Looking Back - In the Trenches

TRENCH: Trenches were, on average, 3 foot 6 inches at the top, tapering to 2 feet at the bottom, and 4 feet deep.

TRENCH: Trenches were, on average, 3 foot 6 inches at the top, tapering to 2 feet at the bottom, and 4 feet deep.

By early 1942, as night closed in on Beaudesert and surrounding districts, residents reluctantly became acclimatised to living by little more than the light of celestial bodies. Ensuring any errant raiders were largely flying blind was, at least, a way to aid the war effort from the home front.

Whilst the Beaudesert Shire was not on the official danger zone list, there was still a concerted effort by residents to provide safe havens in the form of air-raid shelters and slit trenches, should any eagle eyes from the other side wish to take a back door to Brisbane.

Beginning on January 30, 1942, the Beaudesert Times reported on the first of many community working bees to dig trenches to protect the region's youngest and most vulnerable. Fathers, older students and altruistic chaps without children who wanted "to dig for kiddies whose fathers were dead or away at war" took up Beaudesert State Rural School headmaster W. Karoll's call to arms. Men including Oliver Day, Norman Mitchell, Jack Freeman and Charlie Willis dug trenches by hand using drays and wagons to remove excavated earth.

Trenches were, on average, 3'6" at the top, tapering to 2' at the bottom and 4' deep. It was recommended that each trench not exceed 6' in length.

Despite the outstanding efforts of all involved, by February 13, following over eight inches of rain, the school's trenches had either filled with water or caved in.

By March, however, digging had resumed and working bees had commenced at Gleneagle, Palen Creek, Tamrookum and Woodhill State Schools. At Woodhill, it was hoped the "generous actions" of Bob Loakes, "a man who has no children attending the school" and yet had dug three trenches unaided, would inspire others to join the dig.

The Times paid tribute to Gleneagle's Dave Watt, Les Lahrs, Andrew Manderson and John Watt for their eager efforts "to attend to their children's safety". Parents were assured that all children had practised the air raid drill and would be in safety within one minute of the sounding of the alarm, which was, simply, a piece of four-inch steel casing courtesy of Mr Walker.

By September, nearly every household had made provision for their own requirements in the form of backyard trenches or shelters - a latter of which could, for those keen on a bit of family fun with a flat pack, be purchased from Queensland Pastoral Supplies. At the cost of £22/10/, for a deluxe model, Anderson Air Raid Shelters could accommodate up to twelve persons and were available for immediate delivery due to the gravity of the situation.

Despite Councillor Tilley's call in August for trenches to be provided in the town, slit trenches were not without their detractors. They were prone to practical and costly drainage, contamination, cleanliness, liability and safety issues. With an estimated one hundred and sixty-seven trenches needed to accommodate five hundred locals in the town centre at any one time, Councillors Buchanen and Deerain opined that, in the event of an air-raid, it was far better to just leave town.

It would be twelve months before trenches were dug in the park.

The practicality and necessity of air-raid shelters in town were also somewhat contentious. In November 1942, The Times reported Thomas Flood Plunkett's concerns that shelters were an "unnecessary expenditure in country centres" with little post-war utility. Mr Plunkett instead proposed underground shelters constructed with eight-foot concrete pipes, which could be put to good use for water and electrical infrastructure after the war.

As reported in The Times, the official announcement that war was over came to Beaudesert at 9am, Wednesday, August 15 1945 - cattle sale day. The already crowded town centre swelled as the population flocked into the streets. Church bells rang, air-raid sirens sounded and car horns tooted. Flags were waved, homemade confetti and streamers littered the ground and tin cans were dragged behind bicycles as a rapidly growing conga line snaked through the streets, singing and dancing for two hours before Johnny Beys handed out free ice cream to the revellers.

Having been silent for five years, the few remaining members of the Beaudesert Town Band led a joyous cacophony outside the School of Arts and people danced until the wee hours of Thursday morning.

Then began the lengthy cleanup, as private and public air-raid shelters were demolished and slit trenches were filled in, leaving little more than scars on the landscape which would, like the scars of war, be increasingly obscured by time.