RSL Home Page South Arm in the Late 1930's


By Maurice Potter


With the outbreak of the Second World War the Commonwealth acquired the land now known as Fort Direction from Mr Courtland Calvert and his sister in September,1939. The late John Calvert had named the property "Pleasant View". The land was used for general farming and the growing of fruit. Some of the fruit trees are still there today. Once the Army moved in there were some very quick changes in South Arm. First the Hydro brought power to the area, and this made a big difference to the way of life for everyone. After using the old Coleman lamps and kerosene lanterns in their homes it was quite a change to have electric power. Fruit graders in the apple sheds were driven by electric motors after years being turned by hand. Fort Direction became a training camp. It was also the defence to the entrance to the Port of Hobart. The first officer to take charge at Fort Direction was Major Mark Pritchard. Some will remember Mark when he lived in South Arm in the 1960's and built his home in Blessington Street following his retirement, from accountant at Tattersalls in Hobart. We also saw changes to several bends on the road to Bellerive, this was good solid work for the soldiers to get fit before going off to fight for their country. Stone was carted by horse drawn wagons from the quarry at Ralph's Bay, and also from a quarry on Fort Direction Road that the Department of Works had acquired. The stone was placed by hand to construct the new bends, the first being the corner on the South Arm Road just past the present R.S.L. and golf course. The other bend was at the end of the South Arm Neck at the foot of Goat Hill. By the end of 1939 construction of the two gun emplacements had been started with the control building above. In 1941-44 the six inch guns at Fort Direction were used in training, a raft trailed some two hundred yards behind a mine sweeper in Storm Bay being used as the target. Fred Evans of South Arm was at that time in the artillery at Fort Direction and was able to tell me of events that took place. He remembers the time a Liberty ship entered the River Derwent but did not respond to signals from the naval command on the hill. A gun was fired as a warning. This brought a very quick response from the Liberty ship. Mr Evans, after six months at Fort Direction was transferred to Pierson's Point. He was stationed there until 1944. Pierson's Point had only one 4 inch gun to cover the western side of the river. The huts to house the men in camp were constructed by several of the local people. The builder in charge then was Mr Merve Treman. In some cases the huts were brought from other locations and reasembled at Fort Direction. As many will remember, most of the beaches and the hillsides of South Arm were covered with barbwire entanglement and this remained so for some years after the end of war. At Goat Bluff there are still the remains of underground trenches that were built at that time, as well as one or two on our farm, but most have caved in over the years. During the 1940's everyone did their best by helping in local war time activities. Petrol was rationed so the car was only used for essential jobs. Petrol in those days was stored in four gallon tins so we had to keep several on hand in case there was to be an evacuation of South Arm. Windows had to be blacked out at night. I remember that we covered ours with brown paper pasted to the glass.

Ration Books came into use. This confined people to a certain quantity of tea, sugar etc; a separate ration book was for clothing. On each purchase you had to hand over the required number of coupons.

Ration Book used 1940-45

Naval Station at Fort Direction

Photo below of one of the two six inch gun emplacements that was established at Fort Direction to guard the entrance to the River Derwent and Harbour.


There was also a naval command living on the hill at Fort Direction. These men had to carry out watch over the entrance to the harbour. A small weather board building of four rooms was constructed on the top of the hill with the adjacent flag pole for the raising of signal flags. A watch was maintained 24 hours a day from 1940 - 1945. By as many as fifteen naval personnel lived in quarters just below the top of the hill.

Local life during the War

After the end of the war many of these buildings were sold and removed to other places. I know of three buildings that remain in South Arm, one was used as a farmer's shearing shed, one was used as an extension to one of our oldest homes in the area, and the other was used as a weekend cottage but has since been reconstructed and is now established as a home. Life in South Arm during the war was disrupted in many ways, many young farm hands joining the forces, so the older folk were left to work the orchards and other work that takes place on a farm. With the training taking place over most of South Arm and not just on Fort Direction it was very disruptive to the people that worked or lived there. Trenches were dug on most hills and farms and the army in training spent many nights sleeping out in the trenches. Some referred to them as pill boxes. Most of these had a roof of some kind over them and the men slept on straw. Mock battles were fought day and night's. But the people of South Arm fitted in well with all this even to the extent of joining first aid training in the local Calverton Hall. I acted as a patient on many occasion. The local men also worked at Fort Direction as well as looking after their farms, helping to build the huts for the soldiers. Two of Court Calvert's sons Trevor and Mervyn helped construct the buildings at the fort. Following this, Court Calvert and his sons moved to Rokeby and it was here they carried on farming, the life they knew best.


