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Equal to the Task vol 1 The RAASC

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Equal to the Task


Volume 1


The Royal Australian Army Service Corps



Neville Lindsay


… his researches are here set down
That the great deeds of men …
may not be forgotten

Herodotos 1.1


Dedicated to the members of the
Australian Army Service Corps
and their achievements


(C) N.R. Lindsay 1991
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention
No reproduction without permission. All rights reserved

First published in 1992
Historia Productions
P0 Box 604
Kenmore 4069


National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-publication entry
Lindsay, Neville.
Equal to the Task. Volume 1 - The Royal Australian Army Service Corps
Includes index
ISBN 978-0-9808415-0-3.
ISBN 978-0-646-06706-3 (set).

1. Australia. Army. Royal Australian Army Service Corps - History.

2. Australia. Army. Service Corps - History.
I. Title. II. Title: Royal Australian Army Service Corps



Typeset by Historia Productions, Brisbane
Originally Printed by Merino Lithographics, Brisbane

The book version was prepared with the assistance of a research grant from
the Australian War Memorial



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The Royal Australian Army Service Corps and its earlier manifestations provided the sinews of war to the Australian Forces for over three quarters of a century. The hard-learnt concept of the indivisibility of the vital supplies – food, fuel, ammunition – from their delivery system survived the 1973 concentration of all supply into the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps, and the concentration of transport and movement into the new Royal Australian Corps of Transport.

With this vital combat support role, together with general transport and supplies tasks, the Corps faced exacting demands on it: there was no place for the 'to follow' or 'the customer doesn't understand our problems' mentality tolerated in some other corps. Men must eat to live, equipment must have fuel to operate, forces without ammunition surrender, and mobility is the other factor to firepower in an army's combat power.

This book is an account of how the 'galloping grocers' responded to this challenge, earning their deservedly respected place within Australian military history. It records how they set a high standard which their sucessors will have to live up to.




For many years the Corps Committee of the Royal Australian Corps of Transport has been concerned about the lack of an authoritative history of its development and its predecessor elements, The Royal Australian Army Service Corps and the Royal Australian Engineers (Transportation). While it had been expected that the Transportation history would be addressed in the History of the RAE Ubique, all attempts to identify and commission an historian for writing the history of the RAASC ended in failure. It was therefore with no little relief that the offer by Colonel Neville Lindsay to write it was gratefully accepted.

The history of the Corps will be written in a series under the title of Equal to the Task. This history of the RAASC forms the first volume of the series. Volume 2 will cover the Movements, Railways, Transportation and Postal Services as these were finally not covered adequately in the Engineers history; subsequent volumes will be published periodically to reflect significant timespans or developments within the RACT. It is perhaps unfortunate that the same title as Hugh Fairclough’s earlier book should have to be used; but as it is the rendition of the motto of both the RAASC and RACT, it is unavoidable that this long term, multi-volume series must have available to it the most appropriate title. The Latin alternative lacks the appeal of the English phrase which so aptly describes the ethos and esprit of the two Corps.

This volume traces the history of the RAASC from its earliest origins in Australia to the formation of the RACT in 1973. While providing an historical overview of the Corps and its development, it also addresses the activities of the Corps in each of the States, and Territories; it traces the contribution of the RAASC and its predecessors to conflicts in which Australia has been involved; and it looks at the evolution of regimental, organisational, training and equipment matters. It is the first authoritative and complete analysis of this Corps and its contribution to the Australian Army and its development. As such it is of interest to those of us who were members of the Corps. However it is also of essential interest to all members of its descendant the RACT, as so much of the tradition and regimental aspects of that Corps stem from those of the RAASC.

The development of this volume has not been easy as much time has passed since the demise of the RAASC and many files and records which would have facilitated this task were either destroyed or could not be located. The author has experienced the consequences of our not preserving our history – with each reorganisation or restructuring and with the passing of personalities the story of a period of time becomes more difficult to decipher or unravel. It therefore behoves us to take special care in preserving documentary and pictorial records which will make a future historian’s task easier, particularly in the present period of organisational and structural change. 

It is important that unit historians use this volume as a starting point for their studies in the writing of their own histories which, like this endeavour, will take equally as much devotion, and sometimes perseverance. But the result will surely be worthwhile. And for these historians I offer words of guidance gleaned from discussion with the author. Some lineages may be difficult to follow, but no one will give a certificate of connection. Claim a numerical origin that is feasible, and remember it is wiser to acknowledge one’s heritage than to avoid it. Would your soldiers rather belong to a recent unit which has no operational service, or to one with a long distinguished record in war and peace, for that is what unit history is all about: having something to look and live up to, and be proud of in company with not only other units of the Corps, but also units and members of other arms; and our squadrons have just that sort if record if they will only seek it out.

