MELBOURNE W/T SHADOW SIGNAL STATION RAAF
"FROGNALL", 54 MONT ALBERT ROAD,
CANTERBURY, MELBOURNE, VIC

 

Approval was granted in about November 1942 for Melbourne W/T Shadow Signal Station (Wireless Telegraphy) to be established at "Frognall", at 54 Mont Albert Road, Canterbury, VIC. At that time "Frognall" was being leased to Australian Estates Company Ltd., William Street, Melbourne as emergency accommodation for their city business. The Secretary of Australian Estates Co., Mr W.L. Taylor was also Adjutant of No.3 Squadron ATC which was using one room in "Frognall" for accommodation. A caretaker was also in residence at the rear of the house.

Action was initiated to secure "Frognall" for Air Force purposes under National Security (General) Regulations through Hirings Service. "Frognall" was estimated by K. Gardner & Lang Pty. Ltd. to have a fair value of 18, 400.

"Frognall" was to provide less vulnerable signals facilities and living accommodation for 450 personnel. The property was eventually purchased by the Commonwealth Government on 29 September 1943.

The RAAF started to erect additional buildings (huts) on the vacant land (7 acres, 1 Rood, 4 Perches) adjoining the house on 1 November 1942 and carry out some modifications to the main house. These buildings additional buildings were eventually demolished in the 1980s. During WW2 the property was surrounded by a double fence topped with barbed wire. A guard box was erected to prevent unauthorised access to the site. The stables were significantly altered internally by the RAAF over the years.

Many women of the Women`s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) carried out signals duties at "Frognall" during WW2. "Frognall" continued to be used by the RAAF Telecommunication Unit after WW2. In 1976 its role changed when it was utilised by RAAF engineer cadets.

"Frognall" was built 1889-91 to a design by James Gall. "Frognall" was bought by the Laycock family in 1901. Mr. Burdett Laycock owned a wool weaving business. There were stables and other secondary structures built at the rear of "Frognall".

 


 

Memories of Betty Wynne (ex Betty Lapthorne) 107246 W.A.A.A.F.  

This is the way it was for me Peter. know nothing about any secret section except for the normal cypher room at Vic. Barracks which was housed in one of the older rooms in the main complex. The section outgrew its accommodation in 1943 and the Air Force took over the Laycocks old home {Frognall} in Mont Albert Road Canterbury Vic. It is about opposite no 23. I think it is still a sigs. unit. but could be wrong as I have been up here in Qld. for the last 13yrs. The girls were billeted out when working at Vic Barracks, this is a very old building in St. Kilda Road. When the move was made to Frognall we all lived in huts on the grounds. There were no men accommodated here any that did work there were billeted. The huts were the usual type of thing for that time no lining or ceilings and bed of wire and straw palliasses all along 2 sides with the ablutions block outside which may or may not have doors on it.

This unit is documented in the W.A.A.A.F. book by Clair Stephenson. There is a picture of one of the girls on my shift on one page her name was Iris Joy! I seem to have mislaid my copy of the book otherwise would give you the page number. The other unit at Albert Park was probably something to do with the setting up of the codes.

With regard to submarine sightings, aircraft were sent out from the nearest Air Base to deal with the matter. Never heard about the sinking you spoke of.
I am the Secretary of the Gold Coast and Dist. Ex Service Womens Association and we and the Tweed Coolangatta ex Service Womens group have all services represented. If you need to know more there are W.A.A.A.F groups in Brisbane Adelaide and Hobart as well as Sydney all are part of the Air Force Association.

