The following article “A Missing Chapter in 5ACS History”
By former Wing Commander Alan Woolley Retired, was carried out under such a veil of secrecy that even their parent unit had no knowledge of what work they were engaged in.
When Alan on researching the Emu Claypan project, he found that no record of the 5ACS detachment A of which he as a Flt/Lt Commanded the Detachment A, Woomera, at that time.
He as the sole surviving officer set about correcting this abnormality in the 5ACS history archives.
His account of Detachment A contribution to the 5 ACS histories has now been accepted by the Office of Air Force History as a chapter in 5 ACS histories.
This extract is only a small part of his complete history document excepted by the Office of Air Force History Archives.
The following is a brief extract published with his permission from article on 5 ACS Det A
A Missing Chapter in the Air Force History
No 5 Airfield Construction Squadron (5ACS)
Recollections (in 2007/2008) of the Squadron’s role in the British Atomic Energy Totem Tests in Central Australia in 1953
by Allan Woolley (Wg Cdr retired) the Detachment Commander of No 5ACS Detachment A, Woomera, at that time.
RECOLLECTIONS OF THE 5 ACS CONTRIBUTION
With some anecdotal material from a few of my airmen still contactable.
After an initial attachment for briefing at RAAF Headquarters, Directorate of Works and Buildings, I joined the initial project team at Long Range Weapons Establishment (LRWE) Salisbury, South Australia in early February 1953 – That group included Brigadier Lucas, Sqn Ldr Garden, and Len Beadell the LRWE surveyor (also a talented cartoonist and later an author) who had explored and surveyed much of the Woomera Rocket Range. Also there was an Alan Best, a Commonwealth Policeman who was to remain in-cognitio for most of the project as its chief security officer. Initially he was my on site chainman, and later was the site aircraft unloading co-ordinator. We shared a tent for the entire project.
Earth moving plant and equipment and heavy transport was being assembled at Woomera in February, and initial Detachment A members were arriving to prepare for the overland trip to Emu.
I was flown to Emu for a site familiarisation, joining an advance party of Army engineers who were establishing an initial camp and bore water supply. Then over to Woomera to join the Detachment and lead in the earth moving equipment convoy. Anything at all we needed was provided without question on quoting the magic X200 ‘password’, and that remained the case for the entire project.
The Woomera to Mabel Creek homestead leg was an established gravel/dirt main road, the majority of which had been recently graded in preparation for the inaugural Redex (around Australia) Reliability Trial. Tracked machinery had been pre-positioned at Mabel Creek, on Department of Supply low loaders under the supervision of plant operator Cpl Arthur Wade. All other construction equipment and vehicles for the civil engineering construction tasks headed off together from Woomera to rendezvous at Mabel Creek.
The equipment included about seven bulldozers ranging from three Caterpillar D8s, one with a drawn scraper, down to two D4s with some in between sizes, two Cat12 graders and several wheeled loaders. Also air compressors, drawn rippers, a sheep’s foot roller, two pontoon water tanks and an initial supply of spare parts.
Transport items included eight new Commer 4x4 heavy (non tipping) trucks (as new tippers were not available), two ‘wartime’ four wheel drive tippers (the only heavy tip trucks that could be found), two Morris light ration trucks, numerous Land Rovers and trailers, and a service wagon for the plant.
‘Dumping’ from the Commers was provided by modification.. Their bodies were ingeniously converted in the Department of Supply workshops in Salisbury, S Aust, so that transported pavement materials could be off loaded with the aid of a D4 tractor pulling a sliding bulkhead towards the rear. The bulkhead was easily removable when the transports were to be used for other purposes.
The photo at Attachment D shows the conversion ‘in action’ on the main strip construction.
[Not available in extract]
In addition to water and supplies for possibly three weeks of desert toil, any ‘spare’ capacity was loaded with drummed fuel stocks to cover the period until overland resupply could be established with some of the Commer trucks.
The Mabel Ck to Emu link was the first real challenge across uninhabited and sand-hilly terrain. The sketch map at Attachment E (from a book Blast the Bush by Len Beadell, and used with permission from his widow) indicates the locations involved. [Not available in extract]
The Trip In
Len Beadell had briefed me on the terrain and the basic compass headings of a set of his wheel tracks connecting Mabel Creek homestead to Emu via Tallaringa native well which was still a reliable source of good water. He expected to meet us somewhere along the way.
The first two days were reasonable going with only smaller sand hills to negotiate, and served as a settling in period for all concerned. Particular recollections follow:-
I had with me a Very Pistol and boxes of cartridges. Out ahead I would select the best route avoiding the worst sand hills, then a pistol flare, or sometimes a mirror sun flash, would direct the lead bulldozer. It would then cut a track at a negotiable angle up the sand hill and down the other side. The photo at Attachment F is of LAC ‘Smoky’ Hayes’ first cut with his dozer, up and along the side of a sand hill.
Also at Attachment F is a photo of part of the convoy, waiting for the track ahead to be formed [Not available in extract].
Kangaroos and dingoes were common. Dingoes often appeared in packs, and during the trip we saw the odd albino and a pure black animal. At night I rolled out my swag in front of my land rover which, like most vehicles, had a water bag slung in front. On several mornings dingo tracks were evident in the sand between my swag and the vehicle!! – Apparently they were seeking moisture from the damp water bag. But we never considered dingos posed any personal threat to a group of sleeping humans.
