New book Kokoda Linesmen tells tale of WA signals personnel during World War II


Les Emery at the site of a once bustling World War II military camp at Sir Frederick Samson Park. All that remains is a commemorative cairn. Picture: Matt Jelonek. d451949
Les Emery at the site of a once bustling World War II military camp at Sir Frederick Samson Park. All that remains is a commemorative cairn. Picture: Matt Jelonek. d451949

A NEW book documenting the experiences of Western Australian World War II signals personnel from initial enlistment all the way through to active service in New Guinea and Borneo has just been released ahead of Anzac Day.

The book draws heavily on a manuscript prepared by the late Lance Corporal Cecil Sainsbury, a long-time Applecross resident, who fought on the Kokoda Trail to establish a communications line across the Owen Stanley Range.

Lance Cpl Sainsbury details the establishment of a 249ha Melville training camp on the site now occupied by Sir Frederick Samson Park in 1940.

“It was so far out in the sticks many had never been there before,” he wrote.

“Some recall the temperature was around 95-100 degrees (35-38 C) on the old scale and when they reached the camp area it consisted of nothing but gum trees, black sand and flies.”

The camp was large enough to house 12,000 troops from a number of different units, most of which were later deployed first to Fremantle, Albany and Victoria before eventually joining theatres in the South Pacific or Middle East.

Royal Australian Signals Association WA member Les Emery said many people did not realise just how close World War II came to Western Australia.

“From an Australian perspective the west coast was quite long and vulnerable,” he said.

“Remembering of course that the US Navy had a fleet of submarines based in Fremantle and that Garden Island was not the naval base it is today.

“German and Japanese shipping particularly used to come pretty close to Fremantle as it sailed south and there are records of German raiders all down the west coast, including of course the Kormoran which sunk the HMAS Sydney.”

Deployed with frontline troops, signallers have played an integral role in every theatre of war Australia has been involved in from the Second Boer War all the way through to modern engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as peace keeping missions all around the world.

“Initially during World War II WA signallers were responsible for communications between Garden Island and Rottnest and then down at Albany,” Mr Emery said.

“When the war in New Guinea was heating up many of them were sent north over the Kokoda Trail and laid communication lines from Port Moresby all the way to the north coast of New Guinea.

“They were in the thick of the fighting because the Japanese were trying to make sure they couldn’t establish communications.

“After that they also moved across to Borneo. Sometimes signallers are not recognised for being part of the fighting but they saw a lot of action.”

The book is the brainchild of former Signals officer Major Graham Donley who edited the manuscripts of Lance Cpl Sainsbury and other contributors.

Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the book can contact Mr Emery on 0407 190 860 or at lsee@bigpond.com.