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Edward Willis

2/2 Independent Company Memorial Rocky Creek War Memorial Park, Atherton Tableland, Queensland

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2/2 INDEPENDENT COMPANY MEMORIAL

ROCKY CREEK WAR MEMORIAL PARK, ATHERTON TABLELAND, QUEENSLAND

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Sunday 11 August 2019 saw the unveiling of a memorial to the 2/2nd Independent Company at Rocky Creek War Memorial Park on the Atherton Tableland, Queensland.  This was part of the larger ceremony there to commemorate Victory in the Pacific Day. [1]

The Memorial Park is situated on the site of the 2/2 Australian General Hospital laundry and medical stores site at Rocky Creek adjoining the Kennedy Highway near Tolga on the Atherton Tableland.

The installation of the plaque was the initiative of Sally Mellick who is the daughter of Captain Ian McPhee, Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) of the 2/2nd on New Britain. [2] Sally expressed her regret that this process could not be completed while Keith Hayes was still alive, as he had kindly contributed to the text on the monument.  The Association thanks and commends Sally for taking this initiative.  Sally has expressed her thanks to Association Committee member John Cramb for his assistance with the project.

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In an e-mail to the Association, Sally mentioned that “the 2/2nd's wartime presence in that area was very brief and involved only a few men (led by Colin Doig and described, for example, in his book), but I strongly believe this form of recognition is important, among all the other monuments there”.

BACKGROUND

Units of the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions arrived on the [Atherton] Tableland in January 1943 and began establishing tent encampments around the settlements of Wongabel, Wondecla and Ravenshoe.  The 9th Division returned to Australia from the Middle East during February and the following month moved into camps around Kairi, Tinaroo and Danbulla.    Jungle warfare training took place in rainforest country near Tully Falls, Longland Gap, Mount Edith near Mount Bartle Frere and on Rainy Mountain in the Kuranda Range.  Following the capture of Buna and the end of the Kokoda campaign, Australian operations on the north coast of New Guinea continued with the advance towards Salamaua, the capture of Lae, the subsequent advance up the Markham and Ramu River valleys, the landing at Finschhafen, and the taking of Sattelberg.  Cairns replaced Townsville during 1943 as the main port of embarkation for Australian troops engaged in the New Guinea campaigns. [3]

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Colin Doig provided the fullest account of the 2/2’s connection with the Atherton Tableland [4]:

“Anzac Day 1943 was celebrated at Canungra with a parade at the local War Memorial.

Soon after word came through that 2nd Ind. Coy, was to be brigaded with the other Independent Companies and become part of the 6th Cavalry Commando Regiment and were to go to the Atherton Tableland in North Queensland to be trained and integrated into the Regiment.  The Bull selected me to take an advance party to the Tableland and prepare the campsite for the Company to occupy. [5]

I took off for Brisbane with a little band that comprised Cpl. Bernie Langridge, Cpl. Don Murray, Ptes. Alex Boast, Tom Crouch, Paddy Kenneally and Wendel Wilkerson, all good performers with axe and shovel. [6]

There were other advance parties awaiting the departure of the train at Brisbane, and one crowd started a bit of a kerfuffle about seating or something and reckoned they were not going to board the train.  I smartly told my mob we were going irrespective of the others.  I got the message to the officer in charge of the other advance party and the train departed on time.

The trip to Cairns was uneventful.  There we caught the train from Cairns to the Tableland.  This rail trip was a real stunner.  We passed through nineteen tunnels on the climb from Cairns Bay to Barron Falls.  The scenery was breathtaking with terrific gorges and rivers and massive trees of all sorts.  This was the first real rainforest I had ever seen.  The Barron and Spring Creek falls were most spectacular and among the greatest waterfalls of the world.

There were many campsites on the Tableland, as all the A.I.F. Division had or were training there.  Our campsite was at Ravenshoe.  We worked very hard at tearing a campsite out of the jungle.  There was but one hut already erected, and this was our living quarters.  The climate at Ravenshoe was a real sanitorium, you could work without a shirt all day and require a couple of blankets at night.  I had a good time on the Tableland in the short time we were there, as on weekends we were able to get around and see this paradise.  Trips to the various lakes like Lake Bareen were top grade.  The actual soil was obviously old time volcanic and was up to sixty feet deep all over.  I asked one cocky what they grew, and he said, ‘The only thing that doesn't grow, is what you don't plant’.

The campsite was soon accomplished and we cleared what we hoped would be a sports ground. When we had got this far we were visited by Major Laidlaw who was in advance of the main body of the Company. The Lt. Colonel who was to be C.O. of the Brigaded Independent Companies also arrived.  The Bull had hardly had time to settle down when a telegram arrived notifying that there had been a change of plans and that we were to stay at Cairns awaiting further orders of our future role.  It was a case of hell for leather back to Cairns by the one way road through Gordonvale”.

On 3 June 1943 the rest of the Company moved from Canungra to a staging camp known as Red Lynch, on the outskirts of Cairns.  Doig and the rest of the Ravenshoe advance party joined them after a mad dash to the coast along precipitous roads and tracks. [7]

It was confirmed that the 2/2nd would be going overseas and that it was to head for Townsville for embarkation.  So began the unit’s campaign in New Guinea. [8]

The 2/2’s reinforcing unit on Timor, the 2/4 Independent Company also has a memorial at the Park.  It is appropriate that the two unit’s memorials have been placed next to each other.

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After departing Timor and home leave, the 2/4th Company was reformed at Canungra in early April 1943, was reinforced and re-equipped, and then moved to the Atherton Tableland to become part of the 2/7th Cavalry (Commando) Regiment at Wongabel on 29 May 1943.  After further training, the 2/4th was once more on its way overseas and landed at Milne Bay, New Guinea, on 11 August 1943. [9]

REFERENCES

[1] For more information on Rocky Creek War Memorial Park see https://raafacairns.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/rocky-creek-war-memorial-park-brochure.pdfand https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/ww2/display/92452-rocky-creek-war-memorial-park

[2] https://doublereds.org.au/history/men-of-the-22/qx/ian-gavin-mcphee-r481/

[3] Howard Pearce. - A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. – Brisbane: The State of Queensland (Environmental Protection Agency) 2009: 55 (https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/documents/tableoffice/tabledpapers/2009/5309t121.pdf)

[4] Doig, Ramblings …: 110-111.

[5] 2/2 war diary – 24 May 1943 – Lieut C.D. Doig plus 12 O/Rs left [CANUNGRA] for an unknown destination as an advance party.

[6] Keith Hayes was also a member of this advance party.

[7] 2/2 war diary – 6 June 1943 – MAJ LAIDLAW returned to this unit from ATHERTON where he had been conferring with O.C. 2/7 AUST CAV COMMANDO REGT.  This Coy was ordered to move there from CANUNGRA but this order is now amended. …

[8] See Ed Willis ‘Bena Force – The 2/2 Independent Company in The Ramu River Valley, New Guinea, 1943’ https://doublereds.org.au/forums/topic/169-bena-force-–-the-22-independent-company-in-the-ramu-river-valley-new-guinea-1943/?tab=comments#comment-280

[9] Lambert: xx.

Prepared by Ed Willis

Revised: 29 August 2019

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