustard gas. Experiments under tropical conditions had shown that the American Ointment M.5 was markedly superior to the British No. 5 which offered little protection to troops inuncted with it immediately prior to being exposed for one hour to mustard gas vapour. CWR & ES advised that it was possible that protection would be afforded if the ointment was renewed at frequent intervals.

The Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section (A.C.W.R. & E.S.) was later known as the 1st Field Trials Company, Royal Australian Engineers (RAE).

The Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section established its camp on the eastern side of the town of Innisfail on the southern bank of the Johnstone River along the Esplanade. There were cane fields and rain forest located on the northern side of the river. Banana Island was located near the southern bank of the Johnston River not far from the camp.

 

Lt. Col Freddie Gorrill (RAMC)
Chief Superintendent

 


Photo:- Sylvia Stoltz

Banana Island, Innisfail

 


Photo:- Sylvia Stoltz

Park along the south bank of the Johnstone River

 


Photo:- Sylvia Stoltz

Truck on a punt crossing the Johnstone River near the hospital

 


Photo:- Sylvia Stoltz

US Landing Craft No. 582 on the Johnstone River in Innisfail was attached to ACWR & ES to
transport personnel and equipment from the Innisfail Headquarters to Brook Island and Cardwell

 


Photo:- Sylvia Stoltz

US Landing Craft No. 582 attached to ACWR & ES on the Johnstone River in Innisfail

 

The camp site comprised five high set timber houses that had been left vacant by Italian farmers who had been interned by the Australian Government. One house on the Esplanade was used as the Headquarters for the unit. The two adjoining houses were used for the Officer's Mess and Officer's quarters and the other for the AWAS Mess and Kitchen.

 


AWM ID Number: P01831.002

House used as Headquarters of the Australian Chemical Warfare Research & Experimental
Section, Innisfail, in December 1943. Note the small huts erected beside the HQ's house.

 


AWM ID Number: P05252.012

Two service personnel on the verandah of the Headquarters

 


AWM ID Number: P05294.011

Servicemen in the laneway behind the Headquarters house

 


Photo:- Sylvia Stoltz 1943

AWAS house in Innisfail in which 11 AWAS and AAMWS lived. The building at the right of the
house is the grandstand in Wrights Park on the other side of Corinda Road.

 


AWM ID Number: P05251.001

Corporal Jean Frazer Brazill (VF396167), Physiology Section Assistant
(known as Fay Brazill) and V387912 Sergeant Olive Lucas, both of the
Australian Women's Army Service, on the verandah of their quarters.

 


Photo:- Sylvia Stoltz

Betty Roberts, Carmel Elizabeth Diviny VF10957 & Lucette Yvonne Julia McNab VF395543
(known as "Tex" Morton) working in the kitchen at the Esplanade House

 


AWM ID Number: P01831.005

The cookhouse and behind it, the much larger mess hall for the
Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section

 

One of the houses around the corner was used as quarters for 11 service women. Another house located behind the HQ's house was also used to accommodate more service women. Other houses in the street were still occupied by local Innisfail residents. Small huts were constructed beside and behind the HQ house to accommodate male servicemen. A gas chamber, field laboratory and other storage buildings were constructed at the rear of the HQ house.

 


AWM ID Number: P05294.008

The demountable stainless steel gas trial chamber being constructed

 

The 100 cubic metre chamber was designed by Dr A. H. (Hugh) Ennor, Jack Legge and the refrigeration engineer Walter Bassett in Melbourne, Victoria. The gas chamber was air conditioned to control the effects of the northern heat and humidity. This allowed for more accurate testing of chemical warfare gasses on human volunteers.

 


AWM ID Number: P01831.006

A storage shed full of gas cylinders. The sign next to the entrance of the laboratory
reads:- "Field Lab Out of Bounds to all ranks not on duty." Behind the shed is the Field
Laboratory for the Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section.

 


AWM ID Number: P01831.007

Servicemen carrying bubblers into the Field Laboratory

 

Sylvia was transferred from 5 AWAS Admin. Cadre to the "Australian Chemical Warfare Research & Experimental Section" on 5 November 1943 and was transferred from Vic L of C to QLD L of C. She wore Land Headquarters (LHQ) colour-patches.