I did not keep a diary or have any photos to do with my work as this would have been a no no. we even had to be let out of the door of the cypher room to go to the toilet and knock and identify ourselves to get back in again. One night at the end of the shift when the rings which were placed on the drums into the machines were checked we were one short and everyone had to be searched and the room had to be searched before we were allowed to leave and the other shift allowed in. It was found next day in the incinerator. There were about 15 machines in the room and the typist sat at her machine with another girl opposite who was pasting down the messages for dispatch this had to be done along with the encyphered copy so a check could be made if necessary. After a while we changed places. There was another room where we worked on the book cyphers. These mostly came from forward units of the American Army and could be all over the place according to how conditions were when the messages were sent Miss Wooster our O.C. was very good at this. She was an engineering graduate and I understand she worked for Telecom after the war.

While I was at Frognall some officer had the bright idea of forming a drum band. "volunteers" were sent up to Camperwell Grammer School to learn the drums and I had the misfortune to be told to play the Base Drum. I could do this o.k. but at practice it was on the floor and I sat on a seat. One day the powers that be decided we would have a church parade at St Marks Church in Bourk Rd. Camberwell about a mile or so towards Camberwell junction and the band had to play. All very well except that I am 5ft. tall or short. and when you put a tigerskin over my shoulders and strap a big base drum on me the result is that I couldn't see over the thing and had to keep my eye on the kettle drummers to see where we were going. This was quite embarrassing as my future husband and his friends followed us down the road laughing all the time, he said it looked like a drum with legs and a W.A.A.A.F. hat on coming down the road. We didn't have to march back.

It's all a long time ago and I was only 18-20 at the time so didn't take things too seriously but find you internet site very informative and it brings back a lot of memories.

Secret signals and cypher group Vic Barracks and Frognal. My service closely follows that of the story you have up. I was posted to Mt. Gambier Flying School first however. Air Gunner w/t/s and then filled out a form to say that I could type and next thing was sent to Cypher Office Vic Barracks The signals at Frognal were not all land line, and the person on the other end of the tube was probably a W.A.A.A.F. .We received the signals in code and then according to whether they were in book, strip or machine cypher we decyphered them. We did know what they contained and after decyphering and logging they were sent down the tube to the despatch office. The riders took these signals in plain language to Victoria Barracks for action. The fact that several riders had nasty accidents and our sigs were returned to us by the police was incidental. {Not such a secret after all} The signals mostly referred to replacement aircraft parts, stores, requests for information etc. However some of them were Gen. McArthurs Battle orders and the like also a lot of submarine sightings which had to be dealt with immediately and aircraft dispatched to deal with the incident. One signal hung on the board all the night shift until the person in charge took it off and handed it to somebody saying Your turn tonight it was the casualty signal from London and very long and not pleasant. Signals were received from all over the world Washington, London, Changhi and all war zones it was a very busy office and there were about 700 girls on the base at Frognal working in 3 shifts 7days a week. I once had to take a signal to the Chief of Air Staff's office and I was quite terrified of doing this, Years later as a Reg.

Nurse working in a Repatriation Hospital I had the pleasure of looking after Air Vice Marshal Jones and we both had a good laugh about it.

The Typex machines were supposed to be very secret and we were not to talk of them even after the war, they were very big noisy and heavy to type on and I and some others from the same office are now 90% deaf.

There were 700 girls on this station and we worked in 3 shifts around the clock. The telegraphists were in a long annex attached to the back of the home, the cypher office was on the first floor of the main house. We lived in huts built in the grounds.

The signals came into the telegraph office and were then sent by pneumatic chute to the cypher office for decoding. These signals related to all matters to do with the RAAF such as parts for aircraft and other supplies needed by flying bases, movement of personnel, and casualty lists. We also handled a lot of material for General McArthur which was quite secret. All signals from Frognall were then delivered by dispatch riders to Victoria Barracks Melbourne. The signals came from every allied country and we were busiest at night. AVM Jones would never have answered the phone to any of our offices. His office was in Vic Barracks just down the corridor from the cypher office. Hoping this sketchy outline of our service is of assistance.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Rod McLeod and Betty Wynne for their assistance with this web page.

 

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This page first produced 5 July 2008

This page last updated 15 January 2017