THE NATIVE LABOUR COMPANY
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2
Between late 1942 and early 1943, about 500 Chinese labourers arrived in Townsville. They were known as the "Native Labour Company". They were professional labourers who were evacuated from Nauru Island and Ocean Island in the Central Pacific in February 1942.
Prior to coming to Townsville they were employed by the Australian government in wolfram mines at Hatches Creek and Wauchope Creek near Alice Springs.
On 6 August 1942, General Kenneth Walker who based in Townsville, accompanied by a civilian from Washington and a party of Australian officials met up with some more Australian officials at Alice Springs to inspect some uranium deposits. I had initially incorrectly thought that "Native Labour Company" may have worked in the Uranium mine.
The Native Labour Company were housed at Armstrong Barracks and in late 1944 there were still about 150 in Townsville.
It is possible that they were responsible for some of the engineering works around Townsville along with US Corps of Engineers. This would help explain the long term secrecy of their presence in Townsville. They mainly worked at the Kangaroo Ordnance Depot outside of Townsville.
THE BAYONET OF AUSTRALIA
Base Engineers (Operations)
NATIVE LABOR CO (CHINESE)
The original name of the "Native Labor Company (Chinese)", Base Two, was "Chinese Civilian Labor Company", Base Two. The group of Chinese who are working in this organization were evacuated from Nauru and Ocean Islands in the Central Pacific during February 1942. They had been firstly employed by the Australian Government for the Mine Department for a period of over eighteen months. During November 1943, they signed themselves over for employment with the U.S. Army through the Chinese Consul. They came to Townsville, Queensland from Hatches Creek, Wauchope and Alice Spring by army trucks as far as Mt Isa and after putting up a night there embarked by train for Townsville. The trip took about four days. After arriving in this town, they were camped at Armstrong Paddock (U.S. Army Camp).
Among the Chinese Company there are a good many skilled carpenters, fitters, turners, motor mechanics, plumbers, electricians, blacksmiths, moulders, interpreters, clerks, cooks and labourers. The initial company consisted of 515 Chinese under the command of Captain Ferne M. Schmalle, who was assisted by eight enlisted men. The Chinese prefer the American treatment to any other in the world. They are being well fed, well clothed, well quartered and well paid, in fact they are better treated than the soldiers. In addition they enjoy the privileges of free hospitalisation, free transport to and from work and free movie shows.
The Chinese have been employed in various details since 1944 such as the Base Motor Pool, * * Bakery and Laundry, warehouses and airfield and many other minor jobs. During that time, the outstanding feature of the Chinese Labour Corps was the tremendous assistance rendered in the erection of the hangars at the airfield and the building of the warehouses and Cooling Plant, thus enabling these projects to be completed far ahead of the scheduled time. After the completion of the above three main constructions, part of the unit, about two hundred and forty Chinese, were transferred to the Bulimba shipyard at Brisbane in March 1944.
There was another group of Chinese Labour Corps in Cairns in June 1944. The total number was one hundred and seven men and they spoke various dialects. Before the war broke out they had been working on ships. A month later another group of Chinese transferred to this outfit from Port Darwin. This detachment originally belonged to the Cairns group. There were one hundred and two men and upon their arrival at this base, they were sent out to Kangaroo Ordnance Depot to load and unload ammunition.
It might be interesting to describe some of the jobs in detail. For instance, * * Bakery of the U.S. Army was the largest in Townsville. Its output was roughly five thousand loaves of bread daily. The men who used to work there consisted of two shifts of ten men in each shift. In order to speed up the work in the Cooling Plant, three shifts were being worked by the Chinese, side by side with the Australian mechanics. Chinese needed in this job were mostly carpenters, plumbers and electricians with some helpers, who had several years of experience in their specified trades.
Some Chinese operated cafes in town about three miles from camp during their off time, and charged three shillings for a dish of "Chow Mein", also a small slice of cooked chicken was sold at two shillings a piece. A handsome profit was realised from this type of enterprise.
Because the Base is gradually moving out, three hundred and seventy-eight men were shipped in two sections to Base "A", * * 928 in August 1944. Several men got their discharged from employment with the U.S. Army after the move, leaving eighty-three men in the outfit until the middle of November 1944, when an additional forty men were liberated from the Japanese held territories in the South West Pacific. They had been interned in the Australian P.O.W. camp for at least six months. These Chinese were captured in Hong Kong and Canton, and they are now working at Kangaroo Ordnance Depot. They are quartered there but are under the command of Captain Heath * McMeans who has been the Commanding Officer of the Native Labour Company (Chinese), Base Two, since December 1944. The whole administrative staff consists of only three men, the captain, one Chinese supervisor and one mess sergeant.
Can anyone help me with some more information on the Native Labour Company?
I'd like to thank Kevin Parkes from Townsville for supplying me with the above information on Base Two.
I'd also like to thank Anna Yen for her assistance with this web page.
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© Peter Dunn 2006
This page first produced 17 September 2000
This page last updated 15 January 2015