Sylvia Stoltz (VF396141), Australian Womens Army Service, was a Meteorology Section Assistant attached to the Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section (A.C.W.R. & E.S.). As well as carrying out secretarial duties for Frank Pasquill (UK) Sylvia was trained to carry out elementary meteorological observations at field trials. Sylvia carried out meteorological observations in 31 field trials, 17 of which used mustard gas in bombs, mortars and in ground contamination. Sylvia took part in all three of the bombing trials on North Brook Island.

Diana West, Maud Murphy and Marie Matthews also worked on all three Brook Island trials as well as Mustard Gas trials in rain forest near Innisfail from November 1943 to May 1944. They often worked until midnight in the laboratory. With only three laboratory assistants and an inadequate number of "sampling" personnel, the chemistry girls were tested to the limit and were exhausted until relief came with the addition of three AAMWS in March 1944.

Cynthia Johnston worked with Geoffrey Owen (UK) in the issue and maintenance of protective clothing used by personnel on field trials. Clothing was often worn in presence of Mustard Gas vapour for up to four days. Protective clothing had to be cleaned and re-impregnated. Also tests were made to determine the efficiency of anti-gas clothing.

 

INNISFAIL  CAMP
By Sylvia Stoltz 

The camp set up in the township of Innisfail in 1943 was the  base for a temporary research organisation  known as  the Australian CW Research and Experimental Section.  This  unit was under the direction of the Chemical Defence Board,  which was made up  of representatives from the Departments of Navy, Army, Air  and Munitions. It was not a typical army camp but a group of houses which happened to be vacant in a convenient area on the outskirts of Innisfail on the bank of the Johnstone River.

Accommodation for both working and living quarters was very basic, lacking in space and  with very few amenities. However the easy access to the town with its cafes, entertainment centres and private homes, as well as the beauty of the town with the surrounding rain forest, the canefields and the river  more than made up for the austerity of the camp. A gas chamber was set up in the back yard of the HQ house and an assault course was constructed in the Showgrounds (Wrights Park) where the volunteers had to go through training exercises after exposure to gas in the chamber. All of this was in a residential area where local residents passed along the road to their homes.   

The Unit was a most unorthodox group of people  led by two UK officers of the RAMC and three civilian scientists from the Porton CW Station in UK. Two Australian bio-chemists and several other civilians from Melbourne, all of whom were given officer status in the camp, joined them. Personnel required to carry out the research work were “borrowed” from Australian Defence Services …. AMF, RAAF, AWAS, and AAMWS.  The unit was a joint British-Australian research unit comprising physiologists, chemists, physicists, meteorologists and technicians. From time to time there were visits by observers from England, United States, New Zealand and South Africa.  Also a WAAAF Liaison Officer visited during trials.

Volunteers from AMF staging camps at the Atherton Tablelands, who took part in physiological trials, were accommodated for short periods in Innisfail Showgrounds (Wrights Park) buildings adjoining the Unit Headquarters. The Unit also commandeered one wing of the Innisfail Hospital where volunteers were treated for burns from mustard gas.

 The Army Adjutant was very frustrated in trying to enforce the usual regimentation of an army camp. Army rules and regulations regarding parades, dress and times had to be disregarded, because of the nature of the work and the irregular times and conditions under which the personnel worked. However, the Army and RAAF personnel responded well to taking instructions from civilians and  all worked well together. .

 


Photo:- Hal Hoffman (USA)

A.C.W.R. & E.S. Unit Group Photograph December 1943

Back Row (L to R):- Capt. Nick King, RAE., Dr. Hugh Ennor, Capt. Howard Skipper (USA), Frank Pasquill (UK), Lt. Doug Kerr, Capt. Bavistock, Lt. G. Simondson (AWAS), Lt.Col. F.S. Gorrill (RAMC), Major David Sinclair (RAMC), Clifford Purkiss (UK), not known, David Bland, Not known, John Legge, Fl. Lt. Reg Taylor (RAAF).

1st Row from Back (L to R):-  Hal Hoffmann (USA) photographer, Abe ? , Private Murphy, Maisie Dart, Elma Reeve, Olive Lucas, Les Hawkins, "Chips" ?, Jean Wilkin, Sylvia Stoltz, not known, not known, not known, 2 visiting AWAS not known.

