Civilian Construction Corps paved the way for the forces

Name: Jack McAulay
Date: 1940-1945
Unit: Civil Construction Corps
Location: Australia

While many young men left Australia to fight overseas during World War II, one large group of men made a significant contribution to the war effort back home.

These were the men of the Civil Construction Corps (CCC) who were responsible for building many major facilities throughout Australia during World War II.

The CCC was established in the dark days of the Pacific War utilising the skills of thousands of tradesmen, building workers and labourers.

One of the men who volunteered for the CCC was Jack McAulay, who worked on projects all over Australia.

"The men of the CCC did a wonderful job for the Australian and US forces during World War II," Jack recalls. "We carried out their building requirements all over Australia, particularly in northern parts. It was just like being in the forces because you had to go wherever they sent you," he said.

Jack says he worked on the building of the American Headquarters in Brisbane so the US personnel could transfer from Melbourne to Queensland.

"It took about 200 of us a few months to complete this project and we were camped at the Brisbane suburb of Chermside," he said. "The Australian Army and the CCC camps adjoined one another. We were driven to work by Australian and US trucks in convoy led by a few motor cycle riders. They drove ahead of the convoy and held up the traffic, including the trams, so we could get to our job quickly. The US forces wanted their new headquarters as soon as possible."

Jack says the project was supervised by a US Army officer who had been an architect in the US.

"Among other projects I worked on was accommodation for the Australian Navy at Nelson Bay at Port Stephens. After we finished the job the Navy took over till the war's end and in 1947 it was used by migrants who came out from Europe to settle in Australia," Jack went on.

"We worked at Merrylands in Sydney where we built a hospital at Merrylands Park for sick and wounded US forces. They arrived at the railway station and were put into a siding from which they were transported by US ambulances the short distance to the hospital.

"Among other jobs I worked on were accommodation at Dapto for the RAAF, store rooms at Regents Park for the RAAF, storage igloos at Rydalmere on the Parramatta River for the Australian Navy, and warehouses for the US Army adjacent to the railway lines at Lilyfield and Rozelle."

In Townsville again it was warehouses for the US forces at Aitkenvale and quarters for the WAAF at Rosslea and other jobs for the US Air Force.

Working on the US Air Force base at Mount Louise, security was pretty tight.

"We had to sleep on the base, were issued with special identity cards and had our fingerprints taken by US security personnel," Jack said. "I've never seen so many aircraft with about 500 Liberator bombers on the base."

On one job in Townsville the CCC worked alongside a group of Hong Kong civilians.

"They'd been taken prisoner by the Japanese and were being shipped to Japan when they were intercepted and rescued by the US Navy and brought to Australia," he added.

"It was so hot during summer in Townsville that the Americans decided to build their own ice works," Jack said. "They used to put blocks of ice into canvas water bags that held about 10 gallons each and hung them around the building sites and all their camps where thousands of troops and airmen were stationed."

It was while working on projects for the US forces that Jack first encountered chain saws.

"It was a real eye-opener for us to work with these chain saws to cut the stumps to do the building," he said.

Jack says that others he knew in the CCC worked in Darwin, Karumba, Jackie Jackie and Iron Range.

"We were known as the Army behind the Army by the defence chiefs, but the men of the CCC always reckoned we were the Army ahead of the Army, as we had to go ahead and build the camps, hospitals, warehouses, igloos and roads ready for the defence forces to occupy." he said.

But despite the important work they were doing and the fact that they were all issued with numbers similar to Army personnel, they received few, if any of the advantages of being in the forces.

"Our own camps were very poor, some of them having only hurricane lamps. There were cold showers, no sewers, no army rations, no amenities and no camp concerts or travelling picture shows. However, the Army used to let us in to watch their shows if there were any nearby," he said.

"The men in the CCC had to provide their own work clothes, boots and their own good clothes and blankets," Jack said. "The Government of the day provided the absolute bare minimum for us. We slept on old stretchers with hessian bags filled with straw for mattresses and the pillows were made of the same material.

"We had to provide all our own tools and we even had to provide the files to keep our hand saws sharp, Jack said. "If we lost or damaged a tool we had to buy a replacement. We had to buy our own soap, toothpaste, hair oils, etc, and when we moved camp we were loaded up like packhorses with our tool kits and a couple of rolled up blankets tied to our suit cases.

"There were no medical services in our camp, unlike the Army," Jack added. "They provided the meals but we had to pay for them and the money was docked from us each pay day."

Jack said the girls in the land army were given their overalls, a uniform to wear, a big hat to protect them from the sun and were allowed to take part in the Anzac Day march. However, none of this was available to members of the CCC.

One aspect of the work which Jack found disappointing was that the men were split up at the end of each project.

"We would be sent to different projects with a different gang of men all the time, unlike the army units who stayed together," he said. "We could not establish real friendships with the other men as you would just get to know each other and then a transfer of labour could see you 50 to 100 miles away with a different gang of men."

"We received a civilian service medal and certificate 50 years after the war ended..." Jack said. The certificate states in part, 'A grateful nation expresses its thanks to Daniel John McAulay for contributing to the war effort and the coming of peace'.

"But I often wonder how grateful they were really," Jack added.


Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Civilian Construction Corps paved the way for the forces, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 6 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/civilian-construction-corps-paved-way-forces
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