Gunyarra Army Camp Memorial

Location of Gunyarra Army Camp Memorial

8km south of Proserpine
Gunyarra QLD 4800

Gunyarra Experimental Station memorial stone and plaque were dedicated by Padre F Collingwood on 12 October 1996 at the entrance to the site of the Gunyarra Experimental Station as a memorial to those who served there during 1944 and 1945.

Inscription

Gunyarra Experimental Station memorial plaque reads:

Gunyarra Army Camp 1944-1945. The 1st Australian Field

Experimental Station was located at this site where research on chemical warfare agents and protective materials was carried out.

Conflicts commemorated
  • Second World War, 1939–1945
  • Unit memorials
Memorial type
Stone/cairn/plinth
Additional information

The turnoff to Gunyarra is 8km south of Proserpine and the site of the former experimental station is 2-3km from the turnoff. Trials were conducted in the field and also in the gas chamber to establish what happened to the volunteers after exposure to mustard and other gases. Some volunteers suffered from large blisters to the skin which took years to disappear. Volunteers and 300 to 400 men and women from all Services also united to develop protective materials, respirators and ointments. Because of the secrecy surrounding the experiments at Gunyarra the work of those who served there has been largely overlooked, so the Proserpine RSL and Proserpine Historical Museum combined to honour them with the erection of a memorial. Seven veterans of the experimental days attended the ceremony: Dot Rogers (nee Griffin), Peg Bambrook (nee Nelson), Bill Thompson, Len Lawler, Jean Smith (nee Wilkin), Margaret Newman (nee Ward) and Doug Kerr.

The Proserpine Guardian through Peter Fox, Australian War Graves, Townsville, supplied the following memoirs of Len Lawler, of Atherton. During the 1939–1945 conflict we had in our midst the Gunyarra Experimental Station, situated on Walter Jackson's property, known as The lst Australian Field Experimental Station. This was a chemical warfare unit known as the lst Australian Field Trials Co which was set up mainly because of reports that the Japanese had used gas in Indo-China and there was a danger that they may use it against the Australian and American troops.

Their task was two-fold: to develop protective clothing and ointments and proper respirators so that the troops could be protected against gas, and also an offensive approach to put 100 tons of mustard gas per square mile. Trials were conducted on mustard gas and some other gases. To do a field trial a grid was marked out and all the sampling devices were set up in the appropriate positions. The gas was dropped from the air and volunteers walked around in their protective clothing and respirators. At the end of the trial the sampling devices were analysed. Australian Army volunteers who assisted in trials to determine how mustard gas burnt were paid an extra shilling a day and given a certificate of congratulations from the Commander in Chief. A gas chamber was used for these experiments.

The unit was a mixed one, with males and females from all services, civilians, and representatives from many other countries including the British, Philippine, USA and South African armies. Leave was often spent in Proserpine being entertained by locals, and in return the personnel invited guests to "open house" at the station. The camp had an abundance of tinned fish and rice at most times, and successfully traded with the locals for eggs, fresh meat and other provisions.

When war ended, the camp, which cost the Australian and British governments thousands of pounds, was closed, and in 1946 terrific interest was taken in the dispersal sales of buildings and most equipment. Much of the valuable chemical equipment used in the experiments was distributed to Universities throughout Australia. A 100,000 gallon tank, 52 feet high and 20 feet in diameter, went to the mill. St Catherine's bought their recreation hall at the sale. This is now situated beside the church in Main Street.

Today the site of Gunyarra camp has reverted to scrub. Some of the men who worked there still keep in touch with local residents, but on the whole the Gunyarra saga is just a memory.

Recorded by
Shirley and Trevor McIvor
Date recorded
8 July 2009

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