2nd Row (L to R):-  John Duncan, Frances Abraham, Carmel Diviny, "Tommy" Kennedy, Fay Brazill, Eric Adams (RAAF). Marie Matthews, Maud Murphy, "Snowy" Waters, not known, Mary Brady, Sgt. Chapman (Cook), Lucette McNab (known as "Tex Morton"), Betty Roberts.

Front Row (L to R):-  Alan Quick, Bruce Tucker, Max Greenwood, Walter Lockwood, Roy Hay, Peg Nelson, Cpl. Wynne, Betty Greene, not known, not, known, not known.

At Front on right end:-  Not known, Cpl. Jim Tidy

 


Photo:- Hal Hoffman (USA)

Enlarged version of the above photo
(cropped at right unfortunately)

 


AWM ID Number: P01831.014

Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) and Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) serving with the Australian Chemical Warfare Field and Experimental Section.

Left to right, back row:- Cynthia Johnston (Assistant - Protective Clothing Section), Lucette McNab ("Tex' Morton" - Cook), Mary Brady (Cook), Sergeant Chapman (Head Cook), Diana West (Labratory Assistant - Chemistry Section), Fay Brazill (Physiologists Assistant).

Second row:- Alice Carvosso (Laboratory Assistant - Chemistry Section), Peg Nelson (Physiologists Assistant), Beryl Wood (Mess Assistant), unidentified Mess Assistant, Dorothy Griffin (Secretary - Chemistry Section), Lieutenant Simondson (AWAS Officer in charge of Barracks), unidentified Mess Assistant, unidentified Mess Assistant, Sylvia Stoltz with dog (Meteorological Assistant), Betty Roberts (Mess Assistant), unidentified Mess Assistant, VF397998 Corporal Jean L. Wilkin (later Smith) (Secretary - Physiology Section).

Front row:- Maisie Dart (Regimental Aid Post), Fay Copley (Laboratory Assistant - Chemistry Section) (seated on ground), Cynthia Collins (Laboratory Assistant - Chemistry Section), Betty Green (Mess Assistant), 'Tommy' Kennedy (Mess Assistant), Carmel Diviny (Mess Assistant), Francis Abraham (Mess Assistant), Olive 'Lukie' Lucas (Physiologists Assistant).

Missing from Photo:- Maud Murphy (Laboratory Assistant - Chemistry Section), Marie Matthews (Laboratory Assistant - Chemistry Section), Elma Reeve (Secretary to Lt. Col F.S. Gorrill)

 


AWM ID Number: P05252.001

Group portrait of members of the scientific staff of the Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section

Back row, left to right:- Lieutenant (Lt) Kerridge (New Zealand); Surgeon Lieutenant Trevor Mclean; Jack Legge (physiologist); David Bland (chemist); unidentified.

Second row:- NX112163 Transport Lt Cecil Andrew Tulip; Reg Taylor (meteorologist, RAAF); Captain Danson; Major David Sinclair (Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), anatomist and second in command); Captain Howard Skipper (United States (US) Army, physiologist and biochemist); Pilot Officer Fifer (possibly 52376 Flying Officer Donald Edward Fifer); Lieutenant Colonel F S (Freddie) Gorrill (Commanding Officer).

Front row:- Clifford Purkis (chemist, RAMC); Bavistock (adjutant) (no further information available); Frank Pasquill (meteorologist, RAMC); Geoffrey Owen (protective clothing expert, RAMC); VF388660 Lt Grace Elizabeth Sinclair (nee Simondson) Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS); unidentified; unidentified; NX84085 Lt Ronald Geoffrey (Ron) Andrews.

Note the laboratory sample bottles next to the group on the left.

 

Sylvia Stoltz explained to me how the Field Trials were conducted in the rain forests:-

You really need to know how field trials were conducted in the rain forest. In the use of a mustard bomb trial there was just a single bomb. The target area was well inside the thick forest accessible only by the tracks which were cut previously.

Injectors and bubblers were positioned around a circle with a sampler allotted to each position. All personnel wore impregnated jungle greens with the heavy cotton knit undergarments which soon became saturated with perspiration from the high humidity.

