Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pambula's civilian defence organisations.

With security concerns moving to the forefront of the national consciousness, particularly in light of the fact that there was little in the way of an organised government defence force, civilian bodies were formed across the nation in an attempt to fill the void.

Established in 1893, Pambula’s Civilian Rifle Club was formed under the auspices of the NSW Rifle Association, which had been constituted as part of the Defence Act. Issued with one dozen rifles by the Military Staff Office, a code of rules was adopted and after receiving ammunition, practice commenced in the Recreation Reserve (now Pamboola) near the race course. Regarded as good defence preparation, target shooting quickly became a popular and patriotic past time and even the smallest of the country towns maintained a range.

Two years later, the club was transformed into a Volunteer Reserve Corps and in November, Lieutenant Bradbury visited Pambula to enrol members. As a reminder of its military roots, regulations stated that men had to be of good physique, not less than five foot six in height, with a chest measurement of at least 34 inches, pass a medical test and take the oath of allegiance. That first enrolment saw seventeen members accepted and in October 1896, Drill Sergeant Winterton of Bega visited Pambula to put the Reservists through a week long course of drill and musketry. The following month, about twenty members of the No. 3 Company Bega Mounted Rifles gave a military display on Pambula’s Recreation Reserve and early the next year, Staff Sergeant Winterton put the local Reserve Rifle Company through their second course of instruction.

At a 1903 meeting at Pambula’s Club Hotel, almost thirty names were submitted for the re-establishment of the Pambula Civilian Rifle Club and with more joining up soon after, a Government Gazette notice appeared in May 1904, announcing approval of the club. January saw Regimental Sergeant Major Messenger report on the proposed site which encompassed sections of the Recreation Reserve and the Temporary Common, but when the Recreation Reserve Trustees declined to give permission, the rifle range was relocated entirely onto Common land.

It was in 1907 that the Pambula troop of the Australian Light Horse (ALH) was raised and in 1908 it was announced that improvements were being made to the range “…to accommodate to local troop of the ALH. By that time Pambula was one of fourteen Regiment localities, with Bega, Cobargo and Cooma among the others.

Light Horsemen on the old Pambula Recreation Reserve.

Training formed an important part of the ALH, and in 1909, Pambula hosted members of the 3rd Squadron from Bega and Cobargo at a five-day camp on the town’s Recreation Reserve. In 1911 a competition shoot for members was held and in 1913, the Pambula troop joined Bega and Cobargo at a Bega Training Camp, before taking part in a military tournament. In 1915, local ALH members were put through a musketry course on the Pambula range.

Light Horsemen parading on the old Pambula Recreation Reserve.

ALH membership also meant travelling to attend training camps – in 1908, Pambula and other 3rd Regiment members sent 309 of their 310 members to Sydney for the annual continuous training encampment, while in 1913, they headed off to the ACT for a similar exercise about three miles from the Military College at Duntroon.

Training at Bega showground.

With the 1914 outbreak of WWI, Pambula’s ALH troop gained greater significance to the local community, and residents looked upon them to provide assistance in the event of an invasion. Although the enemy threat was not as real as during WWII, the fear felt by local citizens is nonetheless evident in newspaper reports – men shooting flying foxes, Allen Taylor’s sleeper steamers and real or imagined aeroplane engines were all among the events the incited alarm amongst the population.

Cooks at a Bega training camp.

Although the battlefields of WWI may have been thousands of miles away, national security was nonetheless a concern not only for residents but also the Federal Government who conscripted the ALH to guard essential services. In October 1914, the Pambula Voice reported that 75 members of the Bega Squadron, of which Pambula was a part, had been deployed to Sydney to undertake patrol work, guarding assorted infrastructure, while others enlisted for overseas service. J. D. Buckett, Officer in charge of the Pambula troop, was amongst the first to enlist and in August 1914, residents held the first of many farewells to bid him bon voyage. After landing at Gallipoli in May 1915, Sergeant Buckett also served in Egypt and France where he was twice wounded before returning to Australia in 1918.