Finally, a short word on Colonel Lindsay. He is to be commended for his courage in undertaking this task, which has taken much of his time and effort over the last three years. His persistence in seeing it through, researching the material, and assembling it into a coherent, readable and enjoyable history is noteworthy. I commend that all past and present members make the effort to add this volume to their personal and unit libraries, and read it with a view to improving their knowledge and appreciation of our past exploits that attune to the motto Par Oneri.


Greg Park
Director of Movement and Transport-Army
5 November 1991




This book is the story of a corps which was born and expanded to meet a growing complexity and intensification of warfare and which died to meet an organisational decision of marginal utility. It is of course the story of change, as all-history must be – unless there is change, nothing emerges other than a snapshot which is static and of antiquarian value only. The Corps did change, in title, organisation, equipment, functions and responsibilities; its members changed, as individuals, by trade, by background and nature of service; but its ethos remained the same – that of dedication to providing support to its customers as its first and only priority. These factors become the basis of this history.

In approaching the subject, it quickly becomes apparent that the Royal Australian Army Service Corps cannot be looked at in isolation. Its activities were so interwoven in those of just about every facet of the army at large that its story cannot be separated from the background history of the Australian Army, so it has been necessary to cover much of that general ground to make sense of that of the RAASC. As the Corps provided the sinews of war to the Australian forces for over three quarters of a century, its story represents a discrete and finite part of Australia's military history. It also provides the prelude to the transport element of the Royal Australian Corps of Transport, part of the supply element and staff clerks of the current Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps, part of the mechanical element of the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force supply and transport services and, in a small way, the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. No comprehensive, systematic work has been published to give the Corps its proper place in recorded Australian military history, and to provide the historical basis for its successors. This book is directed to filling those needs.

The late 1980s was very Iate to begin research on events stretching back a hundred years. So much of the documentary evidence and other artifacts has disappeared, and there has been very little substantive history written or coherent documentation of the first fifty years available. As well, too many earlier members of the Corps are no longer with us and available to fill in the gaps or give first hand accounts of those times. It would have been too easy to have glossed over the difficult periods and concentrated the bulk of the book on 'a history of my times’ or have presented an east coast based story. Rather I have attempted to give as much research and coverage to all areas and times as known surviving material and human sources permit. The difficulties in assembling reliable evidence from oral sources are exemplified in my own recollections of the time from 1956 which should have allowed a fairly easy path for this period. It is unfortunately a human failing that even a few years distance produces distortions of relativity and sequence, and I have found it necessary to audit these parts carefully against documentary evidence to preserve accuracy not only from other informants but also myself, although it is worth noting that even some apparently sound official written sources were found to be in error or misleading. Some secondary sources are also erroneous, particularly a recent coffee table publication, which contains a section on the Corps which can best be described as a collection of factual elements blended with generalisations to cover absence of facts, and interlarded with old wives tales to produce a glib, superficial and misleading result; and unfortunately recent attempts at unit histories seem cast in the same mould. Perhaps in this volume I have gone too far towards accuracy and produced a too-dry compendium of facts, but unfortunately a reference history ends up that way. An entertaining work on Tales of the AASC is a distinct possibility and could still be written, but that was not the purpose of this volume.

To encompass the disparate and continually changing assemblage of units, soldiers and events which made up the Corps within the limitation of one volume has been a challenge. It has, moreover, meant that there must be severe limitations on what can be included - the wealth of information which did become available, particularly for some periods, could not conceivably be absorbed into this volume, either in quantity or in context. Individuals and units looking to be recorded in detail for posterity must look to producing their own biographies and unit histories; indeed the latter emerge as very worthwhile future projects. There will obviously be detailed researchers in specific areas following behind me who will hopefully be able to close on problems or facts which I have not come to terms with; still others will come forward saying 'that is wrong' or 'why didn't you include so and so' – where were they when I was searching for information? It is inevitable that there wiII be some error or conflict of sources in such a mass of information, including variations from the averages struck in tabulating units, establishments and strengths. These I recognise in advance. But the most serious problem has been trying to put people into the history. It is easy to envy the unit historian who has a battalion or company to cover; over two thousand units and over 100,000 members are more difficult, and it is my biggest regret that space and context have prevented me from bringing the human side more into the story. For that is what history is about - there is no such thing as a history of horses or equipment: history is about people and change. This book squeezes in as the Corps was not an inanimate thing but a collection of people reacting to changing circumstances, held together by the ethos of the Corps; however there is too little of them and their activities in it. Unit historians may be able to fill this void.