Samplers waited outside the forest wearing respirators until the bomb was dropped, then went to their positions to begin sampling. They had to turn on the injectors which drew the air into the glass bubblers which contained acetic acid which was able to absorb the mustard gas vapor. Samples were taken for a set time then injectors were turned off and bubblers sealed and labelled. A fresh bubbler was connected ready for the next sample.

There were breaks between samples gradually increasing over a period which could extend to four days. In breaks between samples, personnel could leave the target area to a safe distance where they could remove respirators and rest until the next sample was due. In some cases personnel were taken back to camp for lunch or lunch could be brought out in a large metal box.

Meteorological observations were taken at pre-arranged sites close to the circle and times for operating the equipment were synchronized with the chemical sampling. Stop watches were used to ensure accuracy of the timing.

Several of the mustard trials in jungle near Innisfail involved the pouring of liquid gas on the ground near a Japanese style bunker. Sampling on these occasions measured the concentration of gas vapor inside and outside the bunker, its effect on caged rabbits inside the bunker, and how to gas-proof a bunker.

Sampling in itself was not hard work but the wearing of heavy impregnated clothing and respirators in the high humidity was debilitating. The clothing hampered movement through the thick forest and the limited vision from respirators made moving amongst protruding roots and trailing vines hazardous.

The contents of the bubblers were analysed in the laboratory by the same girls who had worked all day on sampling, sometimes working until midnight.  From the data gained from sampling and data from the records of wind speed & direction and temperatures the chemists were able to determine the level of concentration of gas vapor in the target area from the time of impact through the period to the time that the vapor had dispersed.  This procedure was the initial stage of all field trials carried out to gain knowledge of the effect and effectiveness of the use of mustard gas in tropical conditions in various situations with various weapons ( bombs, mortars, shells and aerial spray).

 

After the first expedition to Innisfail (November 1943 to May 1944) the unit was disbanded and the AWAS and AAMWS returned to Melbourne. Most of the personnel were posted elsewhere and only the English team and two Australian civilian bio-chemists made their HQ at the Physiology Building at Melbourne University. AWAS secretaries remained with them as plans were made for a larger unit to move back to Queensland after the winter.

Captain Howard E. Skipper, of the Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section (A.C.W.R. & E.S.) at Innisfail, Queensland sent a Letter of Appreciation to the Commanding General, Fifth Air Force Service Command, APO 925 (= Hqs. 5th Air Force) dated 3 April 1944 through the Chief Chemical Officer, Hq. USASOS, APO 501. Captain Skipper was the American Liaison - Aust. CW Research Section.

On behalf of the Australian, British and American personnel at the Chemical Warfare Research Section in Innisfail, Captain Skipper thanked the Fifth Air Service Area Command, APO 922 (= Base Section No. 2, Townsville, Queensland) for the excellent support given with their recent experimental work.

Captain Skipper went on to state:-

"Colonel Sebastian, Major Clark, of the 4th Air Depot Group, and Captain Ewing, Flight Test Section, all exhibited a fine spirit of co-operation and a high degree of technical skill in helping to plan and carry out the subject experiments, the results of which have been most gratifying."

Lt. Colonel Robert W. Smith, CWS, Actg. Chief Chemical Officer then forwarded this letter on to the Commanding General, Fifth Air Force Service Command, APO 925 on 3 April 1944 noting "with pleasure the co-operation and help given by the Fifth Air Service Area Command at APO 922."

After the war, Howard E. Skipper went on to win the Nobel Prize for research in the chemotherapy of cancer in 1974. In 1955 Dr. Howard E. Skipper was Assistant Director and Head of Biochemistry Division, Southern Research Institute, at the University of Richmond.

The experiments referred to were possibly associated with the Brook Island Trial which took place on North Brook Island in February 1944.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Susan Wolfe (nee Ewing), daughter of Captain Ewing, Douglas McNab and Sylvia Stoltz for their assistance with this web page.

 

REFERENCES

Letter of Appreciation to Commanding General, Fifth Air Force Service Command, APO 925 dated 3 April 1944 from Captain Howard E. Skipper, of the Australian Chemical Warfare Research and Experimental Section (CWR & ES) at Innisfail, Queensland.

 

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This page first produced 31 March 2007

This page last updated 16 July 2016