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WW11 History at Stony Hill

Heritage Detection Australia archaeologist Jamie Twaddle visited Stony Hill in July 2016 and located evidence of the historical WW2 radar station known as RS35. This is Jamie's report.

Following Heritage Detection Australia’s recent survey of the WW2 radar station site, 48RS, at Jurien Bay, Western Australia, HDA archaeologist Jamie Twaddle visited the site of 35RS in Albany, on the southern coast. Situated high up on the picturesque Stony Hill, this location possesses uninterrupted views of Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound to the North, and to the South 180 degree views of the Southern Ocean. Taking in the sweeping views this position offers, it is easy to appreciate how this location would have served as a fore running defence surveillance post against the threat of invasion and attack plaguing the small town of Albany some seventy years ago.

Stony Hill

 

Figure 1: The location of the radar tower installation on top of a granite boulder, scale is 2m. Photograph facing southwest. Eclipse Island can be seen in the background. Jamie Twaddle image.

The site was first used in WW1 as a Naval Observation and Signal Station. In 1943, the site was upgraded to a RAAF air warning radar station, known as 35RS. This site operated until September 1945. Unlike the site recently investigated at Jurien Bay, 35RS is easily accessible to the public; it is signposted and has a 500m-concreted meandering pathway leading visitors around the site. The heath is dense on either side of the walk path, although some remnants of the station are still clearly discernible, such as concrete foundations and anchor points driven into granite bedrock. As can be seen in the image below, some anchor points for guy wires are an estimated 20m away from where the Doover hut was located: it was a massive structure.

Stony Hill

 

Figure 2: A photograph showing a concrete anchor point in the foreground for a guy wire. The granite rock visible in the background hosts the radar mount seen in image 1. Jamie Twaddle image.

After the war, 35RS was decommissioned and the materials used to build the installation removed. Consequently, few structural remains exist of 35RS today, such as (but not limited to): the transmitter and receiver rooms and the large operation room (with a sizable antenna which poked up into the air- this could apparently be seen all the way from town if one knew where to look) which was camouflaged to look like the surrounding granite tors that rise abruptly from the gentle slopes of the hilltop (image below). Some 150-200m to the East the camp area was located, with its personnel quarters and other buildings such as the mess and laundry. All buildings were constructed on concrete slabs.

 

Figure 3: Doover hut at 35RS. The frame was plastered with cows hair and cement lime. The camouflage cover was finished with an expert paint job.

The dense vegetation on Stony Hill poses a significant barrier to searching for these remains. Although as luck would have it, the area has recently been burnt out by a bush fire and ground visibility has increased, unearthing a clearer picture of the coverage of the installation on the hill. Some artefacts can also be seen distributed around the site, such as copper wiring, bottle glass and sheet metal; although the extent to which these are in situ and definitively related to WW2 use of the site requires further investigation.

Sandbagged gun pits were also present at this site. There are clues in the landscape yielding the potential to tell the story about where these might have been. Surrounded by concrete foundations, there are depressions in the ground near the granite boulders that could have held these pits, or indeed served as places to store munitions (figure 4 below).

 

Figure 4: Concrete foundations surrounding depressions in the ground. Jamie Twaddle images.

A personal account written by a man who served at 35RS, Alan Ferguson, paints a somewhat idyllic picture of a posting at the station. Some records indicate life was incredibly tough serving on Radar Station posts, both mentally and physically. As a major contrast, Alan Ferguson described 35RS as a ‘heaven’ compared to other stations further North: RAAF men entertained each other on an old piano at the site with everything from Jazz to Chopin; 35RS had many sporting teams who played against the local Albany teams; accommodation and hygiene was excellent and some men from the unit attended films and dances in town.

Every Radar station had its own unique struggle with the natural elements. The author’s own personal experience surveying 48RS proved ticks, bull ants, snakes, sand, as well as the salty coast air would have contributed to day-to-day frustrations felt by the servicemen posted on the Jurien Bay coast. Serving at 35RS on top of Stony Hill would have proved challenging in a different way. Damage from gale force southerly winds, heavy drenching winter downpours (and constant drizzle), moisture penetration and blistering cold temperatures would have been rather dampening on the spirit as well as operations. HDA is interested in the archaeological signature of the unique cultures prevailing at different radar stations along the Western Australian coastline. What tangible evidence can we find showing us how the people posted at these sites mitigated the inevitable battle against the elements?

Also of interest to HDA is wartime graffiti. It appears in 1947, someone by the name of Keyser wrote his or her name in freshly laid concrete on the granite rock near the radar post. Made two years after the war had finished, perhaps this was left by a visitor to the site who had a significant relationship with the site they wished to immortalise in the rock? A search of the WW2 Nominal Roll shows there were five men and one woman with the surname who served in the RAAF in WW2- all but one born the Great Southern. Alan Ferguson makes no mention of a ‘Keyser’ in his list of personnel serving at 35RS, but he does state he could have overlooked some individuals.

 

Figure 6: Keyser 1947. Jamie Twaddle image.

Please note: Heritage Detection Australia would like to hear from anyone who has information about the Albany or Jurien Bay Radar Stations.

From Heritage Protection

 

References:

Ferguson, A 1998, 35 Radar-Albany (W.A) 328 Radar- Wallal Downs (W.A) Et Alia.

Mann, W 2005, Radar Returns, vol. 10, no.1