The format selected for the contents, of four parts with separate themes, was arrived at after other iterative or topic based approaches failed to allow justice to all events, geographic areas and infrastructure without a serious loss of continuity. In its present form coverage is achieved at the cost of a certain amount of overlap and parallelism, however if the parts are regarded as complementary stories and localised amplifications of the central theme established in Part 1, these drawbacks need not be overly offensive. The alternatives had their own vices and also a built in escape mechanism which allowed glossing over or avoidance of hard to get at information and subjects, so the format chosen was also a discipline to force at least a reasonable attempt at the even-handedness which was one of the objectives of the exercise.

In producing this volume it has been inevitable that there is considerable overlap with Hugh Fairclough's Equal to the Task, particularly in his main area of World War 2 and its aftermath. I have quoted him sparingly except where he represents a primary source, as large sections of his book have been reproduced from other authors, and it is these whose work I have specifically acknowledged where appropriate. Other previous articles, drafts and publications have covered particular areas which have also been included here, not necessarily because this account is superior, but for the sake of continuity and completeness. These sources have been referred to or acknowledged as appropriate, and some provide further reading for those who are interested. I would wish, however, to hand out one unreserved brickbat to the myriad of potential sources in official and other war histories on their coverage of the AASC. While primary concern must of course go to the fighting units, far too little attention is paid to the combat support and combat service support elements to the point of often totally ignoring their vital contribution. In particular for AASC units this is accentuated, when mentioned, by authors having the great disrespect, laziness, ineptitude or incapacity in not bothering to mention the unit titles but simply say AASC, AASC detachment, or words such as supply officers or transport. As glaring examples Long's To Benghazi does not even mention AASC – ten percent of the force – in the index; and the well known Chester Wilmot map illustrating the Tobruk siege produced by the Herald press shows in the list of units 'Miscellaneous ... AASC' when it comprised ten percent of the garrison, and one of the infantry companies formed from 9 Div AASC spent the longest period in the front line of any of the units present at the siege; yet 1204 Indian Labour Company is given a listing! Apart from the obnoxiousness of such slack treatment, it has meant that most of the existing histories of Australia at war do not record anything worthwhile, making this book all the more necessary if the very existence of the Australian Army Service Corps, as a significant part of Australia's Army for 70 years, is not to disappear.

There will be readers who will express disappointment or criticism of some of the characteristics of this account. The frequent listing of units tends to irritate the speed reader, but then one of the book's purposes is to rectify past omissions and name the units concerned. There is a great supply of photographs: this does not turn it into a glossy coffee table publication, as the text is hard, researched and in depth material, and illustrations give the text a chance to live; also many photos are common ones which have been published elsewhere without comment, and will not have been recognised as having connection with AASC in general, and specific units and functions in particular. Many who think they should have been mentioned are not – this is the combined result of space, context and their failure to provide publishable material or photographs. Some may take exception to the odd brickbats and criticisms of individuals and failures, but this account was not intended to be a eulogy, rather a history, which should always have some constructive message for the future. And if that message sometimes seems too heavy, or if the book is considered too didactic, that is a matter for taste, and it is the author's prerogative to make his own point.

Some readers, especially those so aligned, may imagine a streak of Anglophobia. That was certainly not intended, indeed some well deserved credit has been given to the British ASC where appropriate. The simple matter is that this is a history of an Australian corps and has been written entirely from that standpoint. Most RAASC members will remember on courses being told all about Cromwell's wagon-master general, the Royal Wagon Train and the RASC, with the RAASC having apparently appeared out of the blue in the 1950s: the real criticism is aimed at Australians who would not bother to teach Australian traditions. This account has been written strictly on the Australian tradition, from the imperial Commissariat at Port Jackson onwards, which is quite distinct from the British one; we do have our own history if we are not too indolent or blind to find it. Reference to the British model is made where appropriate, but the theme is strictly the national one. The odd criticism made of RASC accounts of combined operations is strictly accurate and consequently in no need of defence or apology, nor should it stir injured innocence.