The local people attended the army camp when there was a film being shown. We had to walk into the camp as no private vehicles could be taken into Fort Direction at the time. Dances were held in the Calverton Hall every Saturday night. A bus brought ladies from Bellerive on these evenings, and Miss Case and Marge Calvert would play the piano. During 1944 dances were also held at the Fort, Reg Kerrison, and Mrs Richmond were the pianist on these occasions.

Water Supplies

In 1940 with the construction of the camp at Fort Direction, water and supplies had to be brought in by the river steamers. A 20,000 gallon concrete tank was built just below the Fort Direction road directly above the jetty. A four inch cast iron pipe line was laid under ground from the jetty to this holding tank, and with the installation of the electric driven pumps water was transferred from the river craft to the tank. From the concrete tank water was gravity fed via a 2 inch galvanized pipe line to Fort Direction. I think it must have been some time after the war had ended that the concrete tanks were built at the Fort and then the one on the Fort Road was removed. The camp at Fort Direction now relies on water catchment from the roof of the buildings. This goes into a large holding tank and is then pumped to the tanks on the higher level above the camp buildings and gravity fed back to the houses below.

Japanese Spy Plane

I can remember it quite well when on Sunday the 1st of March 1942 a small Japanese float plane flew high over South Arm to the east and up over Hobart as far north as Bridgewater. It was a very clear morning and the drone of the engine could be heard but the plane being so small it was not much more than a speck in the sky. It was reported much later it had come from a Japanese submarine of the south coast. Following this two guns were established on the fort hill and practice was carried out, a balloon being released as a target. Since the war Fort Direction has been used for training both Army, Navy and Air force Cadets. It now also has accommodation for holiday personnel of the forces. Following the construction of the Bowen Bridge in Hobart, Fort Direction became the storage area for ammunition relocated from Dowsings Point, and is still used for that purpose today.


Standing orders for Barracks Fort Direction 1943 supplied by Mr. John Luttrell

Just recently I was shown a copy of the standing orders for Fort Direction South Arm for the period August 1943. The commanding Officer at that time was Major E J Coulter. It contained the normal routine orders and the operation of a camp at that time. From reading these records it has refreshed my memory of that period. Interesting that "Reveille" during Oct, to March was at 0600 hours, and April to Sept, was 0630 hours. "Retreat" was always at 1700 hours. A record of all ships passing to and from Hobart had to be kept and recorded.

The standing orders covered all male and female personnel, apart from separate orders that applied to AWAS or AAMWS personnel stationed in the camp. The female staff occupied the old home just to the right of the main entrance to the camp. This area was out of bounds to all male personnel.At one time the building was also the base Hospital for all emergencys.

The camp limits was represented by the outer circle of barbed wire beyond which personnel are forbidden to proceed unless in possession of a leave pass. Female personnel are not to enter barracks rooms other than their own except during meals or as organised canteen hours.

As all phone calls in and out of the camp were via the switch board at the South Arm Post Office Personnel had to make sure that a line was available at all times and switched through to Fort direction during closed hours at the post office or when the switch board was not attended. Inward and outward calls for private calls were limited

Lighting within the camp was blacked out or browned out towards seawards no external lights permitted. Normal routine orders applied to all staff in the operation of the kitchen and meal areas. This was a daily operation under the control of a duty Officer appointed for the week.

As many personnel were able to live in the camp huts, due to the number in camp at times several had to live under tents. This meant the hours of use for the laundry had to be allocated. Direction Bty, Sat 0600 to 1200. B Coy Grn Bn Sun 600 to 1200 and Thur 1200 to 1800. Others Sun 1200 to 1800.

The hours of operation of the Canteen was Monday to Saturday 0830 to 0930, 1100 to 1130. Sunday 1100 to 1130 and 1200 to 1300. A wet canteen operated Monday to Saturday at specified hours 1800 to 2130 and on Sunday 2000 to 2100

Female personnel attending the canteen 1545 to 1700 daily only.

Leave was granted for personnel not rostered for duty to attend dances in the local hall at South Arm. Personnel were inspected at 1945 hrs prior to going on leave. And the issuing of leave passes. No soldier below the rank of Sergt to pass through the gate after 1830 Hrs.

A library was available for off duty personnel

Sport was arranged as required with Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays being the days set aside for this. Swimming was organised on suitable days as was boating. It was noted that female personnel were not allowed to use boats whether private or regimental.

We note that a chapel was constructed during 1943 under the control of Major J W Bean It was carried out by 17th Fortress Coy RAE. Matrial was supplied by Mrs J G Mitchell and the Chaplain Rev Biggs.

Church service was held each Sunday conducted by the Chaplain and when he was not available the amenities officer would stand in.

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