There were a number of other Pambula ALH troops to follow in his footsteps. Trooper George Dunn enlisted in November 1914, and landed at Gallipoli in May 1915, dying the same month from pneumonia and was buried in the Lemnos Cemetery.

Athol Ashworth served in Gallipoli and Europe, was awarded the Military Medal and returned to Australia in November 1918. His brother Victor Wadsworth Ashworth also served on Gallipoli and in Europe, where he was killed in action in 1917. He was buried in the Beersheba War Cemetery.

Charles Brassington served in Europe, where he was wounded in a gas attack before returning to Australia in April 1919.

Henry Howell served in Egypt before returning to Australia in July 1919.

2175 Private Vincent James Martin Longhurst. Image from the Australian War Memorial.

Oswald Longhurst served in the Middle East before returning to Australia in July 1919; his brother Lance Corporal Vincent James Martin Longhurst served in France and was killed in action at Bullecourt in 1917. He was buried in the Grevilliers British Cemetery.

Arthur Earl served on Gallipoli and died in 1915 from cerebrospinal fever. He was buried in the Suez War Memorial Cemetery.

Light Horsemen & foot soldiers in procession in Auckland Street Bega after WWI.

Responsibility for the rifle range had been transferred to the military branch of the Defence Department in 1912, remaining under their control until 1919, when the department decided that as “Military units have not used this Range for some four or five years…” it should be transferred back to the Pambula association. By this time, it was reported that the range was in a “…dilapidated condition…” with “…no stop-butt and every bullet flies across a distance of about 900 yards to the forest and high ground beyond…cattle had been injured by stray bullets…every shot is allowed to ricochet in any direction…” The location was also said to be “…unsuitably placed on swampy ground subject to inundation…”

After inspection, Captain Grover of the Rifle Clubs Branch proposed relocation of the range, and in May 1919, after Trustees of the Pambula Temporary Common gave their approval, it was reported that “A suitable fresh site for the Pambula Rifle Range has been inspected by the Inspector of Rifle Ranges and steps will be taken immediately to secure tenure…” A 1920 memo reported that “The fresh site for the range is held under ten years’ license from 1/2/1920.” This was located approximately behind the old Pambula Town Garbage Tip.

The 600 yards mound & shelter shed. Image from the National Archives of Australia.

Although club members indicated their willingness to clear the land, very little material from the old site could be recycled, so they requested financial assistance to erect the mantlet, stop-butt and other necessary infrastructure. It was recommended that reconstruction costs should be “…principally borne…” by the Department from the “Grants to Rifle Clubs for Ranges”, the Commandant of the 2nd Military District asking “…that authority may be given for this work to be carried out at Department expense in view of the fact that when this range was taken over by the Military Department, it was in good working order and since then has been allowed to get in a very bad condition…” Mr. Buckett reported completion of the range in March 1921 and the same month, an Australian Military Forces equipment report for Rifle Club No. 211 showed ranges from 100 to 600 yards, with two target machines and Mr Buckett was advised that the range “…may be taken into use forthwith…”

Inside view of the mantlet, C. 1927. Image from the National Archives of Australia.

Described in 1927 as “…a live [club]…in the hands of efficient officers…” it was noted that “There are some very good shots amongst the members, the club is well respected along the South Coast.” A 1934 return showed thirty members classed as “efficient.”

Target trench showing timber frames ready for targets, 1935. Image from the National Archives of Australia.

By the 1930’s, rifle club training was being hailed “…a national sport and a national necessity…” and by July 1945, the range was being used by a detachment of the Volunteer Defence Corps. Although it is uncertain exactly when the Pambula Rifle Club ceased to function, it was still in operation in 1957, and probably continued into the late 1960’s.


Remains of the Rifle Range telephone line, 2006.

Remains of the Rifle Range telephone line, 2006.

Remains of the Rifle Range, 2006.

Remains of the Rifle Range telephone line, 2006.

Remains of the Rifle Range telephone line, 2006.

Remains of the Rifle Range, 2006.

© Angela George.

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