Chemical Warfare in Australia


Sydney's Secret Chemical Weapon Disaster  Daily Telegraph

Death By Mustard Gas Review  Daily Telegraph

Secrets From the Past Blue Mountains Gazette

Book reveals details of toxic gas trials as canister searches continue   ABC News



During World War II Australia held close to 1 million individual chemical munition weapons, at least 16 different types of mustard gas, some 35 types of chemical weapons at 14 major storage depots.





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Photo top:  Royal Australian Air Force Chemical Warfare Armourer ‘sniper’ crew. With 0.303 rifles in hand they are undertaking the disposal operation of 250 lb phosgene bombs at No. 19 Replenishing Centre, Talmoi, Queensland. Phosgene is venting from a bomb middle right and a gas cloud forms. A mustard gas storage shed (also for 250 lb mustard filled bombs) is seen behind the armourers. The phosgene bombs were stored in specially built concrete igloos. One can just be seen to the left of the tree (in the distance). Two armourers (Kevin Garr and Noel Stoneman) were overcome by phosgene, the deadliest of all chemical warfare agents during this operation. Back, Left to Right: Flight Lieutenant Trompft, Tom Faram, Ian Bond, Front, Left to Right: unidentified (Neil Brown?), Frank Burkin and Jack Ennor. © RAAF Chemical Warfare Armourers

Photo bottom:  Royal Australian Air Force Chemical Warfare Armourers, the ‘Mustard Gas Men’ at Glenbrook cutting atop Chemical Special No. 6 drums filled mustard gas. They are close to the tunnel entrance where the drums were stored and have been dragged out for maintenance. When photgraphed the drums are in ‘bond’, a settling period after maintenance. These drums were used to fill 65 lb bombs (essentially 4 gallon kerosene cans). The storage and transport crates are seen to the right and under Arthur Blackwell. Doug Bain, another Glenbrook armourer has his named graffiteed on the wall. Left to Right:  'Tiny' Waterman, Mark Williams, Geoff ‘Tassie’ Burn, Les Parsons, Arthur Blackwell and Alan Jack.  August 1944. © RAAF Chemical Warfare Armourers


Below: Three men demonstrating the use of a gas mask in World War II


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In 1943 a top secret consignment of chemical weapons, including deadly mustard gas, arrived in Australia by ship. But there was a problem — it was leaking. Military authorities quickly realised this but, in the interests of secrecy, sent unprotected and unsuspecting wharf labourers into a lethal environment. The result was catastrophic: permanent disability and death. This shocking narrative includes accounts of official deceit, intimidation of gassed labourers and denial of natural justice. The truth, buried in classified documents and the testimony of the few survivors, is that human life was sacrificed for the sake of secrecy.

Almost 70 years after war stocks of chemical weapons were apparently totally destroyed, mustard gas is still present on the Australian mainland, in her oceans and along her coastal fringes. The total destruction of chemical stocks is simply another military assumption. The truth is that these deadly weapons were incompletely destroyed, buried or simply lost. Many retain their effectiveness despite the passing of time, a fact that cost one man his life and saw staff and children at a school badly burned. Mustard gas weapons have been retrieved as recently as 2012 and more may lie in shallow graves waiting to be uncovered. This is a very real lesson for the military of today.

ADF Journal Review


The author would like to contact relatives of the stevedores who were gassed. At Melbourne these include;

Percy Alexander, J Campbell, Darrell Cook, F Dahlstedt, William Duck, L McDonald, S Mat(t)hews, F Prazenica (Prazenich?) and J Rowden

At Sydney the following wharfies were gassed;

Andrew English, John Flanagan, John Gillanders, Frederick Horton, T Jones, J Kearney, Quentin, H (E?) Minor, P Muggivan (Muggerton?), Obrien, William Pearce, W Roach, George Whitton, Andrew Williams, Charles Wilson, A Smith, C Spiteri and William Swinton

This Meticulously researched book unearths a sixty year secret. As the Japanese swept south towards Australia in late 1941, they carried chemical weapons, already used with deadly effect in China. Forced to counter the chemical warfare threat, Australia covertly imported 1,000,000 chemical weapons - including 16 types of mustard gas - and hid them in tunnels and other sites around the country. This book tells the story of the importation, storage and 'live trials' of the deadly weapons. It reveals details of the chemical warfare agents themselves, Australia's retaliatory plans, the involvement of the USA, the lack of training of the weapons handlers and, finally, the dangerous disposal of the volatile agents. Most of all, this is the story of the men who lived with the deadly weapons on a daily basis, handling them constantly despite the immense risks and suffering as a consequence. They were the Chemical Warfare Armourers and almost every armourer suffered physically and often mentally from the effects of the weapons and the terrible burden of maintaining secrecy. This remarkable book contains over 300 photographs - many taken surreptitiously - that illustrate all too starkly the conditions and the danger to which these men were exposed. This is an unprecedented visual history. This book is published in association with the Army History Unit and is a volume in the Australian Army History Collection.