A considerable problem arose with maps. While it is irritating not to have all the places mentioned shown on accompanying maps, it would have required endless maps and sketches, some just to identify one or two obscure locations mentioned in passing. Readers who wish to follow accounts in such detail will also have to align the activity to operational details and consequently consult official and other histories whose maps will also provide the location answers. In consequence general orientation maps are provided, with only a few specific ones where such detail is necessary to make particular points.

Research for the book was facilitated by a grant from the Australian War Memorial, which also provided unstinted assistance in access to records, artifacts, research facilities and advice; to mention in particular Ian Smith, Andrew Jack, Marie Wood, Kay Browne, Ian Affleck, Garry Oakley and Jim Stewart does a little injustice to the many others who were so helpful. Central Army Records Office, Australian Archives, the National and State Libraries and some newspaper proprietors were similarly accommodating in providing access to records. In addition an invaluable flow of input was received from some past members of the Corps, and others not so related, who supplied leads, filled gaps in written records, and gave helpful advice on content and fact; unfortunately others who could well have made a contribution were conspicuous by their failure to do so, and others yet again simply did not respond to requests for assistance. If those in the more self-important states notice that coverage of the lesser ones appears better in quantity and quality, they might like to reflect on whether the enthusiasm shown from the latter is a better measure of relative importance rather than simple numbers. On the positive side, a helpful approach was taken by Ralph Sutton and the Army Museum Sydney, Leo Walsh and the Victoria Barracks Museum Brisbane and John Opie of the 6 MD Museum. Jeff Cossum lent his invaluable expertise with the corps badge and insignia section, with additional input on the badges from Leo Walsh and in the drawing of the colour patches by Gill Tewes. And of course special mention must be made of the beautiful work and background knowledge, and as well patience, of Lindsay Cox in producing the extensive uniforms series plus the insignia line-drawings.

The feasibility of the project was considerably enhanced by the support provided by successive Directors of Movement and Transport-Army, Colonels John Snare, Win Fowles and Greg Park, Chief Instructors of the Army School of Transport Lieutenant Colonels Rob Regan and Jeff Wilkinson and their staffs, and Curator of the RACT Museum Charlie Candy. The difficulties inherent in producing and publishing a history of a disbanded corps are self evident, so it was in no small measure due to their support and that of other RACT and ex-RAASC members that the project has been able to be launched. Special mention in this regard must go to Brian McAuley, Wal Riley and Doug Wyatt for their research, advice and inputs to the chapters on South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania respectively, and to Tony Bidgood, Ian Thomson and those many others mentioned in Section 13 of the Bibliography for their assistance.

In conclusion I must acknowledge the engine room of producing a usable product: the typesetting and publishing were a self help job, the printing by Merino Lithographics in an act of faith that it is possible to produce a quality book at reasonable cost in Australia. The completers were readers Del Lindsay, George Brown and Ray Kennedy who undertook the difficult and largely thankless task of reading the final copy and providing useful and sometimes telling comment on the contents, and sometimes not having their advice taken by an obdurate author. The written word endureth forever and, when a book is printed and distributed, it is far too late to recognise blemishes and errata: they are there for all time. The final publication is to a degree the product of their care as well as that of the author. Prospectively I hope the quality is high from all viewpoints. The Corps and its members deserve a fitting record of their high achievements.


Neville Lindsay
1 December 1991

Addendum to the Web Edition

This volume is now published on-line. This is a new and growing technique, as it offers multiple advantages: significantly, the ability to provide audio-visual content at modern standards; to liberate the hidden visual records which otherwise lie unseen in archives, and the home collections which are eventual candidates for the rubbish tip; and also to be able to readily update and correct content, with a capability for expansion as new material comes forward as a result of the publication. In addition, access to other resources, glossaries, indexes and notes is readily available through the click of a cue. While the printed book will survive for a long time as a mainstay of comfortable reading habits, the on-line format pays very considerable dividends, especially for reference publications such as this.

As an additional bonus, it provides the opportunity to place Corps members on record, which can rectify the anonymity which such accounts as this place on the participants. Members, and their families for deceased members, are welcome to submit brief biographies in the formats shown in the text, to the website for inclusion. Take advantage of this opportunity to bring the Corps members to life. Similarly units and associations can also have outline histories similarly featured. It is beyond the author's capacity and intent to produce the thousands of potential entries, so it is up to interested parties to submit them for inclusion.

The online edition's proof reader was Nola Croucher, who saved many of the errors and non-responses to cues which are inevitable from the finicky links which must be letter-perfect in on-line work.


Neville Lindsay
21 April 2010