History of the Rathmines RAAF Flying Boat Base

The Early Days

In the early days of planning, Rathmines was intended to become a permanent RAAF base, however due to the impending urgency of the war in Europe, plus increased Japanese Aggression, including her signing of the Triparte Pact with Germany and Italy, it was apparent that a training base would be of more importance and more beneficial to our air force ministry.

In August 1939, RAAF station Rathmines was officially formed, led by Wing Commander J. E. Hewitt, with three other officers. Another twenty eight men of various rank were to be provided, pending temporary living arrangements being made to accommodate them in cottages in Rathmines. No aircraft equipment was provided for the station and unit.

The site had been chosen but when the officers arrived construction had yet to commence, and so with the rented cottages, two halls were rented out as station stores. The site comprised of some 80 acres, partly covered with medium timber, brushwood and bracken, and upon close inspection, the swampy nature of the area led the officers to amend and alter the plans for the positioning of the bellman hangar, the temporary offices and the stores.

In September 1939 clearing of the site for temporary offices, huts and hangars commenced immediately once War was declared in Europe, and contractors began work on the slipway. 273 tonnes of steel frames, roofing, wooden flooring and the Bellman Hangar were delivered to the base by the end of the month. As it was not possible to taxi a Seagull amphibian up any part of the shoreline due to a ridge of silt surrounding it, a temporary slipway was laid. The slipway consisted of old railway sleepers spiked to a framework of green trees; it took six men two and a half days to complete. The first Seagull, A2-4 was taxied onshore in October 1939.

Flight Lieutenant S.A.C Campbell took over as commanding officer in October 1939. Work also began in October to get the Marine Section up to speed. A contract was signed for the moorings off shore, chains, buoys and iron poles arriving on the site, and positions for the facilities for boats, such as jetties and sheds were finalised, and when approved all work for the preparation of the ground will have been initiated.

Heavy rains however delayed work on the base for some time as it became impossible for contractors to use tractors owing to the swampy nature of the ground. Heavy vehicles were liable to be bogged at any time. Nonetheless the Bellman Hangar site was well consolidated and half the gravelling had been carried out. Burning off of the scrub was next to impossible due to the wet weather, but in the two weeks of fine weather in October much progress was had and large wood piles were made.

There was progress too on the slipway with 60 piles having been driven, 484 feet of deck beams laid, 220 feet of cross heads fitted and 330 feet of decking laid; However in the area which was to be the parade ground eleven 60-foot trees stood in 3 feet of water which they intend to drain by digging through to the creek.

By the end of November all residents within the surrounding area that had leased their dwellings temporarily to the RAAF whilst the base was being constructed had now vacated, barracks stores and offices were under construction, work began on the perimeter fencing, and water except for the fitting of wash basins and shower roses was now connected. Electric lights, power and telephone connections were also established in November 1939 to the completed dwellings and a further 5 huts were soon to be hooked up. It took a team of eight men roughly a week to build a hut. The waters subsided and there were no problems in clearing and leveling the site for the permanent parade ground, although nine of the trees still remain as they were tougher than expected to remove!

December saw another changing of the guard with Squadron leader J.A.S Brown taking over as Commanding Officer, with Flight Lieutenant S.A.C Campbell appointed to command No.9 Squadron, which arrived by road from Richmond, consisting of one sergeant and sixteen airmen. The remainder of the No. 9 Squadrons aircraft and stores were hauled by motor transport convoy at the end of the month.

Although the whole convoy arrived at the station eventually, the operation could hardly be called a satisfactory one. Many of the vehicles took over thirteen hours to make the 120 mile trip from Richmond to Rathmines, and arrived here with cracked brake drums, burnt out brakes and an assortment of other troubles.

Sewer and road works commenced and all personnel and stores moved from the rented premises onto the base. All Air Force personnel and property were now within the station boundaries. The main road through the base had been closed and guards mounted at both gates; passes had been issued and no persons were now permitted to enter the station unless in possession of a pass.

The Kitchen and Ablution huts were completed in December, as were the Orderly room, Medical section and Canteen, Barracks offices and stores, Station store, four Airmen’s sleeping quarters and an Airmen’s Mess.

However the slipway was having delays in being completed due to a need to excavate some three feet at the seaward end of the ramp. It is also suggested that the slipway be widened as under some of the prevailing weather conditions on the base it could prove to be ‘extremely hazardous’.

Filling in of the swamp areas too fell behind schedule, and with the Bellman Hangar, no labour had been forthcoming to proceed with the work. By January of 1940 however a private contract was agreed upon and the Bellman Hangar went up in two weeks. Construction of a further 25 wooden huts commenced and the slipway was completed. Sewerage and road works were completed to a satisfactory level as was the leveling of the ground and the gravel apron at 95%. The base was now operational.