Some members developed gastric upsets about day four or five, and one of the cooks was also out of action with severe stomach pains. I knew daily air evacuation and reliable communications were available from the claypan up ahead, but was uncertain of the situation back to the east, so decided to try the forward option with sick passenger LAC Harris. Len Beadell’s land rover had special wide rimmed tyres with very low tyre pressures for negotiating sand hills, but mine at that time was a stock standard four wheel drive. After several hours of increasingly difficult sand hills following Lennie’s tracks, I realised the eastern option was now the only one and headed back to the convoy.
Harris was transferred to the ration truck and sent off with a message which I hoped would somehow get to Woomera and which included the request - ‘medical supplies for dysentery urgently required’.
The old pedal radio at Mabel Creek got the message out that evening. Next morning the flying doctor, in a Dragon Rapide (I was advised), evacuated the cook and a Bristol Freighter had no difficulty finding us to drop medicines (mainly sulphur based) which did the job required for the ‘gastro’ suffers.
The homestead also provided welcome supplies of fresh and salted beef to augment our fairly tight fresh ration supplies.
Len Beadell caught up with us about half way in, followed soon after by Sgt Bill Lloyd, a RAAF driver who had also spent several years seconded to LRWE. Their local knowledge and Lennie’s humour and infectious laugh were welcome morale boosters, particularly for the troops who were getting a little apprehensive about what really lay ahead.
The other cook also developed a painful stomach condition towards the end of the trip, and this time Lennie took him forward, overnight, to be flown out the next morning.
The trip in took about fifteen days at an average of almost ten miles per day, and after an afternoons rest the real work for the ACS team was about to begin.
An Overall Account
The following outline of the RAAF Detachment A contribution, by Sqn Ldr Ken Garden, appeared as an article written for the ‘souvenir edition’ of Bulldust, a local newsletter compiled and printed at the claypan. A photo of the cover of that special newsletter, printed in colour by project director Brigadier Lucas using the old hand operated silk screen process, is at Attachment G.
FLASHBACK ON R.A.A.F. COMPONENT
(Italics added by author)
Detachment ‘A’ of No 5 Airfield Construction Squadron will live in name for many years with all who have been associated with this project. Together with various Army groups they have combined to form what will long be remembered by the rather catchy code name of “X 200”.
Although formed basically from experienced Airfield Construction types, we have had several “recruits” from other units. To the newcomers we hope you have benefited from your tour, and to those who will be rejoining their old units after ‘D’ day, we wish you the best.
Looking back we come across some notable highlights, as the trip in when thirty odd bods, used as they might have been to roughing it, surely found this like nothing on earth. In fact that is just about correct, as walking plant over such a long distance over extremely rough country, in 120 degrees and forming a trafficable road access over the continuous sand hills is a task seldom attempted.
With a single Rover track of Lennie’s as a guide, without any radio contact or any member who had seen the country before, the boys pushed on through the flies and dust of the wilderness, through batches off dysentery, ptomaine poisoning, through water and food shortages, following the track that ‘Smoky’ Hayes was forming out in front.
Our cooks – Goulding (Army) and Harris had to be evacuated but both lived to tell the tale. (Cpl) “Hooker” Wade took over providing dampers from time to time which just had to be good or there wouldn’t have been any more, whilst the now familiar howl of Sgt ‘Honest John’ (Woodman), occasionally accompanied by a Very pistol shot, provided a reveille second to none.
Then came the general toil of the job – CONSTRUCTION. About half the total RAAF Team were set the gigantic and heart breaking task of many miles of road construction through the Never Never whilst tradesmen worked with the Army personnel on buildings and Site erections.
Gradually the various Sites took shape whilst roads crept forward and the next job facing the ACS Team was the all-important Air Strip with trucks beginning to strain – and old “Bushy” Herbert was to be seen continually under his wheeler inspecting the cross member lest he finish up on cherry picking – and plant just holding on, the lads must surely have established a near record in constructing the All Weather Strip in a total of seventy days after moving some 35,000 yards of material.
The other half of the Detachment has been rather dispersed with some members running the continual overland supply route under the watchful eye of that Old Timer in Sergeant Bill Lloyd, who was with the early pioneers. Others have slaved in the Kitchen, co-operated with members of our famous Unloaders and joined in with the tireless Workshops boys where (Cpl) ‘Blue’ Davis and his understudy ‘Biro’ Hoskins have kept the job welded together.
As this special assignment draws to a close, the Force can look back upon a task well done and upon many close friendships made. In the years to come those friendships will live along with the name of X200 – a milestone, not only in our lives, but in the great history of AUSTRALIA.
And at this stage, as the curtain slowly descends on this project in the heart of Australia, humble but sincere thanks have more than a mere meaning when conveyed to the individual boys of the R.A.A.F. who have very patiently seen their job through to its climax – THANKS R.A.A.F.
Sqn Ldr A K Garden
From the Project DirectorPosted before his departure soon after Totem 2
An expression of farewell and leave-taking, by
Brigadier L C Lucas, Royal Australian Engineers
To the Troops of X200 Force – Emu Field
With forty-two years of soldiering behind and memories of countless grand men ever with me, I can recall no “Force” so small and compact as our X200 Force who did a better job, displayed greater morale, or more cheerfully accepted the isolation, the discomforts, the long and arduous hours that were your lot on this historic project. You have full reason to be proud of the part you played in it, and although I once warned you not to expect any, I personally do ask you to accept my thanks for your loyal and devoted service and for the privilege of having served with you.
Whether you “soldier on” or go to discharge, wherever you may be, whatever you may do, I wish every man of X200 Force happy days, happy memories and the time and opportunity to enjoy both.
Goodbye and Good Luck.
( Note - Service Number of Brigadier Lucas was DX200 )